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Share the Gospel positively, Bock says in Towers interview
December 1, 2008
By David Roach and Robert E. Sagers
If Christians are not presenting the Gospel with a positive tone, they are misrepresenting the message of Scripture, according to Darrell Bock.
Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, delivered the annual Gheens Lectures Nov. 4-6 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In an interview during his time on campus, Bock told Towers his views on some of the most pressing issues in evangelicalism today.
"Sometimes when I listen to the message of the Gospel being preached in our culture, I'm hearing us saying to the world, 'You dirty rat, you shouldn't be doing that,'" he said.
"Well, the Gospel is far more than that. The Gospel is about God's loving initiative to reach out and reclaim people made in the image of God who have been lost by their own direction and their own behavior and to reclaim them in a positive kind of way — and offer them not just forgiveness of sins or death for sins, but offer them eternal life: to know the Father and to know the Son."
An angry tone can undermine orthodox theology, Bock said.
"My concern is that sometimes we have the right message, we may even have the right theology, but if we deliver it with the wrong tone, we have actually distorted the message that we're presenting," he said.
One important way to set the right tone in an evangelistic conversation is to listen, he said.
"Most times when we do evangelism, we're so anxious to share and to talk that we don't listen," Bock said. "I tell people that when they're sharing, particularly if it's in the context of relationships that they have, they ought to do a lot of listening first. And ask questions, which draws out the person's religious experience to see where they're coming from."
Bock suggested some questions to ask: Did you grow up in a church home? Have you had a bad Christian experience in the past? Are you angry with someone? Are you angry with God?
When people answer your questions, listen well, he said.
"All these (questions) have nothing to do with the academics but have everything to do with how the person is processing the Christian experience," Bock said. "And it's important to know that, I think, going into a conversation because then it will make you a little more aware of, perhaps, what door is the way into a more meaningful conversation."
Another of Bock's suggestions for evangelistic conversations may seem counterintuitive to seminary students: don't get bogged down in attempts to defend the inerrancy of Scripture.
"If you can get a person to agree that what is in the Bible reflects the gist of what Jesus was about, that it's basically accurate — there might be a few things here and there that we can discuss and debate and we might have to sort our way through in terms of the details, but the basic story is true — then you can get to the conversations you really want to have," he said.
Without changing the core message, believers must contextualize the Gospel so that people in varied social contexts can understand and apply the Bible, he said.
"Even though there are certain principles that Scripture has about the way in which we are to conduct ourselves and relate to one another, the context in which we operate impacts what we are drawn to, what we interact with in Scripture, how we study it and how we apply it," Bock said.
Bock said new media such as blogs and other electronic communication tools are essential components in the quest to bring the Gospel to contemporary culture.
"I've got to have a full array of tools as I go to share," he said. "And part of the tools are the visual media that most people are on. And so I've just helped design a Jesus studies program at the seminary, in which one of the courses is 'Jesus and the Media,' in which we analyze both how Jesus is presented in the media and think about how to present Jesus in the various media."
Regardless of what means believers use to share the Gospel, they must always understand the worldview of the people with whom they are sharing, he said.
"I think it's important that we understand how other people think," he said. "That's a part of what I've highlighted this week. It's not only understanding our own paradigm, our own model, our own message, but being able to understand the message of someone else so that we are able to engage them both on their own terms as well as to challenge them on their paradigm."