Parables, Paradigms, and Profiles in Evangelism
Is the gospel nothing more than a legal transaction in heaven, the details of a courtroom case played out before the Almighty, to be proclaimed in all the world? There is no doubt that this is the Gospel, and there is no doubt that there is more to the Gospel than this.
Christ Jesus died in the place of sinners, and that news is more glorious than you or I can imagine. But there is more to the Gospel than legal theory. Unless we introduce people to Jesus Christ, the key player in the legal drama of the Gospel, we have not really communicated God’s truth to them.
How can we do this? How do we present the holistic person of Jesus Christ to others? In this post, I’d like to share some tools that you can use to present Jesus Christ and his Gospel: parables, paradigms, and profiles. This is only an introduction – in the future, I hope to deal with these subjects in more detail.
Before I share these tools, let’s review the Gospel. I’ve already dealt with this topic before, when I reviewed the four components of the Gospel – God, Man, Christ, and the appropriate Response. However, if we were to summarize this Gospel, we might use the words of Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” In another place, Paul’s description of the Gospel is equally glorious – “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
In Acts 2:40, after a magnificent sermon to the Jews, Luke records that Peter testified and exhorted “with many other words.” To think that we can state the full gospel in a phrase or verse or sentence is to radically diminish its scope. While the individual elements can be packed into a sentence like a sleeping-bag, they must be unpacked and unfolded before they make sense and are truly ‘proclaimed’ in any useful manner to a people.
When Christ spoke, we find that again and again he used parables. In fact, Matthew 13 is famous for all the parables it contains! From one perspective, using parables may seem like a bad idea– Christ confessed that he used parables to keep the truth from those who were not given understanding, as a way to conceal the truth from them.
Still, many parables were spoken in plain language – like the story of the Pharisee and the publican at the temple – a parable that is easy to understand, and presents many elements of the Gospel. Other parables, while difficult to understand, were explained by Jesus, such as the parable of the tares, or the parable of the sower.
Jesus used parables as an effective way to share truth. The Gospels are brimming with these sorts of stories. How could you incorporate these stories into your evangelism?
A number of mission strategists have noted the three main paradigms that cultures operate in: fear/power, guilt/innocence, and shame/honor. America was historically a guilt/innocence culture, and we often present the Gospel in this framework. More and more, our nation moves toward elements of the fear/power and shame/honor culture.
Witchcraft and the rise of neo-paganism (indeed, even the rise of the hyper-charismatic movement!) make people think more about spiritual power, which leads to fear. The loosening of moral restraint in our culture fills individuals with shame and the pursuit of honor. For these reasons, you should consider whether your presentation of the Gospel addresses these legitimate topics.
What do I mean by profiles? I mean profiles, or pictures, of Jesus Christ. Do you paint a picture of Jesus Christ when you present the Gospel?
What if you could have Jesus come along with you as your evangelistic companion one evening. Do you think that his words and actions would be more powerful than yours? You may not have him beside you in a physical way, but you can still present him to people, describe stories and events in his life, and show them the love and compassion that he demonstrated. Incorporate these profiles of Jesus that fill the New Testament.
Parables, paradigms, and profiles – these are three tools for you to add to your ‘evangelistic toolbox.’ As I mentioned earlier, I hope to deal with them in more depth later. For now, think about these tools yourself, and ponder how you can use them to present the multi-dimensional Christ of the Bible.