In the Garden
Course: A Short Course On Evangelism
Lecture: In the Garden
I’m Bob Tuttle and I am professor of world Christianity emeritus – that means I have been retired for a couple of years from teaching at Asbury Theological Seminary. I began my teaching career at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California; and then at Oral Roberts University School of Theology in Tulsa Oklahoma; and then at Garrett Evangelical United Methodist Seminary in Evanston, Illinois on the campus of Northwestern University. The last 16 years I have been teaching at Asbury Seminary.
First of all, let me express appreciation to BiblicalTraining.org and to Matt Smith, who is a photographer. I am so grateful for BiblicalTraining.org and their ministry worldwide. I am grateful to Matt because he is not only good with a camera, he has been praying with me for months, that we would have the kind of anointing that would bring you insight and blessing for your life and ministry.
We are calling this a short course on evangelism. I was telling one of my students about believing in the uniqueness of faith in Jesus Christ and what that meant for evangelism. They said, “How can you insist on the uniqueness of faith in Jesus Christ that makes you so ‘holier than thou’”? And I said, “Listen, my insisting on the uniqueness of faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make me right, but it sure makes me an evangelist.” I’m not saying I’m right and the rest of the world is wrong. But you can well believe, I believe I am right. If God is a triangle and I think God is a circle, God does not become a triangle to accommodate who I believe God to be. Truth is truth regardless of what I think it is. I spend a lot of time here. I have read four chapters of this every day for over 35 years, trying to get a feel for what God is saying to me on a daily basis, so that I might be helpful for my students and my family, and be effective and even more effective in ministry.
I ask my students in classes I teach on evangelism, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word ‘evangelism’?” And they usually say, “pushy, self-righteous and holier than thou.” Then I say, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the person who influenced you most for God?” And they say, “loving, caring and accepting.” I’m saying, where this short course on evangelism is concerned, we are going to talk about the latter characteristics, an evangelism that is loving, caring and accepting.
We are going to have 10 sessions. This first session begins in the garden. Evangelism begins in the garden. Abingdon Press, I wrote a book on the history of evangelism two years ago. They wrote me and said, “How come it takes 150 pages to get to Jesus in a book on evangelism?” I said, “Because I understand evangelism begins in the garden in the Old Testament.”
The second session is the covenant with Abraham, from Hinduism, which is the earliest high religion. A high religion is a religion that has trans cultural significance, not just cross cultural – from one culture to another, as you would perhaps in a tribal religion or a localized religion – but has trans cultural significance. The first high religion is Hinduism. So from Hinduism to Jesus Christ.
The third session: At the right time, Jesus Christ. You must know that Jesus Christ was born just at the right time. It wouldn’t have worked had he been born 50 years earlier. There was no common language to unite the realm. Pirates were still ruling the cities and there were no common roads.
The fourth session: The early church, from Peter to Paul. Then, following that, the journeys of Paul. Following that, a short theology of evangelism.
Then I want to talk in the next three sessions, sessions seven, eight and nine, about overcoming barriers to spirit-assisted evangelism. The first barrier being, we lack motivation, we have lost our sensitivity to fire and smoke. The second one, chapter eight, will be overcoming the fear of rejection. Then, chapter nine, the third barrier, we assume inadequacy. We will conclude these sessions with the future: How can we anticipate the future in such a way that we can take planet earth back for God? At the end of that last session I will give you a challenge, a covenant. If everyone in your congregation were to accept this covenant – and it is not complicated – you could well double your attendance in one year.
It begins in the garden, session one. This is what that story teaches us. Before the foundation, the Lamb was slain. That means that even before creation, God redeemed us before God created us. God loved us before God made us. I wrote a book where I was kind of imagining a conversation between the Persons of the Trinity. I believe in one God, only one God. When I talk to my Muslim friends about the Trinity, I talk about Father, Word and Spirit, and they can somehow understand that a bit better than Father, Son and Spirit, and I try to help them understand how Word has become flesh. Conversations between the Persons of the Trinity anticipating creation. God, in God’s omnipotence, knew that if you give creation freedom – and this is my Wesleyan bias, so you’ll forgive me for this – if you cannot say “no”, your “yes” is meaningless. So God knows that if you give creation freedom, they will abuse it. It didn’t take us long. Right in the garden we abused our freedom and we sinned. We attempted to become autonomous. Paul Tillich got it right. Sin begins when we attempt to become autonomous from God. We think we can do it on our own steam, out of our own resources. If you read the Bible straight through, Genesis through Revelation, two big sins come at you time and time and time again. The first big sin is self reliance. The second big sin is oppressing poor people. You really don’t want to do that. But, Adam and Eve fell and sin cannot bear the light. Do you understand? It cannot bear the light. So what does God do? God, a loving God, withdraws behind the veil. So that we could still be in fellowship with God and not be overwhelmed by God’s holiness. The first words out of the mouth of God after the fall are what? “Where are you?”
God is the first evangelist, looking to be reconciled with a fallen creation. God establishes covenants and provides opportunity for fellowship, to be able to communicate with the transcendent God. Terribly important. Communicate what? I sometimes tell my students that if you had to describe the characteristics of God from Genesis through Revelation, you would probably come up with at least five wonderful characteristics. The first of course, is love. Second is mercy. Justice. Faithfulness. And longsuffering. Genesis to Revelation. You don’t have to get into the New Testament to find a God who is loving and merciful and faithful and just and longsuffering. That’s who God is. Yet, in spite of the fact that God loves us and wants to be in fellowship, within generations of Adam and Eve, we almost perfected humankind and almost perfected its own evil, and we are about to destroy ourselves. Before we could destroy ourselves, do you know what God does? God cuts us right back to the root. I am not trying to make a literal case for a universal flood, but I can tell you what that means. God, before we could destroy ourselves, perfect our own evil and destroy ourselves, God cuts us right back to the root and saves a remnant and establishes a covenant. A covenant with Adam and Eve. A covenant with Noah, confirmed with a rainbow. Then within generations of Adam and Eve, within generations of Noah, we did it all over again. We were about to perfect our own evil. We were going to build us a tower to God, the Tower of Babel. We don’t need God. We can build a tower to heaven ourselves. We can get to heaven on our own steam. You know what God does to preserve the remnant? You see, everyone spoke their own language. In community there is nothing we cannot do for good or for ill, you know that. There are some cultures where en mass they would far rather hate their enemies than love their friends. One on one, they would give you their shirts off their backs; but en mass, would far rather hate our enemies than love our friends. In community there is nothing we cannot do for good or for ill. So, what does God do? God confuses us, just to preserve the remnant.
I love this story. I love evangelism. I love a God who pursues us, from the very beginning, before the Lamb was slain, before the foundation. We get back to that in a later session. I love the story of evangelism. I love it that God knows who we are, but yet pursues us from the very beginning and continually is looking for opportunity for our fellowship to be renewed and refreshed.
I look forward to session two. God bless you. Lord, we are grateful for your goodness. We ask you now, God, with all simplicity, to take what God teaches us in the Word and apply it to our lives in such a way that we can be better prepared for life and ministry. Amen.