Friday, October 21, 2005

Rock Star, An Evanglistic Pneumetaphor

Bono is an evangelist. Honestly, I can’t count how many different times his lyrics have prompted a homecoming for me as a teenage prodigal. From lyrics about abandonment and disillusionment with religion, to lyrics of idealist hopes and new promise, Bono has reminded me how to sing when I had forgotten. His gospel is sung on behalf of those who cannot sing for themselves. Shocked? The truth is that Bono has been more of a slide into Christ for me than Billy Graham, so the pneumetaphor here is far more
autobiographical, and far less universal, than all the others.

In contrast to the offices of apostle and prophet, those of the evangelist, pastor and teacher have been widely accepted and noted throughout church history. Certainly the 20th Century has provided resplendent examples of Evangelistic greats like Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Bill Bright and Reinhart Bonke, and we are in a position in the church today to recognize and appreciate the effectiveness of such large scale mission.

Is it the job of the euaggelistes[1], or evangelist, to announce good news and to declare good tidings. B.E. Underwood notes the evangelist as the “person with the ability to present the gospel in such a way that people will respond to the claims of Christ by repentance, conversion, and discipleship[2]”, a definition we see represented in the life of Philip who journeyed in Samaria, Jerusalem/Gaza, and Azotus preaching repentance, baptism, and performing miraculous signs in the name of Jesus Christ so men might follow Him.[3] It is precisely that quality of Philip, that he preached a person and not merely a doctrine, that has endeared him as a hero of the faith to so many.

In addition to euaggelistes, the New Testament employs the variations euaggelizo[4], relating to the ministry [from which we get our word evangelism], and euaggelion[5], relating to the message [from which we get our word gospel]. Kevin Connors has taken these three dimensions of the man, the ministry, and the message and woven them into a healthy understanding of the distinctive calling of the Evangelistic office in his book, The Church in the New Testament.[6] Says Connors, “evangelists are the messengers and bearers of glad tidings to a lost and dying world[7]” and notes that their purpose is to perfect and mature the saints, to bring new saints into the body of Christ, and to edify the church.

Other significant Greek words in use to describe the functions of an evangelist are the words kerygma[8] and martyreo[9], meaning “to preach” and “to bear witness” respectively. Kerygma centers on the person of Jesus Christ and was a “definitive call that demanded a response[10]”, whereas martyreo was a kind of storytelling in which the speaker testified as to the personal effect that had been worked upon their lives through some encounter.
The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist[11]”, meaning that he ought to pursue unbelievers around him in order that they might repent, convert to faith, and be baptized.

Faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20.21, 20.43, 11.17, 16.31) was more than assent to spiritual facts; it included also commitment to a personal God revealed in Jesus Christ, not without basis in certain propositional truths about him (hence the severe warnings about heresies and false teachers), not without evidence of good works (cf. James 1.21-27, 1 John 2.28-3.24) and not without persistence of hope (cf. Hebrews 11-13, 2 Peter 3.17-18).[12]

This was the kind of motivation employed in the absence of someone fulfilling the evangelistic office in the Early Church, and often is employed in our churches today. Indeed the majority of evangelism in the New Testament appears to take place in the homes of believers among their friends and family as every believer operated as a kind of missionary. The need for those with the gift of evangelism to self-identity and enter the arena of church life was as poignant then as it is now, though we are still reminded as believers that their absence only means for us a greater obligation to contribute what we can as part of a personal fulfillment of the Great Commission.

I was eighteen when I first began to understand that music was my torah. Music spoke to me in ways that meant something, it communicated a sensitivity and a savagery that nothing else could evoke. When I read the bible and I see examples of the evangelists having such impact on people, the only thing I can relate that to in my life is the power of music. Thankfully, music is redemptive and easily serves the intention of our Maker; but significantly, it is above all other mediums in meaning for many people.

1. An evangelist/rock star has a subversive message and an agenda
Bono is famous for his ability to circumvent the established channels of authority and power and find a way to align himself with the people. Take, for example, his offer of his sunglasses to Pope John Paul II, whom Bono called “the greatest front man the Catholic Church ever had”, and his refusal to give U.S. President George W. Bush his sunglasses during a press conference regarding Bono’s candidacy for President of the World Bank. It is these kinds of gestures, like kissing fan-girl Lori Watson on stage at a Vancouver concert in 1993, that have endeared him to the common people for almost three decades. In fact, “U2’s music is so broad and welcoming it can express ardor equally for Christ, wives, supermodels, children, or Bishop Desmond Tutu[13]”, while at the same time bringing about social awareness and change in such important arenas as the AIDS pandemic, the struggle in Northern Ireland, and the quest for a global adoption of Jubilee. Says journalist Ann Power’s, “Bono and his band no longer worry about who owns their souls – everybody does, and that’s exactly what U2 wants.[14]

Songwriters like Bono typify the sort of subversive speech uttered by evangelists: a speech that topples authority and calls reality into question, forcing people to be confronted with the reality of their soul and the spiritual dimensions of life. Evangelists take music seriously – they find power in “song”, in the moment of granting voice to the hope that lives in mankind. In this way evangelists function as exiles, as people who are not of this place, but who are caught here all the while knowing they belong somewhere else:

Exiles sing dangerously. They sing what cannot be printed or announced officially:

10Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the desert and its towns raise their voices;
let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the LORD
and proclaim his praise in the islands.[15]

Every song of exiles is a new singing of homecoming and possibility[16]

When the evangelist/rock star comes to “sing”, they come to pull apart the illusion that the world and everything in it is primarily social and economic, and give voice to the underground assumptions of supernatural contact and divine love.

2. An evangelist/rock star is there to proclaim
Not only is the message of the evangelist/rock star subversive, but it is a proclamation of good news that – once it has been internalized – changes reality for the people who believe. It not only makes reality seem different, it actually ushers in a new reality with new resources for believers and new access to a new community.

Calvin Miller, in his moving trilogy The Singer[17], describes an evangelist by the name of Anthem going from town to town proclaiming the good news that the Singer has come to teach people their “song.” This is the song they were born to sing, and learning it will bring them true happiness and contentment. In the book, as in life, there is a great difference between a new song being heard and learning a new song. Everyone must learn the song in order to sing it, and as believers we identify immediately with the need for such ownership.

For example, the first time I heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from the U2 record Rattle and Hum, I was introduced to the idea that searching for meaning is important. Now, having learned all of the words, each of the guitar parts, the melody, the drum part, and having rehearsed three different bands to perform the song as a band director – I can say I know that searching is important and my quest for greatest spiritual fulfillment in Jesus Christ is a quest that gladdens Him and that He has chosen to – and will continue to – reward.

3. An evangelist/rock star is consumed with big themes
‘According to Leonard Bernstein, the best translation of the Hebrew in Genesis 1 was not “and God said” but “and God sang.” For this reason the original Hebrew text of the Pentateuch was read aloud – or more accurately, chanted. In fact, it is still chanted in modern synagogues.

Then God [sang], “let there be light; and there was light”
Then God [sang]…and it was so
Then God [sang]…and it was so
Then God [sang]…and it was so.’[18]

Evangelist/rock stars are concerned with big themes: death ecological disaster and the struggle to hold onto optimism[19], spirituality, faith, and the aggressive search for true love and relationship. Nothing could be bigger or more significant that salvation, or knowing the God of the Universe personally. Nothing can compare with a discovery of purpose in death, or an awareness of victory through tragedy. These big themes are patterns of mystery that line our intelligence and cause us to wonder; they are timeless quests with an eternal answer and prize.

4. An evangelist/rock star depends on signs and wonders
I don’t know who has the better stage show: Coldplay or Benny Hinn. I don’t know who involves their audience more: Peter Gabriel or Nicky Cruz. I don’t know who has been more effective in reaching teens with a message of hope: Pearl Jam or Benny Perez. I do know, however, that in every big show there has to be a big gimmick.

Jesus’ gimmick was miracles.

Power evangelism and the demonstration of the authority of Christ crucified was a major component of New Testament proclamation and evangelism in the Early Church. Stories come to mind about Peter speaking to a lame man and the man getting up to walk, or rebuking a sorcerer and identifying true power; or Steven having the courage to be martyred after having performed many miracles; or Jesus supernaturally escaping capture one day[20], to willingly submit another.

The evangelist/rock star has to know that there is a contest of power in the minds of people, and that contest must be at least addressed if not fought. As a young man I remember reading Steven King’s novel Salem’s Lot, where the alcoholic priest is confronted by a master vampire. The vampire offers to test his demonic strength against the faith of the priest, if the priest will agree to put down the wooden stake in his hand. The priest agrees, then flies at the vampire with the stake and is quickly killed. The master vampire looks on the body of the priest and – in a line I’ll never forget – says, “It’s too bad. Had he believed, he would have won.”

Like it or not, signs and wonders are an uncomfortably significant part of the office of the evangelist, and we need more of them on our team in the coming days.

[1] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2099.
[2] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 38.
[3] Acts 8.4-7, 26-40
[4] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2097.
[5] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2098.
[6] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982).
[7] Ibid, p.172.
[8] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2782.
[9] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 3144.
[10] D. S. Lim, “Evangelism in the Early Church,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[11] 2 Timothy 4.5
[12] D. S. Lim, “Evangelism in the Early Church,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed., 354.
[13] Ann Powers, “Band of Brothers: Death, Sex and Divinity still haunt and inspire Rock’s Grandest Group.” Blender, December 2004, 133.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Isaiah 42.10-12
[16] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1997), 128.
[17] Calvin Miller, The Singer Trilogy. (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1975).
[18] As revealed in Len Sweet, Summoned to Lead. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 65.
[19] Ann Powers, “Band of Brothers: Death, Sex and Divinity still haunt and inspire Rock’s Grandest Group.” Blender, December 2004, 132.
[20] Luke 4.29,30

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