The Table Podcast

Reviving Evangelism

In this episode, Dr.Darrell Bock, Nathan Wagnon and Kevin Palau discuss evangelism, focusing on how the Church can respond to an apparent downward trend in personal evangelism.

Timecodes
01:23
Palau’s involvement with the Barna study
05:14
Wagnon’s background in ministry
08:30
What do those surveyed think about evangelism?
14:21
The challenge for evangelism today
20:13
What is the Biblical Gospel?
26:37
Can preaching the Gospel be communal?
31:24
How does the Biblical Gospel impact our lives today?
37:52
Encourage believers to talk about Jesus
42:10
Inspiring Millennials to share the Gospel
45:50
What is the key to reviving evangelism?
Transcript
Darrell L. Bock
Welcome to the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for the Hendricks Center for Cultural Engagement. And our topic today is … and this may sound strange … reviving evangelism. And evangelism is about new life. So when you’re reviving new life you’ve got an issue on your hands. And my guests today are, here in the studio is Nathan, is it Wagnon? Is that how you pronounce your last name?
Nathan Wagnon
Sounds good to me, brother.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. Well, I’m never quite sure when I see spellings I’m not familiar with. He’s Director of Equipping and Apologetics at Watermark Church here in Dallas.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, that’s right.
Darrell L. Bock
And you are located in Dallas. So you got some churches that are in the suburbs, but you are right there, smack near the High-Five
Nathan Wagnon
We’re right in Dallas proper, that’s right.
Darrell L. Bock
Exactly right. And then Kevin Palau, who is President of the Louis Palau Association, and he is coming to us via Skype from Beaverton, Oregon, a beautiful part of the country. And so Kevin, thanks for being a part of this. You were a part of this survey. And I think the way I want to do this is start with you and ask, one, how did you get involved in the survey? And two, what was your reaction when you saw the results of what this survey is saying? This is a Barna survey on Reviving Evangelism … I’ll just hold it up so people can see it … a Barna report. And it was produced in partnership with Alpha USA, and it says, “Current realities that demand a new vision for sharing faith.” So I’m sure we’re gonna be dealing with the second half of this a lot.
Kevin Palau
Yes. Yes.
Darrell L. Bock
So go for it. Tell us, how did you get this gig?
Kevin Palau
Well, if people know anything about the Louis Palau Association, they would hopefully think evangelism, because, growing up as a kid, Dad was always known as the Billy Graham of Latin America. So evangelism’s been in my blood and DNA my whole life. But being based in Portland, Oregon, which is a … if you guys are the buckle of the Bible Belt, I’m not sure what that makes us. We’re kind of the anti …
Darrell L. Bock
You’re the edge of the cross. You’re on the edge of the upside down cross. So that gap, when I talk about America I say, “Think of America as an upside down cross. It runs through the Bible Belt from east to west and up the middle of the country. And then there are those two corners of the country which you could almost get a passport and go to a different place.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah.
Kevin Palau
Yes. So it’s funny. People will often wonder, why is the Louis Palau Association … isn’t your dad Latin American? Why did you end up in Portland, Oregon? Mom’s a native Oregonian, and Mom and Dad met 60 years ago at Multnomah School of the Bible. So for no better reason than that, Portland’s been home. But now, we really view it as a God thing, that we’ve been based here for decades, because it really has forced us to take a hard look at what is working, what’s actually effective in evangelism, not in places where it’s easy, but in places in the West, in this case the Northwest, that are very, very challenging.

So the question of this survey, I joined the board of Alpha USA not that many months ago. And the Barna folks have been friends … David Kinnaman for years. And so when it came to them saying, “We want to commission a fresh study and interview all kinds of people, particularly younger people, younger people that would call themselves Christ followers, as to how they view evangelism,” I said, “Yes, I would absolutely love to be part of it.” And I think they me part of it … partly because of our context in Portland, Oregon, because we’re in a challenging place, and partly because, as the Louis Palau Association, we think about evangelism a lot, and we think about how do you mobilize people for evangelism? Not just put up there an evangelist to preach, but it’s all about how do you mobilize the masses of Jesus followers to be more bold and confident in sharing their faith. So I think, for those reasons, they somehow thought, “Maybe this guy has something to say.”

Darrell L. Bock
Hmm. And what’s interesting about that is because you also have a global perspective, you do campaigns around the world, you’re aware of what it is to do evangelistic programs in places where the culture is very open and receptive, and places where it also is very much a challenge.
Kevin Palau
That’s very, very true. There’s places in the Global South where it’s absolutely harvest time, and it feels like no matter what you do you’re gonna succeed. And then there’s places where it is pushing a rock uphill. It’s a challenge. But I’m very, very encouraged by what I’m seeing, and the ways that God is working in his people in evangelism. I’m actually more encouraged than people might think.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. Well, we’ll come back to that, ’cause we’re gonna need a word of encouragement in light of some of the numbers that we have here. Nathan, talk about what you do at Watermark.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. So I’m the Director of Equipping Apologetics, as you said. And a lot of what I do is try to equip our body to do the work of the ministry. So, where Ephesians 4:12 is central to the way we think about ministry, and so a lot of it is just like, “Hey, how can I get the average Joe guy sitting in the pew deployed in the way that Jesus wants him to be deployed for the kingdom?” So we very much … one of our guiding principles is in equipping ministry is we don’t do ministry to people, we do it through them. And so my job is to equip, train, deploy, assist, come alongside of the church as it’s doing what Jesus wants it to do.

And one of the things I get to do in that regard is lead our apologetics ministry, which there’s not a whole lot of formal apologetics ministries in local churches around the country, or world. And so it’s a unique opportunity to engage consistently with skeptics, atheists, agnostics, people who are having a crisis of faith, and engage with them around the central plains of Christianity. So, that’s the world of it.

Darrell L. Bock
Okay. So Kevin was born into this. There was no escape for him. But what about you? What’s the background of your story? What led you into ministry?
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. I think … I was born into a strong, Christian home. I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition. I went to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, and then came down here with a couple of hundred dollars in my wallet, and everything I owned in my car. Didn’t know how I was gonna make my first Dallas Seminary school payment, but Jesus just provided. And so, when I was at Ouachita, I got exposed to … I went on an Israel trip. I got exposed to more of the historical Jesus, as opposed to the felt board Jesus, in the Southern Baptist tradition. And that whetted my appetite, and I’ve always just wanted to know more and more about this man, and the life he lived, and the claims he made, and so …
Darrell L. Bock
When you were a student here, were you attending Watermark, or …
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. Watermark was brand new. When I moved down here, we were … my first Sunday was with couple hundred people in a junior high. And so, all through my seminary time here at DTS I was just a lay leader in the church, and helped them do their thing. It was a lot of ready, fire, aim kinda stuff going on. But I was a part of the young adult ministry, because I was a young adult … not anymore, but I used to be … and helped them start The Porch, which is now … that’s a beast in its own, here in Dallas, but our young adult ministry, which we have coming up. Kevin, you’d be interested in this. We have coming up in a couple of weeks, we’re doing a conference for young adults called Awaken here in Dallas, and are gonna be talking about deploying that generation.
Darrell L. Bock
Now, is that an annual thing that you do? Or is that a special conference?
Nathan Wagnon
It’s … well, we don’t know if it’s gonna be annual or not. This is the inaugural one. So we’ll see.
Darrell L. Bock
‘Cause we’ll probably air after the conference has taken place, so that’s why I raised it. Okay. So, let’s take a dive into Reviving Evangelism. And I open it up, and I don’t go very far in … I’m on page 21 … and the first chapter that I see has the title, Evangelism Erosion, which makes me nervous. In fact, the quote on the side says, “If evangelism is eroding, we must examine its wider context, understand and respond.” And then there’s some of these statistics that in here about … and they’ve got categories of kinds of people that they’re surveying, lapsed Christians, religious non-Christians, atheists and agnostics, et cetera. And what’s really interesting, as you move through this study, is the claim … and I think this is the one that got all the attention … that a significant amount of Millennials … and I’m not quite sure how to characterize this … not comfortable with, not willing to do, not open to, don’t want …
Nathan Wagnon
I think they said … one of the things I read in there was they said almost half of the respondents said that they thought it was wrong to try to proselytize or evangelize or convince someone else that Christianity was true. Kevin, is that …
Kevin Palau
Yeah. This is above. That wouldn’t be a surprise at all if you were talking about unchurched, the average, unchurched younger person, a Millennial. But this is supposed to be identified, interviewing evangelical or active Jesus following Millennials, that almost half of them are saying, “I think it’s morally wrong to try to convert someone”.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. Now … which is interesting, because if you think about the traditional definition of what an evangelical is, and I’m thinking of Bebbington’s quadrilateral, where there are four characteristics. One of those characteristics is you share Jesus.
Kevin Palau
Yes, that’s right.
Darrell L. Bock
I’m using non-technical language, but that’s the thrust of it. You believe that Jesus Christ is savior, that the Bible is the word of God, you’re committed to the uniqueness of the gospel, and you share Jesus. That’s the definition. So we’ve got people in the category who aren’t in the category, or seemingly not in a part of the category. So Kevin, you were close to the survey. Interpret that for us. What do you think we’re hearing and being told?
Kevin Palau
Well, it’s funny. I wasn’t nearly as alarmed or surprised, maybe I should say, as some people that read it, because in our experience of several decades of doing larger scale evangelism, these festivals that we do that we pioneered … we used to do Billy Graham style crusades for 50 years. But about 20 years ago, because of the context being so different in Portland, we switched over to a more of a music festival approach, a little more contemporary, et cetera. But we’ve always known that in the US the majority of those that are genuinely … love the Lord, they attend evangelical churches … the majority of them really are skittish about evangelism. They hope someone else will do it, they hope the pastor will do it. They really don’t want to do it themselves. They love and hope the quote attributed to St. Francis is true, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words,” and they’re desperately hoping that it’s never necessary to use words. And they feel that if they’re just nice to people and love people and serve, that that’s the gospel and I’m okay. And we find that in a typical, even a solid evangelical church, in many cases, it’s not much more than 10-15 percent of the people that actively engage in evangelism.

So I’m never surprised, and I find that many people are practical universalists. They wouldn’t really want to be pinned down, but they, practically speaking feel, “God is good and loving. Everyone’s okay in the end. I definitely believe in Jesus. I love Jesus. I think it would be great if my friends knew Jesus. But if they don’t it doesn’t really make that much of a difference.” So I think there are these undercurrents among … not everybody … but among many evangelical young people that kind of undercut evangelism. And it’s just, with all the cultural pressures, young people, even if they live in the Bible Belt, they’re affected very much by social media, and it’s just not comfortable to express clearly the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Even if you say it in a humble way, “Well yes, I do believe that every single person needs to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, or they face a Christless eternity. Well, what about other religions?” And so many people find it very difficult. And I think it’s a stark spotlight to say that almost 50 percent question whether it’s morally right to do it.

I think we have a lot of work to do to evangelize for evangelism within the evangelical church, and bring forth the biblical nature of it, the beauty of it, they joy of it. I think positive is always better. How do we positively remind Jesus followers of the goodness of the good news? I always say to people, “If you really believe the good news is good news, if you dwell on that, if the holy spirit’s revived your own heart and faith and love for people, you’ll find it easier. But the average person, it’s easier to stick with people that already believe the gospel, and almost never open your mouth and try to share with someone who doesn’t.

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah. I think the thing that surprises me about this is it’s one thing to say, “I’m afraid to share Jesus,” or, “I’m nervous to share Jesus,” or, “I’m not comfortable sharing Jesus.” Think about the myriads of ways you could say that, one way or another. And to say, “I’m not sure it’s moral to share Jesus.” Now that strikes me as being … if I can say it … a level up in decibels. And what really is interesting about that is, is that if that’s where people are landing, I think it shows … I’ll say it this way … in the back of my ear it’s echoing, you say it positively. And I’m going, “How can I do this?”
Nathan Wagnon
Put a spin on it.
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah. And basically it is, what it shows is … I’ll say it negatively and positively, or negatively and it’s positively but it’s not positive. Negatively it shows how ineffective we have been in teaching people the importance of evangelism. Said positively, with reference to the culture is, and how effective the culture has been in neutering what it is that the church says about evangelism.
Kevin Palau
Yes.
Darrell L. Bock
And we like to say, and in some cases pretend, that we’re not that impacted by the culture. But this seems to me to be an indicator we may be far more impacted to the culture than we’re willing to recognize. Now you minister to this age group that we’re talking about. And I’ll share with you another phenomenon that I find myself often doing which is, I find myself, when I’m in audiences particularly with people of my age, and I am speaking … I am not a Millennial, never have been.
Nathan Wagnon
You’re a spring chicken, man.
Darrell L. Bock
Alright, alright, alright. I’m a boomer who just went to the Social Security office, okay? So, alright. So I’m on that end of the equation. And yet I find myself having to defend Millennials a lot of times when I’m speaking to people of my age group. It’s not as bad as you think. They really are sweethearted people, et cetera. Their desires oftentimes are in the right place. But on this one, I’m struggling.
Nathan Wagnon
How do you do that?
Darrell L. Bock
So help me.
Nathan Wagnon
Man, I tell people pretty consistently that even when I engage with skeptics and atheists and agnostics, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So a lot of people … you guys have probably heard this story before … but in the ’50s there was a guy at Harvard named George Buttrick. He was the chaplain of Harvard. And, as you know, even though the Jesus movement was kinda going on during that time, people would consistently come by his office and, “I don’t believe in God.” And his standard response to these people was, “Well, come on in. Let’s sit down and tell me about the god you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in him either.” Just talking about the way that you’re thinking about God is not biblical at all.

And so a lot of what I do as an apologist is clarify for people what Christianity is. And I think it translates immediately over to the issue that we’re talking about, because I think that there … myself being one of them … grew up in a context where evangelism was seen in very reductionistic terms of like a transaction. So you’re a dirty, rotten, scoundrel. You definitely … you need somebody to take all of your badness or God’s angry at you, and he’s gonna judge you and throw you into hell and be glad about it. And so you better trust Jesus, or else, kind of thing. And so, I think for a long time, that’s what evangelism, at least in cultures that I’ve been a part of, have seen evangelism as … people view it as, “Well, okay. You’re trying to make me into a used car salesman that’s gonna go try to close a deal.” And so I think that that’s probably … plays into this on some level, where people are like, “I don’t want to do that.” And again, I’m going, “Hey. Well, why don’t you tell me what your view of evangelism is. I probably don’t want to do that, either.” But that’s not what biblical evangelism is. And so it’s a recasting, it’s a re- … it’s casting in a positive light, what evangelism is and should be.

And then another point is, I think that … I’m encouraged, like Kevin said. I’m encouraged because I think we have a unique opportunity to recapture some of the essential nature of what the gospel is, because again, for so long, I think it’s been given in terms that are very reductionistic. And so when you’re able to recast the vision for what the gospel is, then you’re able to start not with sin, but with creation, and God saying, “I created you for a purpose, and in my image. I care about you. I love you. I have a purpose for you.” And then talk about sin, not in terms of, like I’ve heard you say, “You dirty, rotten, scoundrel.”

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah. I call it Jimmy Cagney theology. “You dirty rat. You shouldn’t be doing that.”
Nathan Wagnon
But that’s the way a lot of people think. That’s what people think Christianity is. And so it’s like, “No. Sin is a distortion, it’s a brokenness that needs healing.” And look, in my experience, I never have to convince people that they’re broken. There is an intuitiveness that people know that. And so, just reframing it, recasting it in these ways I think will be … We have a unique opportunity to do that right now.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. So you talked about … I don’t want to spend so much time analyzing this, as talking about, okay, so how do we deal with this? So I’m gonna transition … it’s early … but I’m gonna transition there. And let’s talk a little bit about the reductionistic gospel, and what the gospel ought to be. And I can’t think of a better person to ask than you, Kevin, ’cause you do this on a regular basis. Talk about what the reductionistic gospel is, so that people can identify what it is, and then talk about what that recasting might look like. How do we … I’m gonna coin a word … how do we de-reductionize the gospel?
Kevin Palau
Yeah. It’s a really good question in a place like Portland. Everyplace has what you just referenced, this sense of … my understanding of Christianity is such that I would never be interested. In a place like Portland, where many people come from other parts of the country to get away from what they perceive of as a hellfire and brimstone, conservative, right-wing Republican, and I’m gonna get to come to the promised land …
Darrell L. Bock
There are no fires in Oregon?
Kevin Palau
So yeah. So people come, in some cases, kind of knowing what they don’t like about Christianity. And so we do spend, as followers of Jesus in Portland, we spend a lot of time trying to help, with a lot of listening, and a lot of trying to help people understand the beauty and the joy of understanding what a relationship with God through Christ can look like. So, yeah. I agree that taking a view of the gospel that isn’t so much a transactional say this prayer and you’ll be okay, ’cause the question for a lot of people in Portland isn’t so much how do I get right with God? I understand that God exists. I understand that I’m a sinner, and I need to understand how to make my relationship with God right. Many people in Portland aren’t remotely asking that question. They’ve said, “I’m not sure that there is a God. I’m here to enjoy nature, and I’m enjoying life. And you fundamentalist Christians, what have you got that I don’t have?”

So we begin our journey in Portland recognizing this ten foot hole of misunderstanding that we were in in trying to communicate the gospel to people in Portland. We’re not talking the same language. So we said … we had to back up and say, “We have to start with relationship building, and earning the right to even be in conversation.” So we went to our mayor. We went to the openly gay mayor of Portland, Oregon … at the time he was the first openly gay mayor of a top 25 city … and said, “Hey, you know what? As a Christian community, particularly the evangelical community, we know that we’re known mostly for what we’re against, and not what we’re for. And we’re a little embarrassed that we have not been in conversation with the city. If we could mobilize thousands of Jesus followers to love and serve Portland, and make Portland a better place, how could we do that in relationship with you?”

So we spent years earning trust and building relationships, and changing the narrative to say, “Jesus followers are seeking the shalom of Portland. We’re seeking the peace and prosperity of Portland. There’s a common good. We all want to see kids in foster care well taken care of, and refugees well taken care of, and our public schools thriving.” So, we had to start with a rebuilding of trust and saying, “All of us, Jesus followers, non Jesus followers, we care about the city.” We would say, because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we have something in us that wants to see beauty and flourishing and joy in life. And we all share that. So, as Jesus followers, we want to work to make Portland a better place.

So we spent years learning to live well with people that disagreed with us, loving and serving. But, I would say this very, very strongly, we also recognized that unintentionally we drifted a bit. It’s very easy to mobilize people in a place like Portland to love and serve their neighbor. And so what we recognized was we had to form a little team to really keep evangelism focused, because while I do agree that we had to earn the right to be heard, and rebuild trust, it cannot stop there, and we needed to take advantage of … when I say take advantage, I mean in the proper sense … leverage the credibility and the good relationships that were being built for the sake of the good news.

So, to me, when you look at the bigger picture of the joy of following Christ, it does begin with creation. It begins with a sense of God created this entire universe. Think of what that means. Think of what it means to be in right relationship with this creation, with each other, with creation itself, which in Portland people are very environmentally conscious. When you can put salvation and a right relationship with God in the broader context of creation care, and relational harmony as a society, and then get to the fact of Jesus Christ as a perfect representation of what it looks like to be a human being that is flourishing, sometimes it takes a little bit longer than the 30 second, four spiritual laws kind of conversation. We find people in Portland far more open to those kind of conversations than you’d think.

And I’ve been going through my … an Alpha group. Many people may be familiar with Alpha as an evangelistic tool. My wife and I are going through our first Alpha group, and it has been remarkable to see these nine guests, my Jewish, atheist neighbor, some people that are in recovery from heroin addiction, an openly gay couple, Richard and RJ that have been coming to church the last six weeks, the openness to talk about Jesus. Three of those people, including Richard, who is openly gay and in a relationship with RJ, has come to faith in Christ. It’s crazy, the people that are coming to faith in Christ, as they see the beauty of the good news. We’re not hiding anything. We’re not hiding the fact of sin and repentance, and who Jesus is. But I think when they can see it, and you can topple some of the straw men and some of the negative views, and it’s all just about legalism, I’ve been shocked at how open people in Portland are.

Darrell L. Bock
You’re talking about a context and a culture that many people would describe as post Christian. And one of the challenges for the church, this is true across the entire country, although I think it’s coming in the south more slowly, is this is the reality that the church is gonna be functioning in in the United States, with this next generation. And so thinking through how evangelism changes as a result, and really thinking through the message … One of the things that struck me as you went through this is, when I think of the, what I think we’re calling the reductionistic gospel, it’s very individualized. It’s very, I would say, privatized, if I can say it that way. It’s about me and my God, and getting right with me and my God, and that’s about all you think about.

But the moment you connect the gospel to the creation, who we’re designed to be, how we’re designed to relate to one another, how we’re designed to relate to God, you’re in the space of what I like to call the great commandment, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s relational. That’s the … One of the places the gospel is supposed to take us is to a place where we are able to live that out. And to live that out in surprising ways. Loving your neighbor means loving your enemy. It gets translated that way by Jesus. So when you put it in those kinds of terms, and you put it in that relational, as opposed to more abstract, personalized, privatized sphere, all of a sudden the dynamics for evangelism and the angles that open up to talk about seem to me to broaden significantly.

Nathan Wagnon
I think it’s interesting that, just from the New Testament, you talking about individualized and privatized, one of the things that I think, it struck me one time, I can’t remember how long it’s been, but it struck me that I just began to realize that the vast majority of the you commandments in the New Testament are plural. So it’s y’all.
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah. It’s a good old … I say, Jesus was a southerner.
Nathan Wagnon
Y’all.
Darrell L. Bock
He may have lived in Galilee, but he was a southerner.
Nathan Wagnon
All y’all get out there and … But I think that that makes us … it forces us to engage the great commission from a communal standpoint. It’s not just a, “I’ve got a … what am I doing to share my faith?” I think there’s the community of faith aspect. And that’s one of the things that we at Watermark take really seriously is how are we, as a local body, championing this value in our body? And so we tell a lot of stories. When people are sharing their faith in the workplace, or in their neighborhoods, or at schools, or whatever they’re doing, and we’re seeing the holy spirit bring fruit out of this, then we elevate those stories and cast that vision of, hey, this is what the spirit is doing with us. And I’ve found that that has been deeply encouraging for people who otherwise might feel this maybe weight or burden of all of Christendom on their shoulders when they’re thinking like, “Oh, what am I doing, what am I doing.” And it’s almost like this … it’s almost a neurosis that sometimes people have.

And yet, I think that communal environment invites people in to a group, as opposed to, hey, you need to go down to the street corner and proclaim the end of the world is coming, if that makes sense. So …

Darrell L. Bock
So that’s one version of the reductionistic gospel that you’re talking about.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, it totally is. It’s very individualized, it’s very privatized, it’s not … When you hear about evangelism, I think most people think about, okay, what are you personally doing? And I think that, if you recast that as hey, what are we doing, and it doesn’t have to look like just one method or one … that’s another part of the reductionistic … The way this plays out is we corner ourselves into certain methodologies, into certain … And then, when the methodology doesn’t work in a certain context, then all of a sudden we’re tongue tied in a, I don’t know what to do with this. And so, that’s why we … at least us at Watermark … we’re trying to teach our people that the relational aspect of it, the fact that you’re earning the right to have a conversation with someone whom God … who’s made in the image of God, who God deeply loves, and who God is trying to save, and you’re doing that together. That’s a way different thing.
Darrell L. Bock
Oh, sure it is. And I like to say, usually when I talk about this subject, I’ll use this example, and I think this goes back to evangelism explosion when I was a Christian. If you died today … the form of the question … if you died today, would you know what would happen?
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, the Kennedy questions
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, exactly right. And I sit there and I go, “What does that actually communicate about what the goal of the gospel is?” And I’m going, “I don’t think that’s quite the goal.” The goal of the gospel is you can live life in … and I’m gonna use a Portland phrase … in harmony with God … okay? … in harmony, in conjunction with the way you were created, in a way that is … I wouldn’t use this in evangelism … but in a way that’s congruent with the way God made you.

And when you start there, it isn’t just about what your fate is. The way I like to say it, the way you can identify the reductionistic gospel is by, are you being told you’re being saved from something or are you being told you’re being saved into a relationship with someone?

Kevin Palau
Yes. And with the goal of … I love … There’s a wonderful church down in San Francisco, which is an equally like Portland, challenging place. You have to articulate the good news well, to be heard. They say joining God in the renewal of all things. It’s a simple way to say, is our goal … it’s collectively, we, as a church body. But I would say the church all in Portland, we’re together, joining God in what ultimately is gonna be the renewal of all things.
Darrell L. Bock
Including us.
Kevin Palau
Including us. Absolutely including us. It’s not …
Darrell L. Bock
It’s not from above.
Kevin Palau
It’s not that it isn’t … of course it’s about personal, one-on-one, and my life with Jesus Christ. But the reductionist part, it’s not that that’s not true. It’s that it’s not enough. Reduces it. So I think that is a way to say it. It’s not that it’s wrong. A person needs to personally understand these things about themselves. But I think the way we can communicate it with such joy in community, and recognize that God has given certain people in every congregation the gift of evangelism. There’s a small percentage of people that will never call themselves an evangelist. They’ll never be paid to do it. But I think that biblically, Ephesians 4 talks about these gifts to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. You find certain people that have that unique gifting and calling and experience. And I think one of the values in a church is to help identify those people that are maybe naturally open and gifted in that way, and unleash them and empower them. I think that’s a key thing.

And then, what you said as well about celebrating. Let people see the fact that people are coming to faith in Christ all the time, even in Portland, Oregon.

Nathan Wagnon
I think, too, most of my academic work has been in the area of discipleship. And, obviously, evangelism is a sub category of that. But one of the key things that I’ve seen in discipleship conversation is a lot of people will think, hey, they feel like they’re responsible for their own growth. They feel like they’re responsible for … if I don’t go do this, then the world is not saved. Sometimes you hear a lot of language around … that really could be aptly described as a savior complex. Like, “If I don’t do this, who’s gonna do it,” kind of thing.

And one of the things that I’ve seen as I’ve had conversations with people is a reorientation around that concept to say, “Hey, no. Actually God is the one who is transforming you. He’s the one who started this work in you. He’s the one who’s gonna complete it. And oh, by the way, he’s also the one who’s saving people.” And so, instead of them having this weight of responsibility it’s like, “No. Go co-labor with him. He’s inviting you to join him in what he’s doing. But just know, if you’re gonna follow Jesus, then you’re gonna be involved in this, because that’s what he’s doing. He’s saving the world.

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, it reminds me of the passage in I Corinthians, one person plants, another waters, but it’s God who causes the growth.
Nathan Wagnon
That’s right.
Darrell L. Bock
And so, it’s that picture. I think the beauty of a … what do we call it … a de-reductionized gospel? Yeah, I feel like I’m on Sesame Street “and the word for today is” … Anyway, one of the advantages is is that all of a sudden, the gospel becomes a much bigger thing to be a part of …
Nathan Wagnon
Oh, huge.
Darrell L. Bock
… than the way we do it when we privatize and transactionalize it alone. And it isn’t that there isn’t that moment of transaction. It’s not that that’s what’s going on. But the next question to ask is, why did God do this? Why does God seek to save us? Well it isn’t just so we check a box and say I’m, okay, I’m going to heaven one day. It’s to shape us into the people he created us to be to begin with, and to make us into a, not just a better person, but to make … when you grab people together and put them a community … to make them a better community, and to make them in a better way to serve those around them. It’s all … When I ask, what is forgiveness of sins for? Well, that’s Ephesians 2:10. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
And then I love to point this out, Ephesians 2
11-22, which is the next passage, is the example of the good work. And the example of the good work is the reconciliation work that God is doing between groups of people.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, tears walls down.
Darrell L. Bock
And you look at our world, and where are our struggles? Our struggles are between groups of people. So the gospel steps right into the mess that is our world and says, there’s a way to fix this. And the way to fix it is not just to think about it individually. The way to fix it is to think about it, what God is doing among, and is capable of doing among peoples. And then what that means for the people who participate in that, and then how they witness to that.

The other side of this that I think is so important, and you’ve already suggested it, Kevin, by what you’ve said, is when you crash a stereotype about what people think Christianity is, what they left when they came to Oregon, that kind of thing, all of a sudden this open space is created into which I have a conversation with you because I know you care about me and I care about you, and we can discuss things more openly. And boom, you’re off and running.

So evangelism doesn’t have to be this programmed, programmatic thing. It emerges naturally in the relationships that we have. Is that part of the recasting that we’re talking about?

Kevin Palau
I think it is. And I think that we all wish it was just as easy, that if we just help people understand it this way, they would all still go do it. My experience is that, even in churches … So yes, I agree. And, at the same time, I think there’s still that need for a never ending cajoling, encouraging, inspiring, equipping everyday believers to realize that they have a role to play … it’s not just for the professionals … but that it does involve them being willing to go out of their comfort zone. It’s never gonna be 100 percent easy and natural to talk about Jesus.
Darrell L. Bock
It’s always awkward.
Kevin Palau
It’s always awkward. And there’s … But I think once you break that fear, once you can break through, I think it can be lessened. I remember having a conversation, when we began ten years ago, this effort of the serving the community side, trying to seek the shalom of Portland together, I remember having a conversation with our school superintendent, Carol. At the time, she was Portland Public Schools Superintendent. And, like our mayor at the time, was a really prominent member of Portland’s LGBTQ community. So she had a lot of misgivings about these evangelicals, and especially the idea of evangelical churches partnering with public schools, to just love and serve the schools. And her first concern, when we sat down, of course, was proselytizing. “All of you evangelicals are gonna proselytize.” And I laughed and said, “If that’s your concern, you don’t know our people very well at all, ’cause we couldn’t pay most of them to ever open their mouth and talk about …”
Darrell L. Bock
50 percent of them think it’s immoral.
Kevin Palau
So it’s interesting. It led to a very interesting conversation, ’cause she’s like, “Oh. I guess I did think that the problem was gonna be holding back,” she didn’t put it this way, but like the image of, “holding back the rabid, fire breathing, every evangelical cannot wait to hand out tracts and share their faith.” We know that the reality is, we’re desperately trying to get a bigger percentage of our wonderful people in our evangelical churches to even begin to pray for people in their life that don’t know Christ. Just say, “Lord, could you give me the courage to just have a spiritual conversation, to offer to pray to someone, rather than just saying, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry to hear that. Wow. I am sorry to hear that. I actually believe that God hears our prayers, and I’m not saying I’m a miracle worker or a healer, but we just pray about that? It’s sometimes simple things that we can do.

But I would say that one of the real roles for those in pastoral leadership, people that have the gift of evangelism in particular, is to encourage and inspire everyday believers to believe that it is … one, it’s a responsibility. Whether we feel like it or not, we are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and to be unashamed of Jesus Christ. So it doesn’t mean that we’re all immediately going for the jugular, and immediately jumping into the deep end of substitutionary atonement. But to even have a spiritual conversation, look and lean into, ask people questions about their spiritual background. I find that if we are unapologetic, unashamed, joyful, if they know that we believe what we say we believe and we’re excited about it, a lot of barriers go down. Most of the time unbelievers can tell that we are scared to death, and hope that it never comes up, and that just makes them awkward about the whole conversation, as well.

Darrell L. Bock
So, Nathan, you minister to young people, and charged with encouraging them in this regard. I know you’ve got a special kind of group there at Watermark.
Nathan Wagnon
[Laughs] Not sure what you mean by that Dr.Bock.
Darrell L. Bock
I’m not sure they’re … I’m not sure I would qualify them as the typical Millennial. But anyway. So what do you do to encourage them in this regard?
Nathan Wagnon
Man, I think, as, Kevin, as you were talking, I was praying, and just asking the Lord like, “Hey. What would you have me communicate?” And I think that this is probably the primary thing that we try to do, and that is instead of trying to get somebody to accept a series of propositions or doctrinal statements … Somebody said one time, I don’t know who it was but attribute it to the whole church, I guess … that the greatest apologetic is not a rational defense, or trying to convince somebody of something.
Darrell L. Bock
And you’re saying this is an apologist, so I’m waiting for the other half.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. So, the greatest apologetic is love. And arguments don’t win people to Christ, love does. And so I think when you … in fact, I just came from a lunch where a guy sat down. He’s a new friend of mine. And he literally asked, he’s like, “Hey, I hear a lot of people talk about Jesus, but there’s something about you that’s different, and I don’t know what it is.” And I was able to just tell him. My job is not to … my job is primarily not to teach you the Bible so that you can become a better theologian. My job is not primarily to make sure that you do all these things so that you check a list and you can say you’re a good Christian.

My primary job is to accurately portray an image, the beauty of Christ to you. And if I’m by the holy spirit, if I’m able to do that, I don’t have to worry about you responding. When people see God as he actually is, then they respond. And that’s why I like … I don’t have to worry about being rejected. I don’t have to worry about people calling me names or whatever. In fact, that doesn’t happen often, because when you engage people personally, and when you show them the love of God, that’s embodied in Jesus, and now in us through the Spirit, then, as we would say in the south, now you’re cooking with grease. Now things are happening. And that’s the way I think about it. And I would say, in my experience, I think that’s the way, probably, all of us should think about it.

Darrell L. Bock
I’m reminded of the book of Hebrews where it says that the calling of the people of God is to gather together in such a way that they stimulate one another to love and good deeds. And then Jesus said it. He said, in the midst of the passage on loving your enemy, that you love them in such a way that they see your good works and praise the Father in heaven. So if you’re asking … and if you think about the Spirit of God … once I get started I won’t stop. If you think about the fruit of the spirit, the fruit of the spirit is primarily relational. They are characteristics that we apply in the relationships that we have with one another. And you can’t think about being properly related to God without thinking about how you’re relating to other people. Those two things go together. They’re in the great commandment, they’re in the ten commandments. Like I say, once you start you don’t stop. It’s literally woven through the whole of scripture.

So, I think what we’ve been saying … our time’s rapidly going away here … that the key to reviving evangelism is not introducing a program, it’s being a certain kind of person.

Nathan Wagnon
Um-hmm.
Kevin Palau
Yes. I could not agree more. The reason I’m so encouraged after living 50 plus years in Portland, Oregon, kind of a challenging place, is that we’re seeing such a different view of what it means to follow Christ. We’ve gone from the evangelical community being a pariah, or at best unknown to now where it’s almost demanded by our city, county, and state leaders that the evangelical community must be around the table on any key social issue discussion, because that’s who actually shows up, and without complaining, agitating, asking for money, is actually serving 70 percent of the public schools, revolutionizing the foster care system, radically impacting health care, refugee care, without abandoning a joyful expression of the good news.

We’re seeing more people come to Christ, more churches planted as we have in a holistic way loved and served people in relationship. We have a great relationship with our gay and lesbian community in Portland. We agree to disagree on all kinds of core things. We’re not downplaying important issues. We’ve been able to say, “You know what? We’re gonna disagree on some stuff. That’s probably never gonna change. But we can focus together on making Portland a better place.” And that has only accentuated and open doors for evangelism. We are really, really encouraged to be seeing more and more people come to Christ as we’ve done both evangelism and social justice / serving the community well.

Darrell L. Bock
So that reviving evangelism has really involved, in some case, recasting evangelism, putting evangelism back in its proper place, which is that when you share the good news of what it means to relate to God, you’re also sharing the good news of how people can better relate to one another. And you step into the great commission and the great commandment simultaneously. And in the midst of doing that you revisit the creation mandate, which is we were created to image God well together, male and female.

And when you put that all together, you’re in the center of what God is asking us to be as people. That’s the way he created us. And when he saves us, that’s what he creates us to be. And so … And then we’re supposed to model that and share that. And when we do that, we witness to who God is, and in the process open the door for evangelism. And I think that would be the way I would summarize what it is we’ve tried to say today.

What do you think?

Kevin Palau
I’m sold.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. Alright. And as we say, when you’re at the auction, sold to the guy, the bald guy.
Kevin Palau
In Beaverton, Oregon.
Darrell L. Bock
So anyway, thank you very much, Kevin, for being a part of the table. We really appreciate you taking the time to be with us. It’s been a pleasure to have you.
Kevin Palau
Thank you so much.
Darrell L. Bock
And thank you, Nathan, for being a part of the table and sharing with us a little bit about your ministry, and how you seek to encourage Millennials in this regard. And we thank you for being a part of the table, and hope you’ll join us again, soon. If you have a topic you’d like for us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. We take these under consideration, and maybe one day your topic will show up at the table podcast. And we wish you all well, and hope you’ll join us again, soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Kevin Palau
Kevin Palau is president and CEO of the Luis Palau Association. Kevin joined the Palau Team in 1985 and began directing the day-to-day operation of the ministry in the late 1990s. Under his leadership, LPA has partnered with tens of thousands of local churches to produce large Christian gatherings in cities around the globe, including major evangelistic campaigns in Washington DC; New York City; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Kevin holds a degree in religious studies from Wheaton College. He lives in Beaverton, Oregon near LPA’s headquarters with his wife, Michelle. They have three grown children.
Nathan Wagnon
Nathan began his journey of discipleship to Jesus as a child and consistently grew in the context of a strong Christian family. After graduating from Ouachita Baptist University and Dallas Seminary he joined the United States Army. After his second deployment to Afghanistan he began to sense the Lord leading him into vocational ministry which brought him to Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX in 2014. At Watermark, Nathan serves on the equipping team where he trains people to use their gifts for the kingdom of God. He is married to Margaret and has two sons, Nate and Miles, and one baby girl, Jules. He enjoys traveling, snow-skiing and hanging with friends.
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