The average Christian testimony goes something like this: I’d always believed in God and then I came to see that Jesus was this god-I-always-believed-in.
Average Christian evangelism really hopes that people believe in “God”. We are relieved to hear that a person believes in "God." Phew, we think, that's half the job done!
If they don’t believe in "God" we draw a deep breath and rummage around for some arguments to convince them of "God":
- There’s order in the world, there must be an Orderer.
- Everything is caused, there must be a Cause at the top of the chain.
- There’s morality – there must be a Moral Lawgiver.
- You have a sense of something more, there must be Something more.
And we argue towards some kind of OmniBeing. You know the omnis – maybe you learnt them in religious studies at school. God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous, ambidextrous, double-joined, tri-focal, etc, etc, etc.
And if our arguments are clever enough, maybe they’ll agree to our philosophy. Hallelujah, they believe in the Omnibeing! This is surely a step in the right direction, we imagine.
After all, didn't Elijah use similar tactics on the Baal worshippers. I don't have my bible to hand but I seem to remember some very powerful arguments on Mount Carmel. All that stuff about "Yahweh is a bit like Baal. But bigger. And less despotic." Brilliant stuff.
Well, now that we've used philosophical theism as a stepping stone to Jesus, we come to the business end of proceedings: it's time to unveil Jesus Himself. And so we hand over a Gospel to our unbeliever and try to convince them that Jesus is the Omnibeing made flesh.
The unbeliever goes away and reads the Gospel. And what do they find? A laughing, crying, shouting, serving, healing, loving Human Sacrifice. And the non-Christian says – “Wow, that stuff’s interesting. But it doesn’t sound like the Omnibeing.”
At this stage we must remain firm. It would be easy to sell out the OmniBeing. But no. We must be faithful to our bedrock theism, right? So here's how we proceed:
-- “Hmm, tricky" we say, "all that passionate, self-sacrificial blood and suffering - that's just on the surface. That’s not the real God-stuff. That's His human nature. But don’t worry, deep down Jesus is really the Omnibeing."
-- "Really?" says the enquirer, "Cos all that Jesus-stuff is very attract..."
-- ..."No, no, it's a gloss. Nothing to see here. The OmniBeing rules!"
And we pray that the non-Christian agrees. For if they do, then surely we have brought them to see that Jesus is Lord. Right?
Wrong. This is not the conversion of an unbeliever to Christ. This is the conversion of Jesus to the Omnibeing. And we’ve taken people away from the real God – the Father who Jesus actually reveals.
You see Colossians 1:15 turns our natural assumptions on their head. We reckon that God is obvious and Jesus is not. We survey the religious beliefs of the land and we're told that most people believe in God, but they're not sure about Jesus. (People tick the "Belief in God" box but they're uncertain of Jesus - maybe He's a prophet or a myth, etc). But the bottom line is, most of the world thinks God is obvious but Jesus is obscure. Colossians 1:15 says the exact opposite:
The Son is the Image of the invisible God.
God is the invisible One. He is the unknown entity. But the Son is His Image. Jesus is the One on display. Therefore evangelism is not about working from the invisible to the visible. It's starting with the Image and then inferring what God is like.
As Lord Byron said "If God isn't like Jesus Christ, he ought to be." That's the direction of travel - from Christ to the Father who He reveals.
In evangelism we often use the phrase "Jesus is God." But when we say that we don't mean that "Jesus (weirdly enough) is the god you'd always believed in." Instead we proclaim "Jesus (yes, that's right, Jesus the One who bled for sinners!) He reveals the true God - a God so good you never dared imagine Him!"