Friday, 9 March 2007

The Place of Dogma and Emotion in Evangelism

141. EVANGELISM has been defined as confronting the individual soul with the reality of God in Christ. If such a personal presentation of the Gospel is to win the decisive response of Conversion, two requirements are necessary:—

(1) First, the Gospel must be “proclaimed,” as by a herald. In other words, to “preach the Gospel” means preaching Christian dogma.

(2) Secondly, the Gospel must be so presented that a definite decision of the will is demanded. In other words, to “preach the Gospel” involves an appeal to the emotions.

Seeing that both words, dogma and emotion, are misunderstood and ordinarily suspect, we must set forth in some detail the place of dogma and emotion in evangelism, before outlining their operation in various methods of presenting the Gospel.

142. Preaching the Gospel and teaching doctrine are sometimes set in opposition to one another. It is true that there can be teaching of doctrine without evangelism, but there can be no true evangelism apart from those fundamental doctrines which are the content of the Good News. Obviously, evangelism—to present Christ to men—is bound to rest upon the great Christian dogmas.

The word dogma is unpopular because it has come to imply “an arrogant declaration of opinion.”As such, the unpopularity of the word serves a useful purpose, for “dogmatic” preaching can so easily savour of pride. We welcome the warning that, although the presentation of Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit demands preaching with authority, it must yet be with humility and with persuasion. No exception, however, can be taken to the original meaning of dogma, namely, “a settled opinion positively expressed.”Indeed, there is good reason for retaining the word in current use, if only as a protest against the popular notion that religious truth (unlike scientific truth) should never be taught with authority.

Christian dogma is revealed truth. It possesses a living and active force, and is also the foundation on which Christian belief and behaviour are based. Out of it emerges Christian doctrine; for doctrine is the formulation of revealed truth in current terms, together with the deductions implicit within it. “Essentially” religious dogmas “are the solutions of the great problems that have never ceased to engage and perplex the mind of man—the nature of reality, the existence of God, the origin of the world, the source of evil, the expiation of sin, the future of humanity. Dogma is the core of every system of faith and worship; without it, religion would dissolve into mere sentiment and would, in a few generations, perish altogether.”

143. The great dogmas of Christianity are, thus, the good news of God to men. They constitute a Gospel which cannot be watered down, though their mature apprehension is not at first to be required for “babes in Christ.”At the same time, a grasp of doctrine, derived from the Bible as the Word of God, is the essential equipment of an evangelist, and one that has never been more needed than to-day. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the modern evangelist, sowing the seed in the mission field of England, cannot take for granted even that belief in a Higher Power on which the missionary overseas can base his message. The evangelist does, in fact, proclaim dogma in order truly to evangelise; and in all evangelism there is the pre-requisite that those who witness or preach shall be thoroughly grounded in Scriptural doctrine.

144. For this purpose there is a call for more training manuals which set out the message of Christianity, together with the relevant Scripture passages. More particularly, they should elucidate by illustration the ways and means by which the eternal Gospel can be brought home to present day non-worshipping members of the community. Such manuals fail in their purpose unless they themselves are the proof that dogmatic teaching can be the very reverse of dull and heavy.

145. To accept Christ Jesus as Saviour demands a definite and consciously willed act. To serve Him as King demands the purposed and sustained striving of the will. For this reason St. Paul ascribes a decisive significance to faith in Jesus Christ. With him faith “is not merely assent or adhesion but enthusiastic adhesion, personal adhesion; the highest and most effective motive power of which human character is capable.” Thus (literally translated) a common expression in the New Testament is "to believe onto Christ,”connoting a drive towards Christ. Accordingly, the emotions are bound to play a leading part in evangelism, for they underlie our springs of action. This explains how the Gospel of Christ works its miracle of salvation and effects its reformation of character. It engenders what Dr. Thomas Chalmers described as “the expulsive power of a new affection.”

As emotion is, admittedly, so powerful a force in human personality, an appeal to the emotions involves a grave responsibility, demanding both knowledge and restraint in those who make it. Emotion must never be allowed to become an end in itself. Emotionalism, that is emotion separated from an outlet in action, is not strengthening but enfeebling. The ultimate outcome is hysteria. “We do violence to our nature and demoralise ourselves if we do not use emotions as the impetus to conduct, or if we permit ourselves to cultivate them simply for the luxury of having them.

In all evangelism there is the duty of working for a decision of the will. Evangelists, therefore, should take warning that it is incumbent on them to act under the conscious guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in accordance with that respect for personality which was so marked a feature of our Lord's dealing with individuals.

(From Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at the Summer session, 1943, London: Press and Publications Board of the Church Assembly, 1945)

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