On February 21st nearly 10,000 people overflowed Titanium Security Arena here in Adelaide to hear Franklin Graham’s message. About 400 responded to his altar call. I was one of the thousand or so watching on the big screen outside.
After a Planet Shakers worship frenzy to disconcert the unchurched, and a short set by Crowder to re-concert them, the 66-year old American in a suit took the stage.
Now I’d heard the chatter among some thinking Christians about the Graham Tour, and there’s much I agree with. Here’s a summary of their concerns:
- He has identified too strongly with right-wing politics in general and Trump in particular.
- Flying in an American to sweep across Australia in a whirl-wind, pre-packaged stadium tour breaks just about every rule of missiology. (I don’t remember him even using the name “Adelaide”. It was just “your city” – sigh.)
- His ‘old school’ gospel message overplayed the Penal Substitutionary view of Christ’s Atonement (focusing on sin as our moral failure before a Righteous Judge) as opposed to other biblical facets of the gospel such as our being lost and in need of a Finder or captive in need of a Rescuer. In ‘old school’ evangelism, awareness of guilt is a key step on the way to Jesus, and the sins he gave time for special mention were selective … the classic ones.
All these things unsettle many Christian thinkers – but do you know what drives us most crazy? That 400 people nevertheless responded, saying that they want to be reconciled to God through Christ.
I turned these things over in my mind as I drove home and have come to this conclusion: The only type of evangelism that works is the evangelism that actually gets done. If any of us think that we can do it better, then we really should. We really must.
I’m convinced there’s still a place in our day and our culture for ‘event evangelism’, where a Christian community combines its many gifts to create a hospitable experience for enquirers that culminates in a gifted and well-prepared evangelist sharing the message and calling for a response. We do it in small ways when a church runs Alpha or an equivalent. We do it in medium ways, for instance through Easter Camps. Event evangelism stands on the shoulders of everyday witness and has the great advantage of creating a moment-for-decision that calls out a response.
So if God can use a Trumped-up sexagenarian regurgitating a 1950s version of the kingdom message with a ‘Merican accent, then what might He do through you and me?
PS If you have the noble task of sharing the gospel with others, either conversationally or through prepared messages (spot talks, devotions etc), please join our new Gospel Sharers Network. First gathering is Tue April 2nd 7pm at Trinity Baptist. For those who aren’t in Adelaide … why aren’t you?