Soul Obsession – “Theology” and Evangelism

Taken from the blurb of the titular book – “Nicky Cruz is known by millions through Run Baby Run, the dramatic book and film of his early life, which told of his transformation from New York’s most feared gang leader into one of the world’s most famous and effective evangelists…

Nicky then asks whether you have what it takes to make a difference.  Having a Soul Obsession requires: Passion, for Jesus; Mercy, to see people through Jesus’ eyes; and Vision, to know the purpose God has for your life”.

Excusing the rather Americanised expressions and film trailer-like blurb, this enjoyable book was given to me as a birthday present back in my first year in university.  The book is a sort of biographical sequel to Nicky Cruz’ first book “Run Baby Run”, and it covers some new insights to his new European evangelistic ministries.  However much I respect evangelists like Nicky Cruz, like all saints in Christ we still run the danger of misrepresenting the gospel.  I happen to come across this book again after my fiance was going through the stuff in her flat, and I noticed that I had one page which I deliberately tabbed.  Of course, when I picked up the book, I didn’t know why I tabbed it, until I read what was on the page:

“There is a time and place for arguing doctrine and debating theology, but not when trying to reach someone for Christ.  One of the greatest strengths of our ministry is that we decided years ago to leave theology to the scholars and instead focus only on the love of Jesus.  When we reach out to a neighbourhood, we leave our arguments at home and bring only a soft shoulder and a tender heart.  We love people because Jesus has put a burden in our hearts to save them.  And the more we reach out, the greater our compassion grows”.

5 years ago when I was serving the Christian Union in LSE, this paragraph stuck in my mind as something inspiring. Why did people bother debating the nuances of infant or believer’s baptism?  What is the motive of finding out whether the Angel of the LORD is just some ‘theo’phany, or an actual Christophany?  Does it matter if the authors of the Old Testament knew Christ or just knew a monotheistic Unipersonal God?  Should we learn to sing hymns or rock n’ roll praise?  The questions continued and made me cynical of all types of doctrinal debates.  I decided to put things back to the Matt Redman-esque “heart-of-worship”.

Theology should however never ever be detached from evangelism.  In fact, evangelism is a subset of theology.  Christian theology should be grounded in the Word of God, the Spirit testifying to Christ, the Christ testifying to the Father.  Without this Trinitarian method of revelation, we cannot possibly come to call on the name of the LORD.  Yet, Nicky Cruz, through poor expression, comes to relate “theology” as a scholarly subject relegated to the confines of a Harvard campus (as the paragraph would later on describe, he said he has never met anyone who was ‘saved’ by theology).  I do not doubt Nicky Cruz’ compassion, and neither am I criticizing Nicky’s interpretation of the word theology — rather, I am looking at what “theologians” have done to the word “theology” so as to give Nicky such an interpretation.  If Nicky is right, then indeed the contemporary theologians have come to look at “theology” as a subject of luxury, something to be studied but not practised nor lived out.  If the theologian’s favourite Latin quote is ‘crux probat omnia’, yet continually fails to live a cross-centered life, as opposed to someone like Nicky whose theology far surpasses ours despite his poor usage of theological terminology, then “theology” is given a dirty name.  It becomes taboo.  And it should not be that way.  It should be simple – because the Word of God, which Christian theology is founded upon, is not just for scholars and intellects.

Doctrinal purity prevents us from preaching a false gospel.  I have increasingly approached people with the conviction that they should learn more about Jesus, rather than tell them simply to believe in Jesus.  We can love these people, but they in turn will worship Christ because of man’s love.  Man’s love is a confusing thing, unless we take care to clarify that it is not the work of Zeus (Acts 14) but the love of an ascended Christ.  There is something eery in evangelism when Christ-focused theology is not applied — even the blurb to Nicky’s book implied it.  “Nicky then asks whether YOU have what it takes to make a difference”.  In many ways, yes — but it starts from understanding what CHRIST has done to make a difference before He uses us as mouthpieces for His Word.  There are many success stories of people converting to Buddhism, extreme strands of Catholicism,Islam… to isolate Christian testimonies as ‘true works of God’ is to misunderstand whether true salvation comes by simply uttering another name.  No – true salvation comes from knowing what the Person “Jesus Christ” represents.  Knowing His relationship with the Father and the Spirit (John 17).  Knowing His death and resurrection and ascension. No person can know all those things in one go, but through conversations, discussions and relationships with the people of Christ, the non-Christian can come to accept his or her salvation offered when the Father gave the Son as a gift to all people.  Altar-calls and evangelistic events have their place, but it is the day-to-day grind of the Christ-focused Christian which discerns the true light from the deceiving glimmers of the misrepresented gospel. The trouble with biographies on famous evangelists is that the reader tends to carry with him or her the conviction to be like the evangelist, but fail to conform to Christ, the true image of God.

God has pointed me back to this book to point out a widespread problem of our age.  We don’t need more of contemporary theology — but we need more of the type of theology which pushes us to have a soul obsession to reach out to people and tell them not what we can do, but what Christ has done on the cross to redeem all of creation and the Christian’s soul.  To end with Mike Reeves’ analysis of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (Vol 1):

“The book ends with an important sermon on how to do theology. Theology, he [Barth] argues, is what the Church does to check that what it preaches is actually what God has revealed. There are three marks, he says, of a theology that lives up to that task: it must be biblical; it must be confessional; and it must be (as the title Church Dogmatics suggests) done for the Church and not merely for the academy or for intellectual amusement. Theology is worship in the field of thought. In our situation today, where theology is so divorced from our Church life, it is a sermon we would do well to hear.”

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Soul Obsession – “Theology” and Evangelism

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