Houston, we have a problem! I am becoming more and more convinced that prevailing cause of the division we have in the United Methodist Church stems from how people were taught in matters of faith. There is no real unified way in which people were witnessed to that brought about a response of faith. The consequence is that people come to have a set of beliefs that are in similar in terms of language (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, etc.) and using similar sources for our faith (such as Scripture), but are otherwise very discontinuous and different from one another. One person believe that God is going to send people to eternal judgment for their sins unless they believe in Jesus, another person believes God will bring redeem everyone into heaven. On person believes that faith is about a doctrinal system, whereas another person believes faith is an emotional experience in relation to God.
Now, the problem I am critiquing isn’t the existence of doctrinal and religious differences. There will always be differences, some differences being good, some being tolerable, some being unmanageable, but differences to me is not the issue. Rather, it is the way in which we are entrenched within our differences such that our faith rarely undergoes real substantive change. When everyone is of a different mind and have reasons for their confidence, then people will not move towards one mind on matters. Under this condition of entrenched differences, the more people try to make people of one mind on matters will actually backfire and make become more resistant to one other.
Allow me to suggest that the root of the problem of this entrenched difference stems from our manner of evangelism. When Paul talked about his style of evangelism about Jesus Christ, he referred to as a foundation in 1 Corinthians 3.10. You might find this language to be familiar if you are familiar with epistemic, as the idea of epistemic foundationalism uses a similar metaphor draw from buildings. There is a bit of a difference between epistemic foundationalism and evangelistic foundationalism. In epistemic foundationalism
While this is not inconsistent with Paul’s vision of evangelism and discipleship, Paul’s point about the foundational metaphor is not about what justifies beliefs, but what forms beliefs. Paul sees believers as being built into a Temple of God by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 4.16; cf. 1 Cor. 6.19). Other teachers can build upon this foundation, which is an act of erecting a temple in the hearts of the people, but the implicit idea under the metaphor is that the foundation determines the structure of what all is built. So, teaching after evangelism can be construed as building upon this evangelistic foundation. However, Paul doesn’t tell other people to try to assess the value of what Apollos taught in relation to the foundations, as would be consistent with epistemic foundationalism. There is no instruction here to justify further teaching in virtue of the foundational faith. This is not to suggest all teachers are equivalent, as Paul’s metaphor about the building materials and burning suggest not all teachers are considered having equivalent value. But what it does suggest is that the relationship between the foundations and furthers beliefs is not the connection assumed in epistemic foundationalism.
What then is the connection? The foundation is not about what one believes, but WHO one believes. Read 1 Corinthians 2.1-5:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come according to
an authorityfrom speech or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony about God. ForI did not choose to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and himself crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with a persuasive nessof wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on wisdom from persons but on God’s power. (NRSV except for personal translation in italics)
The ultimate goal Paul expresses is that the Corinthians place their faith in God through what they come to know through what happened to Jesus and what the Spirit had done in their midst. If the Corinthians place their trust in a human person, such as Paul, then there is a problem. Thus, I would suggest the foundation of Jesus Christ is how God is known and trusted through the person of Jesus, not the ideas we have about Jesus. In that case, the foundation that Paul establishes is not what one believes, but who one believes.
In such a case, when one trusts another person as having
In other words, the foundation that Paul lays down is a foundation for the Corinthians to learn more in the future. Having come to faith, they will need to learn how to live together as Christ loves them and then they can learn the “more advanced/mature” cognitive ideas about God’s wisdom. The ethical and intellectual formation, in other words, is grounded upon the relational foundation with God that Paul’s evangelism encourages.
I will summarize Paul’s strategy briefly expressed in 1 Cor. 2.1-5 and later amplified in 1 Corinthians 15.1-19 as this: the resurrection of the crucified Christ is a sign of God’s power on behalf of people and it is through the work of the Spirit that this event can be shown to not be simply a one-shot event with no significance to anyone aside from Jesus. In the power of God amidst the weakness of Jesus’ crucifixion and in the Spirit working in the weak Paul, it is realized that God’s power is at work for human well-being. Consequently, other teachers who have constructed and taught wisdom about God in a different manner from what God has demonstratively done are shown to be weak and foolish in comparison to God.
But I want to emphasize once again: what is critical for Paul here is WHO one is listening and paying attention to. It is not a matter of getting the right beliefs so that you can then proceed to learn more. It is a matter of getting into the right relationship from the one who has the truth.
The one place where Paul distinguishes his own teaching from
This is where I think modern evangelism has created
The way evangelism applies the story of Jesus to the believer is demonstrable different. There are at least three identifiable evangelism patterns that I can think of in American evangelism:
- Evangelism through awareness of sin, guilt, and punishment – This style focuses on making people aware of how they have sinned and how they deserve punishment. In this case, the application of Jesus’ cross and resurrection is through escaping the punishment.
- Evangelism through compensation – This style focuses on reaching some feel need and loss in people, whether it be material, social, relational, etc. Jesus here is seen as the one who provides what one lacks.
- Evangelism through moral exemplification – This style focuses on the exceptional manner in which people act in terms of kindness, justice, etc. Jesus here is seen as the example we should all follow and if we follow it, people will come.
Now, the seduction of each of these manners of evangelism is that they each can find some justification within the Scriptures for their style. Sin is a problem. God is faithful to His people. Jesus is a moral exemplar. But each of these ideas
The problem with the other
From this basic foundation, we then build other beliefs based upon this basic foundation. As a consequence, we grow more and more confident in the fundamental ideas contained in the foundation as we “learn” more from it. But this really amounts to creative application of the foundational ideas, without care to consider if they are actually legitimate, helpful, or true otherwise; this “learning” becomes more about the benefits the applications of the foundational beliefs offer to ourselves in coping, in social status, in emotional experiences, etc.
As a consequence of this, the very intellectual foundations of our faith become very easily threatened by contrasting theological claims. To hear something that diverges from the foundations we have grown confident
Why? Because our faith is being built upon increasing certainty, built upon acquiring a system of sure knowledge, all in the name of reinforcing our own sense of status and identity. In other words, the very problem that the Corinthian church is having that Paul points out, all because our evangelistic foundations were placed upon the wisdom and styles of persuasion that came from people.
But, if your foundation starts from the basic starting point of “God knows and I don’t,” and if discipleship is a journey of learning what we did not know rather than trying to confirm what we already believed for our own reason, then the theological and ethical differences can be addressed and remedied over the course of time through learning (assuming it is God who is teaching us, ultimately, through other people). So, the question is this: in our evangelism, who is it that we are getting people to trust in? In God through Jesus and the Spirit? In ourselves as teachers? In some idealized image of human persons?