* This is the first article in what I hope will be a short series of essays on a topic that I believe in increasingly pertinent to the 21st Century Church: “Evangelism in a Non-Christian Culture.” Based largely on my experiences as a “tent maker missionary” in China, these articles will also include how what I learned there is applicable to our own culture, which whether we like it or not, is becoming more and more non-Christian. I hope to average one article per week on this subject, depending on how busy I am at the newspaper and at home with my four-year-old daughter. If you are a parent, you will know exactly why I include that caveat.
I remember vividly teaching English majors in China the fundamentals of writing a coherent essay, one which engages the reader at the beginning, let’s the reader know that the writer is knowledgeable about the subject at hand, and is tightly and logically structured. I also stressed the significance of communicating to the reader that you, as a writer, had something you wanted to say and that you knew what you were talking about. As an example, I explained to my students that the last thing a writer ever wanted to do was to begin an essay with something like this: “Although I know very little about the topic of this discussion, I am going to carry on for around 1,200 words in the hopes of convincing you that I am an expert.”
Having said all of that, let me begin by telling you that I am going to be sharing a bit below on a subject I know little about…..
Seriously, I do want to talk a bit about a topic that many Christians like about as much as a case of poison ivy: evangelism. I am far from a gifted evangelist and I am certain there are many, many believers more capable than I am when it comes to discussing issues related to sharing our faith. My formal education in graduate school had one course that was geared toward evangelism from an institutional, church-oriented perspective. Little was mentioned in regards to sharing the essentials of the faith in a one-to-one setting or with small groups of inquirers. My reading on the subject of faith-sharing has been at best marginal, so, as I said earlier, I am far from expert in this area.
Still, in the words of the old T.V. private detective Barnaby Jones, “I never let book learnin’ interfere with my education.”
Space does not permit me to go into details about how I ended up on the mission field in China, much less the reasons I remained there for over five years. Suffice at this point to say, I was deeply called by God to this endeavor and he blessed me in many ways as I followed this calling. One of the most significant ways that he blessed me was, true to the promises of his Word, by equipping me to conduct evangelistic activities in a culture that was not only non-Christian, but proactively anti-Christian, at least on the surface. My wife, who is Chinese, and I were quite successful in terms of sharing the message of Christ, always within the limits of Chinese law, and within a culture that held a generally low opinion of Christians in general and missionaries in particular. The fact that we met with any success at all is testament to God’s unfailing integrity when it comes to providing for us according to his promises.
What I do want to share with you today is a brief presentation of several topics I learned about sharing the gospel in cultures that are not exactly hotbeds of Christian belief and where Christianity is often viewed in a negative light. As the series of articles unfolds, I plan to write separate essays on each of the following areas:
Approaches that prove to be ineffective.
To include evangelistic activities that I witnessed that were carried out by other Christians who were well-meaning but largely unsuccessful in their endeavors. Also, will include how, believe it or not, competition with missionaries from other faiths tended to muddy the waters to a great extent. This particularly concerns Mormons and Baha’is.
Approaches that proved to be more effective.
To include strategies that we found to be effective in terms of whetting people’s appetites for more information as well as ways to go about providing said information in ways that were culturally relevant and understandable. Also includes a discussion of why we eventually developed and followed a “God Before Gospel” approach in a cultural setting where most people didn’t believe in God, much less that Jesus was his Son.
The Growth of Christianity in China.
A brief overview of the growth of the Christian faith in China, in both the underground churches and the official Three Self Patriotic Church. I will also discuss the implications for the future and recommendations for further reading.
Lessons for the American Church.
Here I will share ways in which it seems what we learned in China is increasingly applicable to our own culture, which seems to be less Christian each day, if not each hour.
What The Chinese Church Can Teach Us.
Here I hope to share some of the ways I discovered that the Chinese Church can serve as a model for us here in the States. I learned far more from these consecrated believers than I could ever teach them.
An Unexpected Personal Impact.
The major impact these five-plus years had on us as a couple; myself as a Christian; and at least one unexpected turn of events: How I Came To Love The Study of Apologetics.
Before I went to China, I had a long-standing love affair with all things Chinese. I was a serious student of Chinese history, culture, religion, and philosophy. My time there only deepened the affection I felt for this magnificent land and its even more magnificent people. I especially came to honor and esteem Chinese Christians who are forced to go about pursuing their love for Christ in ways that we cannot even imagine. Observing, developing friendships, and just associating with these folks taught me more than I can ever know.
Living and working in China, I also discovered that we Americans have a somewhat distorted view of Chinese society in general and Chinese Christianity in particular. This is not to say that everything we see, hear, and assume about China and its Church is incorrect. It is just to assert that there are some areas where, due to a lack of contact and familiarity, we have come to several erroneous conclusions.
I am in daily prayer for the Chinese Church in all its forms and I hope that, with the Lord’s guidance and blessing, I can eventually turn some of the material I will be sharing in this series of articles into a book that delves into the subject at a greater depth. Most of the research and first draft has already been completed. Also, here at LifeBrook my wife, myself, and a Chinese couple we are close to have put together a ministry we call ChinaLight International, which is commissioned with the goal of increasing contact, understanding, and cooperation between Christians in China and America. This undertaking, however, is wrought with difficulties in terms of laws in both countries, visa issues, and international politics.
Still, we are assured that we can, with the Lord’s help and benediction, turn these stumbling blocks into stepping stones. We humbly and earnestly ask for your prayers for this vital endeavor.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved