An incarnational and/or missional approach to Gospel ministry should not be characterized by a singular focus upon correct doctrine. We should not be trying to “fix” doctrine, at least not initially (we are talking about un-churched people here, not mature brothers and sisters in the faith). We especially should not refer to such acts as the priority of our evangelism!
Yes, doctrine is important, as is a solid Biblical Theology. They are not, however, the main priority of Gospel preachers on the street. No! The priority of the Gospel preacher on the street is the Gospel! What is this Gospel? Well, for starters, it is incarnational. In other words, it is born in the midst of a specific cultural situation (e.g., postmodernism) and it naturally moves forward within this larger context. It is missional. This simply means the ethos is built upon the Spirit-laden process of affectively and effectively moving forward within the larger context to intentionally make Christian disciples. Here is an admittedly over-simplified equation: Incarnational + Missional = Relationship. In other words, living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about building relationships and living them! The act of meeting a neighbor smack-dab in the middle of his or her present is as Christ-like as it gets. We are called to meet people right where they are and lovingly engage them in authentic relationship. Christians are sent out to love people. We are to talk meaningfully to people. We are supposed to relate. We are supposed to enter into relationships with them. We are to do it all, and thus illustrate the incredible love God has for us and them, just as we are, wherever or whatever that may be.
I really, really appreciate the differences illustrated by the following statements concerning the practical handling of erroneous doctrine and/or theology. These examples are quoted directly from: Marsden, George M. (2006) Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press (43-44).
A Number of prominent evangelicals were asked. “What was the teaching of Christ regarding his disciples’ attitude towards error, and towards those who held erroneous doctrines?”
Reuben A. Torry, one of Dwight L. Moody’s best know lieutenants, responded with an unmistakable fundamentalist answer: “Christ and His immediate disciples immediately attacked, exposed and denounced error. We are constantly told in our day that we ought not to attack error but simply teach the truth. This is the method of the coward and trimmer; it is not the method of Christ.”
D.L. Moody’s answer could hardly have been more directly opposed: “Christ’s teaching was always constructive … His method of dealing with error was largely to ignore it, letting it melt away in the warm glow of the full intensity of truth expressed in love … Let us hold truth, but by all means let us hold it in love, and not with a theological club.”
I side with Moody! Amen! D.L. Moody’s response to the question resonates seriously in our present time. His is an incarnational and missional approach. His is an approach prioritizing relationship. Moody is dedicated to authentic relationship and truth, rather than simple truth alone. What good is it to be 100% right about the universe, if you are all alone in it? I would venture to say nothing! Truth doesn’t work in a vacuum. Truth is a social creature. So, it takes at least two folk to engage its unarguable usefulness. So, let’s build a relationship first! Then, and only then, we can start having a constructive conversation about truth and Jesus Christ.
I wonder what Christ’s Church would look like if our evangelistic thrust would be holistically attached to Moody’s dedication to both relationship and truth? I think it would radically change everything … as Jesus of Nazareth intended so many, many years ago.