>In Defense of Relational Evangelism, Part I

Posted: 18/11/2008 in LDS, Standing Together, Utah

>Many summers ago, I went out to Utah with a team of APU missionaries. We worked with the much praised and much maligned group “Standing Together.” Standing Together is a group that values “relational evangelism” over “street preaching.” While there, we encountered another group of Christian students from another university that insisted that “street preaching” was the only Biblical model. I have always wanted to write a defense of relational evangelism as well as some prodding questions for the street preachers.

We met at park. There were scores of Christians camping out. The LDS community was having a huge festival at the local temple, and this drew all kinds of Christians to the cultural and religious event. Our team was not so much evangelizing (of any sort) yet. I myself was a bit overwhelmed and was doing my best to simply walk around and observe. My interaction with the LDS was limited to casual conversation. Most of my team seemed to be enjoying the adjustment as well.

I said, “we” met. By “we” I mean my team from Azusa Pacific and students from a rival school which will remain unnamed. Our conversation started off amicable. After all, we all knew we were part of the minority group in foreign territory. We recognized them as our kin by their Greek New Testaments. Eventually, one of the students from the unnamed rival school (“URS”) asked us what group we came from. When I mentioned Standing Together, one of the students became noticeably more passionate, and even a bit angry. He did not support our Standing Together, and was willing to drop it right there. However, I prodded him further.

His points, delivered with the characteristic flair of street evangelism, were that street preaching was the only biblical model. He appealed to the story of Paul in Athens and Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-32) as his justification and “Biblical Warrant.” In the mindset and theology of URS University, Jesus or the apostles never told us to sit down and have a conversation with the unbelievers. They stopped short of claiming the biblical warrant for their protest signs though.

I have never read this passage and thought that it was so clearly analogous to sign-waving and tract-spamming in front of an LDS temple. For instance, the context was entirely different. The book of Acts describes the market place, which was a fairly public square. This is not the outskirts of someone else’s religious center. Yet, even if we grant that the public streets next to the temple are somehow analogous to the market place, we still forget that proclamations such as these were much more common in the ancient world than in ours. The scripture itself reminds us of this in verse 21. (If one wishes to preach by proclaiming ideas, may I suggest that internet message boards are the better place to do it?)

Secondly, when Paul gives his sermon, it was at the invitation of local philosophers. It is important to know that the Stoics and the Epicureans (Acts 17:18) were not members of the same organized, monolithic, and culturally ingrained systems as the LDS Church. On the contrary, Stoics and Epicureans were both separate schools of philosophy. It is likely that these philosophers probably dealt argued with each other as much as anyone else and they wanted to bring this new school of thought into their perpetual Athenian debate.

This is so very different from street preaching to the LDS during their annual temple pageant. No, the street preachers were not invited. No, the LDS were not interested right then. In fact, it creates a communication gap with the LDS, and does so by actually affirming aspects of their theology and metanarrative. If the street preachers had stuck around and watched the theatrical telling of the life of Joseph Smith, they would see that they all look just like the confused, arrogant, and irrelevant 19th century protestant groups that the LDS feel Joseph Smith saved all the LDS from!

For these reason I do not believe that street preaching is either practical or Biblical in the “exclude all else” sense. My disagreement with the URS students and their method goes deeper because I do not share their approach to scripture and am a little bit more careful about the word “Biblical.” That of course, is another subject for another time. For now, I will explain why I prefer relational evangelism.

This will wait for the next blog though. Thanks for reading!

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Comments
  1. Heidi says:

    >Eeeee!!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to read Part 2!

  2. Q says:

    >I didn’t realize relational evangelism needed a defense. Or that street preaching needs to be systematically destroyed. But it will still be entertaining to read.

  3. -k-anne- says:

    >Before i moved to Portland, my boss decided to sit down and have a heart to heart with me about my impact on his life. It was a minor point that he brought up towards the end of his story, but he mentioned that I had changed his view on religion. He had been raised LDS. I am not evangelical, or least I never considered myself to be so. I don’t like imparting my opinion of religion on others, but I will share what I believe and what makes sense to me if it comes up. He had written off religion as a whole, but my expressions of what it meant to me somehow made a difference to him. He was giving it another try, looking at options that would speak to him in a way the Mormonism didn’t. And sure, it may not be christianity, but opening your heart up to spirituality is never a bad thing in my mind. No person on the street would have ever had the impact of conversations with a friend over the course of a year.

  4. Biomusician says:

    >”If one wishes to preach by proclaiming ideas, may I suggest that internet message boards are the better place to do it?”This, as you yourself are well aware, is a difficult task, especially in certain message boards.

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