How to use God is not Dead (The Movie) as a conversation starter

God_is_not_dead_Movie_PosterI recently saw the movie God is not Dead.

My own reaction to the movie is somewhat mixed to the movie.

But a wise evangelist could suggest this movie to a truly seeking friend and allow it to open further conversational opportunities.

This movie will likely not successfully engage those who’s minds are already made up or hostile to the Christian faith.  Some of the story lines and character arcs may seem too simplistic for people who are not seriously considering the claims of Christ.

The basic plot

A Christian guy (Josh) enrolled in a presumably secular university takes a Philosophy class.

On the first day of class, Professor Radisson wants students to sign a declaration of their belief that God is dead so that he can dispense of such notions without having to prove it.

Josh is unable to sign the declaration and the Professor assign him a task to present is arguments to the class.

The movie follows the presentation of various apologetic arguments and counter arguments.

Some of the class members change their mind and at least one becomes a believer.

Along the way, other story arcs are introduced

  • Why the professor is an atheist.
  • A Muslim employee in the school is a convert Christ.
  • A chaplain, apparently struggling in his own faith, finds renewed faith through an African sidekick.
  • Josh’s decision to defend his faith has a cost.
  • A Chinese student is influenced by Josh’s argument.
  • A secular humanist left-leaning reporter faces a crisis her worldview can’t handle.

Reactions to God is Not Dead in our family.

Our family discussed some of the hard choices forced upon the various people because of their faith.

Each character had a point of view and a hard choice to make because of their belief and worldview.

While the Professor character was an exaggeration, the arguments that he puts forth are real arguments that Christians should have a reasonable answer for.

The problem of evil and the why of our existence are two apologetic challenges that have been discussed for centuries, so the philisophical problems are not solved in the film.

Rather, our family discussed the reasoableness of the arguments.

We also discussed how many people have a personally painful reason to reject God.  While not everyone has such a story, it is a common enough basis that we wanted our kids to see it.

Not For Everyone

This is not a movie to bring an intellectual atheist to evaluate or enjoy. The atheist position is a bit of a caricature and will be more of a distraction than a conversational help.

The problem of evil and the existence of God continue to be some of the greatest philosophical challenges. The movie won’t solve it, but it does show us a good way to defend our faith and show that our faith is reasonable.

I have friends whose logic had lead them to different conclusions and they are as angry as the professor.

It’s hard to argue with someone who hates God, but the movie shows Josh sharing a reasonable basis for his faith without being obnoxious.

Ways to use God is Not Dead in your ministry

I’ve seen online reviews that criticize the theology in the movie (and complain about too much leg skin by the Duck Dynasty lady causing lust), but most of the critics complain about the exaggerations and stereotypes in the movie.

Rather than walk down that road, I’d rather suggest ways to use this movie in your ministry.

I imagine a couple of ways this movie could be helpful to the evangelist:

  • Discussion starter for youth groups
    • Standing up for your faith
    • How to be reasonable and respectful in debate
    • Faith may require sacrificial choices
    • How evangelistic moments are not scripted, but happenings in life.
    • Are you prepared to help a person come to faith at a unplanned moment?
    • The role of apologetics on our belief.
  • Discussion starters for seekers
    • Why was the professor an atheist?
    • Have you had doubts about God because of unanswered prayer?
    • What is your answer to the problem of evil?
    • Is it possible to have a conversation about faith without anger?
    • Religion asks “why?”  Science asks “how.”
    • How you’ve had to make your own tough choices because of what you believe.

Other reviews:

Your Turn:

Did you see this movie?

Please share with me your thoughts, reviews, etc. of this movie in the comments below.

Book Review: The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life

The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic LifeI am a big advocate of evangelism as a lifestyle.

When I read the book the Acts, I see how evangelism played out in the life of the apostles and early believers.  They spent time with people. They shared their faith, and the “Lord added daily” to their numbers.

How can a believer experience a lifestyle where evangelism occurs in the ordinary routine of life?

Doug Cecil has expounded on this question in The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life, without falling into the trap of teaching “witnessing without words.”

The principles Cecil maps out could help the ordinary believer find ways to incorporate evangelism during the ordinary course of life.

This is a practical and accessible book, not overly academic or dry.  As he goes through the book, Cecil is good at including appropriate stories and biblical references. The stories come from his own life.

The foundation of personal evangelism

Cecil starts recognizing that evangelism starts out of your own relationship with Jesus. (Principle 1).  Without nurturing your own relationship with Christ, you’ll lack any passion or motivation to share.

While he recognizes that there are different styles of evangelism, he confronts the copout “that’s not my style” and shows how each of us are called to share our faith, no matter what our preferred tendency is.  The section on the dynamics between the closeness of our relationship with people and what strategy we should adopt is very eye opening.  We should not ever have a reason to say “That’s not my style.”

Definition of Evangelism

Like many writers, he starts with defining evangelism.  Cecil clearly defines evangelism as the particular conversation where the gospel is shared.  For Cecil, evangelism is an event in the process of disciplemaking.

Evangelism is an event and not a process. We are to do the work of an evangelist. The definition of evangelism has two main parts: information and invitation. One part without the other is out of balance. One should not think of presenting an invitation without any information. And likewise, providing only the information without an invitation to trust Christ will leave the listener frustrated and still unsaved. After a person trusts Christ, instruction in the spiritual life starts the person down the road toward spiritual maturity

On the one hand, I agree with his definition of evangelism.  A strict biblical interpretation of meaning of evangelism would be the actual proclamation of the gospel.

On the other hand, I would see all the appropriate activity and conversations leading up to that particular moment as part of the evangelistic process as people walk through stages of their journey to Christ.  He would call that “witnessing.”  It’s a slight difference of nuance.

7PrinciplesEvangelisticLife

The Seven Principles of an Evangelistic life

1. Keep Your Priorities Straight

There is a great commandment before there is a great commission. You may have the slickest method, the slickest presentation, and be the most silver-tongued person around; but if your relationship with Jesus Christ is out of focus, evangelism is out of balance.  (Location 276).

2. Evangelism is an Event in the Process of Disciplemaking

The people in the relational-strategy camp talk a lot about the cultivation and talk little about the harvest. The writers in the aggressive-strategy camp talk a lot about the harvest, but talk little about the cultivation. Normally a person has to choose between one of the two strategies. It seems to me that both are correct, if properly employed. We ought to target some sort of middle ground where we see the two united with such terms as cultivation, sowing, and harvesting. There is a proper time for cultivation, a proper time for sowing, and a proper time for harvesting (Location 496).

3. Make the gospel clear.

There are two main parts: (1) Christ died for our sins, and (2) He arose from the dead. Notice now that Paul supplies biblical evidence and also empirical evidence for each statement. The statement “Christ died for our sins” is followed by the biblical evidence, “according to the Scriptures.” And following the biblical evidence, Paul supplies the empirical evidence, “He was buried.” “He [also] was raised on the third day.” Again, Paul supplies both biblical evidence, “according to the Scriptures,” and empirical evidence, “He appeared.”

With both biblical and empirical evidence, Paul declares the Good News. The Gospel, the Good News, is: Christ died for my sins and arose from the dead. (Location 1005)

4. Evangelism is more spiritual than methodological.

The question in evangelism is not how you can get better equipped or find the newest and latest method of sharing the Good News. The main question in evangelism is, What’s holding you back? If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life, sharing Jesus Christ is a passion. This brings about the fourth principle of evangelism: Evangelism is more spiritual than it is methodological (Location 1297)

5. Being a good witness means passionately pursuing the lost in love.

Being a good witness is being salt and light in a tasteless and dark world by living by grace and truth. Being a witness is more involved in cultivating relationships and sowing seeds in the process of disciple making.  But being a witness is anything but being passive in life and not being involved with people. Being a witness is passionately pursuing the lost in love and being intimately involved with people. You are a witness for Jesus Christ because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in your life. You are to do the work of an evangelist. You can be either a good witness for Jesus Christ or a poor witness for Jesus Christ, but one way or another you are a witness! (Location 1514)

6. Evangelism moves forward as God’s people get involved in ministry and service.

We were not created to be alone. We need each other. How can we harness the power that is found in the body of Christ to corporately reach out to a lost world around us? What are some of the things that we can do to reach out to the community? (Location 1963)

Here is another basic principle of evangelism. Evangelism moves forward as God’s people get involved in ministry and service. If I am able to get my people involved in service, and they give themselves away in ministry, evangelism will take care of itself. (Locations 2038)

7.  Disciple, nurture, and assimilate new believers into the church.

Follow-up is the process of establishing a believer in the faith. Notice two things about this definition. First, follow-up is a process and not just an event. We never arrive in follow-up. Secondly, the person being followed up may or may not be a new believer. There are a lot of people sitting in our pews who have never effectively been followed up. (Location 2723).

Each chapter has  relevant story of the principles involved, plus there are additional chapters that tease out

Slide Deck

Quotes I liked:

  • How we live serves as a foundation for evangelism, not as a substitute.
  • The greatest obstacle to [evangelism] is the church that is preoccupied with its own existence.
  • Being a witness is passionately pursuing the lost in love and being intimately involved with people.
  • Doing evangelism centers on proclaiming that Christ died for our sins and arose from the dead.
  • I believe that the Father’s heart is expressed in three ways: a concern for the world, a compassion for the lost, and a passion for reconciliation.
  • If you just feel compassion without showing mercy, then you really have not experienced biblical compassion.
  • Until the Gospel is actually presented, evangelism has not truly occurred. It is good to keep in mind that all relational strategies must become aggressive at some point; otherwise, that person is still lost.
  • You start by being a good witness for Jesus Christ. But what exactly is a good witness for Jesus Christ? Being a good witness is being salt and light in a tasteless and dark world by living by grace and truth.
  • An evangelistic personal testimony is a clear statement of your conversion with a Gospel presentation woven in

Other Reviews

Doug Cecil has done a tremendous service to the body of Christ in his newest book on evangelism.  His work is a must read for every Christian who wants to be used by God to expand the family of believers. – Keith Ferguson

Order your copy

Order your copy of The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life from Amazon.  I will receive a small commission.  Doug Cecil is the author.

Guest Article: The Seismic Shift in Evangelism

Do you understand that evangelism has changed?

Popular approaches you may have grown up with were great for their time, but new approaches to the unchanging gospel are necessary.  Last week, James White sent out this post, and it’s republished here with permission.

ChurchCulture

Vol. 9, No. 10

The Seismic Shift in Outreach

There has been a seismic shift in outreach that few church leaders are understanding, much less pursuing.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the vanguard of evangelistic outreach was direct proclamation of the gospel. Whether the crusades of Billy Graham or the creative approaches of Willow Creek Community Church, presentation led the way.

This led to joining a community, and eventually, being discipled into participation with the cause.

From the 1990’s thru the 2000’s, community took the lead. People wanted to belong before they believed. Skepticism was rampant, and trust had to be earned. Once enfolded, Christ was often met in the midst of that community.

Cause, again, was the last to take hold.

From the 2010’s forward, “cause” has become the leading edge of our connection with a lost world, and specifically the “nones” (and it is increasingly best to replace the term “unchurched” with the “nones”). Consider the recent Passion Conference in Georgia. What arrested outside media attention was the commitment to eradicate modern-day slavery, not the 60,000 students in attendance much less the messages related to the Christian faith.

In a word, “cause.”

This made the gathering of 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome for that cause become attractional. In other words, then and only then did “community” come into play. Then, after exploring that community, Christ could be – and was – introduced.

Think of this shift in terms of moving people through stages of introduction:

1950’s-1980’s:

Unchurched >>> Christ >>> Community >>> Cause

1990’s-2000’s

Unchurched >>> Community >>> Christ >>> Cause

2010’s -

Nones >>> Cause >>> Community >>> Christ

It is important to note how far the message of Christ is from the mind and sentiment of the average “none.” It’s not that the church should “bury the lead” in terms of putting Christ at the end of the line – remember, we’re talking strategy. It’s just that leading with Billy Graham’s simple “The Bible says” was a strategy designed for people in a different place spiritually than many are today.

The more post-Christian a person is, the more evangelism must embrace not only “event/proclamation”, but “process” and “event/proclamation.” Earlier models were almost entirely “event/proclamation” oriented, such as revivals, crusades, or door-to-door visitation. As I’ve written about in other places, this is only effective in an Acts 2, God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem context.

“Process” models are needed in Acts 17, Mars Hill, nones/skeptical contexts.

Like the one we live in today.

The presentation of Christ must remain central to our thinking, to be sure. That is the only reason we are even talking about strategy; the goal is to present Christ and Him crucified. But is that where we start? On Mars Hill, the spiritual illiteracy was so deep that Paul had to begin with cultural touchstones, lead in to creation, and work his way forward.

It took him a while to get to Christ.

And community? It matters, but the average person has tastes of that already. Maybe not functional, but they don’t seem as drawn to it as they used to be. Perhaps it is because of the lure and illusion of social media, or because they’ve simply given up on it, but it’s not the great “search” it once was.

So there has been a great, seismic shift. Today, it is cause that arrests the attention of the world.

Which brings us to the challenge.

First, to recognize the seismic shift, and begin to strategize accordingly.

Second, to realize how difficult this will be. If cause is in the lead, and community close behind, the church is at a deficit. In the minds of many, our causes have been mundane (let’s raise money for a fellowship hall!) or alienating (Moral Majority!). And the close second of community? Our reputation for dysfunction in that area is legendary.

But there is great irony in the challenge. Jesus wed mission and message together seamlessly, proclaiming the Kingdom that had come while healing the leper and feeding the hungry. He mandated concern for the widow and the orphan, the homeless and naked, the imprisoned and hungry, while speaking of the bread of life and a home in heaven.

In other words, we should have been nailing this all along.

And if community is lurking in the back of the minds of people as a felt need, that should be a calling card as well. Jesus challenged his followers about the importance of observable love toward one another as the ultimate apologetic for His life and ministry and message.

And even if it takes a while to get to Christ, He should be presented raw and unfiltered in all of His scandalous specificity. As Moltmann proclaimed, “the crucified God.”

So as we ponder the rise of “cause” as the cultural bridge over which to walk, perhaps the greater truth is more elemental:

Do all three.

Imagine a church that had community, cause and the undiluted message of Christ in the vanguard of its efforts.

It might just become the church Jesus had in mind all along that would reach the world.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

 

Appropriate Silence in Personal Witnessing

I’ve got a few friends who have always been hostile to talking about faith.

Their level of spiritual thirst has been low.  In fact, it’s downright hostile.

We remain friends, but talking about Jesus provokes emotional hostility or an evasive awkward silence.

Other times, they attempt to change the subject.

When I try to open up spiritual themes in a conversation,  or follow a possible avenue of spiritual thirst, the conversation is quickly moved on to another theme.

They are an unwilling conversational partner when it comes to faith.

D*** the torpedoes, full speed ahead

Some evangelism techniques encourage you to plow ahead, in spite of the resistance.

The urgency of sharing the gospel requires you to risk ruining the friendship so that you get the gospel to their ears.

It’s not your job to be polite, they say, but to deliver this message of salvation.

They could die of a heart attack in the next 4 minutes, so you need to be sure they hear the gospel and have a chance to respond.

Or, they say, it’s better to witness like this to a stranger on first contact, so there is no friendship to ruin.

You won’t see this person again soon, so share the gospel without regard to their reaction.

Give God the opportunity to work, they say.

They are not rejecting you, but the message.  God’s word will not return void, so plant the seed.

These are justifications some use to find comfort in the face of such unwanted evangelism conversations.

I have a problem with that

There may be times when personal witnessing in unwanted conversations is appropriate.  But many times, it is not.  It causes more harm than good.

The evangelist must know that he or she is riding a real leading of the Holy Spirit to confront sin or to keep pursuing a conversation when it is unwanted.

Peter didn’t step back in the face of unwanted conversations, and some of his sermons in Acts called hard hearted people to repentance.

The difference is in the working of the Holy Spirit.

Peter knew the Holy Spirit was at work, rapidly breaking the barriers.  He knew that the Holy Spirit was leading him to give such sermons.

But a lot of times, one might dangerously plow ahead in a conversation with an unwilling partner without that leading of the Spirit and cause more harm than good.

Save it for another day.

But Jesus did not answer. So the high priest said, With the living God looking on, you must tell the truth. Tell us, are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” (Matthew 26:63, CEV)

If there was ever a moment to witness, this was it.  Jesus had a a chance to speak directly to who He is.

This was a hostile conversation with Ciaphas.  Jesus knew that Ciaphas wasn’t interested in truth (v.59).

But knowing the heart, Jesus knew this was not the right time.

So he chose silence.

There may be times where you will drop the conversation.

It will not be the right time.

Even if your conversation partner is asking questions, you might discern that their questions are meant to be useless rabbit trails on pet peeves, or talking points that they want to make.

Now my friend is interested

In the last 14 days, there is a spiritual awakening happening in my friend.

Suddenly, there is a genuine openness to reading the Scripture, to prayer, to a relationship for Jesus.

God is working and now my friend’s spiritual thirst is obvious.

Because I’ve respected my friend’s boundaries in the past, because I’ve chosen silence at the other times, I have earned a right to be heard NOW.

I’m excited to see what God is doing in response to years of prayer.

Let me ask you this

Are there other times when silence is a better option?

(Image Credit: USNavy)

Tim Keller’s 10 Personal Evangelism Tips

  1. Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
  2. Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
  3. Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
  4. Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
  5. Give them a book to read
  6. Share your story
  7. Answer objections and questions
  8. Invite them to a church event
  9. Offer to read the Bible with them
  10. Take them to an explore course

- Tim Keller [via: Salternlite]

Thanks for sharing the list.

You can download the message ($2.50) from the Redeemer Website here.

At the original post, various comment writers criticize this list for missing “share the gospel.”

The gist of the list is not how to share the gospel (that is assumed), but how to advance the personal 1-1 conversation about the gospel with your peers.