Today, I interview my co-conspirator, Leonard Sweet, on his new book Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There (published by David C. Cook).
Sweet and I have written three books together. Jesus Manifesto, Jesus: A Theography, and Jesus Speaks.
As most of you know, I’ve argued elsewhere that the greatest evangelist on the earth is and has always been the ekklesia when she is functioning the way God intended her to function. She’s absolutely arresting when she shows forth the glories of her Lord, as only she can do.
In the first-century (when the NT was written), it was those little communities of “strange” but joyful people who didn’t observe the Greco-Roman customs, who proclaimed allegiance to a new Caesar and a new Kingdom, and in whom Jew and Gentile loved one another, cared for each other’s needs, married one another, and buried one another. That unique testimony of mutual care, love, oneness, allegiance to a new Lord and a new way of life (which included serving those who were outside their walls) is what shook the Roman Empire to its core.
The world had never beheld such a people before.
Today, evangelism has devolved into a heavy obligation, a religious duty, an exhibition of self-effort laced with enormous guilt (if you fail to “witness” or “bring someone to Jesus,” then God is not happy with you), and a highly-individualistic exercise.
Evangelism as we know it is an obstacle to evangelism as God would have it.
As Len alludes to in this interview, never do we find anywhere in the NT epistles the slightest whisper for Christians to evangelize. That’s because it was an organic thing that was heralded by one’s lifestyle and in natural relationships with those who did not know the Savior. One’s life was the witness. (Jesus Christ has a way of coming out of one’s pours when His people learn to “eat and drink” of Him.) And more, the life of the community which reflected the fullness of Christ was the supreme witness of all witnesses. (Note: for the early Christians, “church” wasn’t an event that you attended once a week. It was a life together.)
Here’s the interview:
What provoked you to write Nudge?
Evangelism is a good word. If you’re a disciple, you’re an evangelist.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, is most known for his quote: “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” But I think his best definition may not be of the church but of evangelism:
To evangelize is to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men and women come to put their faith in God through him, to accept him as their Savior and to serve him as their King in the fellowship of His church.
For first century Christians, evangelism was “We have found the Messiah, come and see.” For twenty-first century Christians, it has become “We have found ourselves, come and see” or “We have found the best church, come and join” or “We have found the best praise and worship, come and sing” or “We are following the best leader, come and fall in.”
After so much “witnessing” to things other than Christ (we witness to our own personal experiences, we witness to our denominations or leaders, etc.), I thought it was time to explore biblically and historically what it might mean to “witness” to the Christ who forgives, redeems and sanctifies, and to do so in a way that isn’t based on “Listen, Lord, for thy servant is speaking” but “Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening.”
There are an incalculable number of books written on evangelism, what makes Nudge unique and different from other titles on the subject?
Evangelists used to model themselves after Lord Nelson of the Royal Navy whose strategy was, when assessing challenging situations, “No maneuvers – just go straight at ’em”. Nudge evangelism is more thorough and thoughtful than that. It is based on the two forgotten premises: first, discipleship and evangelism are in many ways one and the same; two, we are always and everywhere to join Jesus in what he is already doing in the world and not rely on our own understandings and undertakings. The founder of my tribe, John Wesley, talked about three different kinds of grace: prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace. Nudge is the first book on evangelism of which I’m aware that embraces and embodies all three.
One of the things I appreciated about the book is its Christocentric focus. Each chapter subtitle brings Jesus into the conversation: “Hearing Jesus,” “Seeing Jesus,” “Breathing Jesus,” etc. How does Nudge compare and contrast to our joint-volume, Jesus Manifesto?
Basically it’s a follow-up to our book Jesus Manifesto in the area of evangelism. It shows how manifestations of Jesus are the very basis of evangelism itself.
My favorite name of a church, besides “Last Church” (to be theologically correct, all “First Churches” should change their name to “Last Church” since the first will be last, and vice versa), is St. Andrews. I love Andrew? He doesn’t have a big name like Peter, James, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul. But he did do one thing, and he did it over and over again: he introduced people to Jesus. Andrew introduced his brother Simon, a fishing partner, to Jesus. And Jesus was so impressed he gave Simon a new name. When there were 5,000 of Jesus’ listeners to be fed, Andrew introduced a small boy with a small lunch to Jesus. And from that introduction, Jesus fed the enormous crowd. Andrew’s contribution to the history of the church was not dramatic, or innovative, or inventive. He simply nudged people to get acquainted with Jesus, and when this happened, God did some amazing things . . . even when Andrew wasn’t there.
In the short time the book has been out, what are some of the reactions you’ve gotten from readers so far?
It’s been interesting reading. Some people are touting the book as the best thing on evangelism ever written, and others are touting it as the worst. Those in the latter category find the book reprehensible because they believe that every evangelistic encounter should be a shove, not a nudge, and that these shoves should shake the person to the core and shock them into realizing that eternity is at stake with every choice they make and that “now is the time.” I do believe that some nudging will be shoving, but not every one. Besides, Jesus was more a nudger than a shover. Even with His closest disciples, He nudged them until the shove: “Who do you say that I am?”
Imagine one of the people who is reading the book right now. What do you wish to change in his or her life – specifically and practically – after they finish it?
To be less concerned with making a good first impression themselves and to dedicate themselves to making a “Jesus impression” instead.
Nudge evangelism is based on a simple premise: in everyone you meet, leave an impression–a Jesus impression, a Jesus dent. Instead of trying to “impress” everyone with ourselves, Nudge shows how to leave a different impression on people–a Jesus impression. Nudge evangelism is impressing everyone you meet with the goodness, truth and beauty of Jesus.
To “nudge” is to impress on someone how special they are and how much Jesus loves them. The nudge can be as simple as a smile, as profound as a prayer, as complex as a meal, as subtle as a story, as venturous as a witness, as ambitious as an altar call. But when you leave an impression that is more than impressionistic or imprecise, you leave a dent. You “impress” them. Too many Christians are leaving an “impress” of hate and condemnation, not of love and salvation. Jesus did not come to “condemn” but to “save” the world. In everyone you meet, leave a dent. A Jesus nudge leaves a Jesus impression that reminds people that God is up to something big in their life. Everyone you meet is a divine appointment for nudging.
The same question as above, but for churches (congregations).
Paul’s pep talks to churches are less about becoming more passionate about spreading the gospel than becoming more passionately in love with Christ. It’s all about faithfulness to Christ. If you can form a community that is crazy in love with Jesus, and lives in faithful witness to that love, evangelism will organically flow from the love of Christ. For a church to nudge is to give voice and to lend a face to love.