I pondered this morning the words of Robert A. J. Gagnon from several weeks ago. You may recall that I spoke of his writing and teaching on homosexuality. Gagnon is, hands down, the foremost biblical scholar on the subject today. What particularly struck me about his presentation at Elmhurst College, in a context that was anything but easy for his viewpoint, was the way he continually called upon people, both heterosexuals and homosexuals, to die!
Whenever Gagnon came to a hard point in the evening’s presentation he simply said, "I remind you, Jesus wants your death!" He recalled Matthew 10:38, which says, "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." By means of this text, and several others, he made this point about dying, again and again. How unlike the evangelism we so often hear today.
What was so striking to me about Gagnon’s presentation has not gone away, even after several weeks. Dr. Gagnon was teaching Christian ethics, in a very hostile environment no less, and he was doing biblical evangelism at the same time. This unusual combination actually left me speechless for several hours.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that "Salvation without discipleship is ‘cheap grace.’" Juan Carol Ortiz, a Latin American evangelical theologian, added, "Discipleship is more than getting to know what the teacher knows. It is getting to be what he is." Gagnon clearly grasps this central point and thus presents the most controversial subject of our time in a uniquely Christ-centered way. We who work in theology and ethics need this balance desperately. We are, in reality, not just fighting for ethics in the church but we are seeking the salvation of souls, both in and out of the church.
For me personally this has been a point of deepening awareness. I have been told by some of my closest friends that my primary gift is evangelism. Because of my interest in theology, ethics, spiritual formation, and the pastoral life/ministry of the church, I have resisted this simple conclusion. I think modern stereotypes of an evangelist do not help my self-identity much. But when I put Gagnon’s approach into sharper perspective I now realize that I am quite likely an evangelist, but one who takes theology very seriously. This should not surprise me really since James Denney, who influenced me decades ago by his writing, once noted that: "Our theologians should be evangelists and our evangelists should be theologians." So, I am an evangelist, just not one like the modern stereotypes many of us grew up with. After all, I am a child of the "Jesus Movement" and the student revivals of the 1960’s and 70’s. And if more and more of the emerging generation is outside the church, and more and more of those inside the church are not real Christians, God knows we need more evangelists! I believe my evangelist role has a place and I need to pursue this more intentionally. In fact, by God’s grace, I will tell more and more people, "I believe that I am called by God to be an evangelist." He has given me to the church to glorify him in this way. I have a lot of work to do to clarify this focus so I must be prayerfully working on it every day.