In my recent "manifesto" on church, The Church of The Underground, Melody and I engaged in a spirited debate on the nature of evangelism and the purpose of the church. One of the issues raised was whether the church should persuade nonbelievers. Also on the table was the whole point of evangelism: is it to "win souls"? Or is there something bigger???
Here are a few excerpts from the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation that may be of interest. (JTI is a new theological/exegetical journal that comes from a somewhat conservative perspective and seeks to blend together the disciplines of theology and biblical exegesis, exploring the two as complimentary.....though they probably would not like me classifying them as "conservative"! Especially Vanhoozer, who is a self-described "postconservative.")
This article is by Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner entitled, "Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament." Chapman/Warner are interested in exploring the Old Testament concept of mission, but they desire to do this with a bit more care and concern for the context; rather than simply glossing the OT and "finding support" for a preconceived notion of mission, Chapman/Warner seem to want to sit and stew a bit and open up their paradigms to new ways of looking at the text, ultimately allowing the Old Testament to develop its own thoughts on mission. As such, they land on the story of Jonah. After discussing and sifting through the narrative, Chapman/Warner draw a few interesting conclusions. I list a few here:
(1) Like mission, evangelism is not in the first instance something that humans do but something God does....
(2) Evangelism is deeply related to a theology of creation and a doctrine of providence, rightly construed. We are all God’s creatures—evangelism rightly entails compassion for the earth and all its many inhabitants. Issues such as social justice, international development, nationalistic warfare, animal welfare, and global warming cannot be separated from the salvation of souls within the purview of Christian theology.
Some may object that evangelism is properly about saving souls and that neither the earth nor its nonhuman inhabitants have any. But we would argue that evangelism, viewed as human participation in God’s encompassing mission of reconciliation, must be about more than human soul-saving. After all, the OT envisions a covenant between God and “every living creature” (Gen 9:8–17) and the NT describes how “the creation itself will be set free” (Rom 8:21).
(3) Evangelism as imitatio dei therefore means, first and foremost, that Christians must embody God’s love for the world and display God’s desire for reconciliation with the whole world. They do this as individuals whose hearts and minds are inspired by God, but they do so most fully in communities of faith as the reconciled body of Christ....
(7) Christian evangelism is always centripetal as well as centrifugal because it always entails bringing people into community as well as sending people out from community. The double movement is constitutive of evangelism: people are sent out in order to return with others. In this way Christian community extends itself in order to remain itself. But “extending” does not mean the mere replication of the church’s character as an institution (i.e., without facing new challenges or allowing for increased diversity in membership)—in other words, growing just for the sake of growing. And “remaining” means preserving a faithful theological identity, not retaining the social profile of a congregation. In evangelism, the church preserves itself only by giving itself away, remaining hospitable and gracious to all, and not by seeking merely to maintain a homogenous membership.
In keeping with the double movement that the Bible envisions, evangelism is therefore better understood as “welcoming” or, better still, “enlisting” rather than as “winning” or “proclaiming” or even “inviting.”
Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner, "Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament" in Journal of Theological Interpretation 2.1 (2008), 44-69.