Australia Evangelism Podcasts the Church The Church in Scotland Theology

Presbyterian Evangelism? – AP Interview and Article

This is an interview which has just gone out that I did with Australian Presbyterian – in the wonderful Reformers bookshop.  Mark Powell is a Presbyterian minister in Sydney and does a wonderful work not only through his church (Cornerstone) but also through media such as this podcast and regularly writing for Flat White – an online part of the Australian Spectator.

We discuss why the Church in Scotland has declined, opportunities in Australia (education), differences in Presbyterianism in Australia, Australia’s cities, poor ecclesiology, public worship, an honest assessment of Third Space, the Lord’s Day, Anglicanism; the Gospel vaccine; the trickle down theory of evangelism; celebrity Christianity; youth work at St Thomas’s; Geneva Push and Reach Australia; role of the Elders; the churches response to Covid; online church; online evangelism; and much more….enjoy…..

The following is my weekly article for AP – on the same subject

Presbyterian Evangelism?

I enjoyed having a full and frank discussion with Mark Powell on AP’s excellent podcast.

It’s now one I subscribe to – not because of this interview but because of earlier ones such as Carmelina Read’s superb discussion on Women’s Ministry, and David Cook’s on preaching.  I trust that all readers of AP subscribe!

In this interview we discuss why the Church in Scotland has declined, opportunities in Australia (education), differences in Presbyterianism in Australia, Australia’s cities, poor ecclesiology, public worship, an honest assessment of Third Space, the Lord’s Day, Anglicanism; the Gospel vaccine; the trickle-down theory of evangelism; celebrity Christianity; youth work at St Thomas’s; Geneva Push and Reach Australia; role of the Elders; the churches response to Covid; online church; online evangelism; and much more.

I have always found it strange that many in Reformed churches – including Presbyterians ones – do not think of themselves as being ‘evangelistic’.  I was once in a large Presbyterian church in the US and saw that they had a notice board welcoming ‘new members this month’.  Virtually all the new members were transfers from various Baptist churches.  In over 40 new members there were only a couple who were by profession of faith.  Bearing in mind that this includes those who have grown up in the church, it does indicate that evangelism to people ‘in the world’ was not a significant priority in that church.

This article is entitled ‘Presbyterian evangelism’ – not meaning that there is a particular Presbyterian version of the Gospel, but rather that Presbyterian churches, like all true churches, should have evangelism in our DNA.  That is sadly not always the case.  I have met many clergy who see themselves primarily as teachers, but few who see themselves also as evangelists.

It is sometimes an attitude within Reformed churches of ‘we will let the charismatics and Armenians convert them and then we will teach them the way of God more perfectly’.  Apart from the arrogance of that statement, what bothers me is the view that somehow Reformed theology is not evangelistic.   Clearly those who think like this (I suspect it’s a feeling based on experience of failed evangelism rather than worked out thought) have not grasped the passion of the Puritans or read Packers Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.  When I moved from an Arminian to a Calvinist position (without really knowing either of those terms – it was only in later years that I discovered how to describe what had happened to me in theological terms!), it made me more passionate in my outreach, because instead of rushing round like a headless chicken desperately trying to convert people, I now believed not only that it was God who converted – but that he would.  I suspect that a lot of Reformed people hide behind the doctrine of the sovereignty of God as an excuse for not doing outreach.  It’s a day of small things and God alone can convert – and we don’t know that he will.  We don’t appear to believe that God’s word will not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11), nor do we obey the command to go into all the world and proclaim the good news (Matthew 28:19).

So how can churches do evangelism well in Australia today?

As we discuss in the podcast evangelism is best done through local churches.  The idea of the spiritual trickle-down theory (start at the top of society and eventually the Gospel will work its way down) is not biblical.  The local church is an incarnation of the body of Christ and therefore needs to meet.   Online church is not a substitute for that meeting – but it is a significant part of the marketplace where we need to proclaim the Gospel.

Todays’ society is an open door for the Gospel, but as churches approach that door, we find that the ground beneath us is shifting sand – we need to better understand the culture within which we seek to proclaim the good news.  The biblical imagery of the church consisting of living stones – not dead stones – not living reeds.  There is warmth, life and solidity amongst Gods people which is a tremendous witness for the truth of the Gospel.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

To reach today’s society we need honesty, repentance and prayer.  We should recognise our hubris and react in humility, without ever losing hope.  Our hope is not in ourselves, our church or our denomination.  Our hope is in Christ.  May it be that those who come into contact with us recognise that we are those who have been with Christ (Acts 4:13).  Then we will be ready and able to give a reason for the hope that we have within us.

Gospel Conversion Therapy – AP

Evangelism in Todays Church – Interview with Eternity Magazine

9 comments

  1. A good illustration of the sovereignity of God can be found in Jonah. When he eventually made it to Ninevah, his message was basically “40 days until you are overthrown” you, with no mention of repentance. And yet once they heard the message of judgement, God moved them to repentance (much to Jonah’s annoyance of course).

    So it doesn’t matter how eloquent, how intelligent, or even if we are relishing the thought of our enemies being judged as in Jonah’s case, the act of conversion is in God’s hands. It’s just been a matter of us getting the message out there.

  2. “If God would dip all pastors in hell for a fraction of a second and then yank them up by their shirttails-as they’re standing there smoldering and their clothes and skin are full of black soot, and their shoes have half melted off, I think their commitment to the Great Commission would substantially increase.”

    Dr D. J. Kennedy – Christian, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Pastor, Evangelist 1930-2007

  3. This is an issue I’ve heard spoken about many times in churches in the 20 or so years since coming to faith. And whenever I’ve given input it feels like I am talking to a wall. The conversation is pretty much predictable. “We” are sinners, “we” are not doing as well as we should do in attracting others, and there may be a superficial prayer or two but a communal feeling that hey even though we are “sinners” Christ died for us all and what “joy” that is. Whist at the same time there is a depressive cloud hovering over the room.

    I’m sure you’ve been in these meetings too David.

    When I have spoken out of frustration at such times, I have had the standard Romans 14 response of whatever you do to distress your brother is not done in love. The more recent one however was a novel one of “shoving things down peoples throats”. OK – well if not welcomed there seems to be a clear directive from Jesus of warning about rejecting the kingdom and testifying against those not welcoming. I don’t see Jesus making churches an exception to that.

    Perhaps organised religion generally speaking is incapable of attracting outsiders at this point in time. A bible college principle in a book on world mission has commented that Christian worship and community is unattractive to outsiders and sometimes repulsive – the only offence should be the cross of Christ. Also when the apostle Paul talks of the offence of the gospel in context it is towards those who are already religious and who are insisting on circumcision. He also calls them “mutilators of the flesh” elsewhere. It of course was not necessary. So the “offence” is towards the established religion, not towards so called “seekers”. Paul instead says he becomes a Jew to the Jew, a Greek to the Greeks and a Gentile to the Gentiles so that nothing be a hindrance to the Gospel.

    Maybe Covid-19 has been needed to give the church generally speaking a wake up call? Haven’t more people been showing interest through online services and turning to prayer during this time? “Everyone’s Googling prayer” Russell Brand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PajaN2nhZEQ

    God is everywhere the joy of the Lord can be experienced in anything and with anyone. Wherever 2 or 3 people are gathered in Christ’s name – that is church – a gathering of people called out. And of course this can be experienced in larger gatherings – sometimes this happens on a Sunday morning – but not always.

  4. I’m very interested in the “where there’s a church, there’s a school.” I’ve heard you talk about the Scottish schools a bit and i’m very interested in what happened there. Do you have a post on this or a short history of it? Were they free? Was the CoS in charge of the education at the time?

    Also, as an American, we have religious schools but all of them are extremely expensive. How can churches also have schools and provide great education for a good price?

    1. That was Knox’s vision. They were largely paid for by the church – until the education act of 1872 when they were paid for by the State – although they were still explicitly Christian schools..

    2. I suggest you check out the Field School in Chicago. Purposely established a few years back to raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.. It has an amazing balance of students from racial, economic and community backgrounds. The teaching staff are also come from diverse backgrounds. The children are given a classical education second to none. (I am not a part of the school) . The students all wear uniforms . Those from wealthier backgrounds help subsidise those from the inner city. The goal is to move into an old Chicago Public School building currently being renovated in the west side of Chicago. The problem is so many parents desire to send their children and the waiting list is long. The school is very purposeful in maintaining diversity across the board. I understand it was modeled after a school in Indianapolis with a similar vision. Hope this helps

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