For Southern Baptists this time of the year, various state conventions hold “State Evangelism Conferences” with keynote speakers and sometimes offer evangelism clinics. I have participated in a number of these since high school and found them to have been encouraging moments in my walk with Christ.The other day, I was reading one of the state papers which had a list of the evangelists (assuming to be SBC supported) in that particular state convention. Immediately I came away with a couple of observations.
First, of the 30+ individuals pictured, only one looked to be under the age of 40. I am wondering if the role of itinerant evangelist is not being embraced by the younger generation. Some of you may remember that there was a conference of evangelists comprised of around a dozen attendees who convened to bemoan the Reformed Resurgence in the SBC. One is led to believe that the move away from the revivalism of Finney and Graham coupled with the upsurge of church planting and church revitalization could be an indicator that younger Southern Baptists are not going the route of a traveling evangelist.
Second, I noticed something that, I must say, took me for a spin. When you think of an evangelist, what comes to your mind? A preacher going from church to church preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God, right? Well, as I looked at the subtitles to the evangelists, I indeed found many preachers and singers, but that was not all. Interestingly enough, there were also ventriloquists and illusionists. Now, I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong about a Christian being a ventriloquist or illusionist, but as an evangelist?
I realize that the SBC ethos has welcomed everyone from stand up comedians to burly men who break bricks and rip apart telephone books, but I can’t help but think that something has gone awry when we have fake preachers (ventriloquists) and fake miracle workers (illusionists) functioning as evangelists in our churches. How is it that we can go from John the Baptist to Kermit the Frog? How did we go from the Apostle Paul to David Copperfield?
My only conclusion is that we no longer believe that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.” We do not trust in the sufficiency and regenerative power of God’s Word. We are, simply put, ashamed of the gospel.
I am not slamming the work that ventriloquists and illusionists do in their own respect. For all I know, they could be very good at what they do. What I am deeply concerned about is its relationship to the the gospel and the kind of results this sort of evangelism produces. What are we doing here? The souls of men and women, boys and girls are in the balance, and we are propping up the gospel with puppets and magicians and neutering its message in the process.
We no longer have real, live preachers who say, “Thus saith the Lord,” calling sinners to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Sinners dead in their trespasses, fully engaged in their rebellious ways pronounced with darkened minds and hardened hearts have no other cure but the clear proclamation of the pure gospel. Like the Apostle Paul, we confess that “we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). To this end, that they may see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we preach Christ and not ourselves for their sake.
So I must ask, then. How will such sinners see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ through high-pitched puppets and the slight-of-hand-practices of illusionists? What will they remember when the show is over?
The truth is, the sinners in Paul’s day were no more sinful than sinners in our day, and if we are going to experience the power of the gospel in our lives and ministries, we must preach Christ and Him crucified. The resurrection of Christ is no mere illusion, and we should not evangelize like it either.