I have never really been 100 per cent behind the ‘point of contact’ view of evangelism. Leaving aside the pretty stark dichotomies in the Scriptures (e.g. “what fellowship has light with darkness?”—2 Cor 6:14b), which appear to suggest that there is absolutely no common ground between truth and error, it just seems to be filled with all kinds of problems.
Of course, nobody else really cares that this solitary individual can’t give the 100 per cent nod to this kind of enterprise. As I look around and listen, it seems that more and more are urging the expediency or even necessity of this kind of approach. With all the hand-wringing in our major denominations about declining numbers (including in my own), we are being urged to find fresh expressions of church (which I am not necessarily opposed to)—as if it is our venues or times or styles that are problematic (which I seriously wonder about). The urge to be ‘culturally relevant’ is now heard about as frequently as John 3:16 (perhaps it has become John 3:16), and is theologically often attached to that famous verse with some kind of ham-fisted ‘theology’ that speaks of us having to ‘incarnate’ the gospel. (Even if the Son of God’s action was not absolutely unique, how can we do that? We are already ‘carna’—flesh—so how can we become flesh all over again???) Then there are those good old, long-serving slogans (and, despite our advertising-ridden world, is it really possible to distil truth into slogans???): “You have to earn the right to evangelize”; “You have to build bridges before you cross them”; “You have to be in relationship”, and the like.
The problems are many. Everyone wants to become the culturally sensitive guru, and thus develops a new kind of priesthood. For those who don’t reach these heights, discouragement! Everyone gets about focusing on their fresh expressions, thus threatening to siphon off energy from the real task of telling people about Jesus. Everyone gets to building bridges, seeking after common ground, learning more and more about the culture around us—which is all an absorbing process (need I say more?) And since this kind of enterprise is really nothing new, we already have plenty (more than plenty) of evidence that although ‘pre-evangelism’ perhaps has a place in the scheme of things, when it takes over, it leaves good-hearted Christian people overworked, exhausted and frustrated from never really seeing any results for all their efforts. For, after all, ‘pre-evangelism’ is never ‘evangelism’.
It is a very different picture to the simplicity presented to us in the New Testament. The power of God is not in our efforts, our cultural sensitivity, our brilliant relationship-building powers or our anything! It lies clearly and firmly in one place: the gospel itself (Rom 1:16). Our task then becomes quite clear: “we … believe, therefore we … speak” (2 Cor 4:13b). The ‘ethos’ in which we speak is also clear: we speak the truth in love.
It is also funny how we seem to desperately want to find a ‘point of contact’—as if that is also far from clear. Isn’t the ‘common ground’ told to us by the gospel, and isn’t it already plainly in sight? People are human beings; there is a creator. People are sinners; there is a saviour. People are guilty; there is forgiveness. People are dying; there is eternal life. People are frightened about the future; there is the kingdom of God coming soon. It doesn’t seem to be rocket science.
The hard bit is introducing yourself to your neighbour and opening your mouth to ask whether they want to hear some really good news that once turned the world upside down, and is about to do so again.