From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Some of us have strongly held views about mission and evangelism – whether to be, or not to be, involved. Then others of us are somewhat ambivalent – not having any particular view, other than it being for someone else to worry about. Given our differences, I’m using this article space over a few weeks to draw on (what I hope will be for you) helpful insights into evangelism by Rev’d Dr Matthew Anstey of the Anglican Church in Adelaide. These insights are taken from a sermon by Matthew based on the text of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.
So far, I have highlighted two of three points that Matthew makes. The first is that our evangelism is to be known for how it respects the integrity of people. In the text we see this in how the evangelism encounter of Philip and the eunuch is conducted wholly on the terms of the eunuch. The second point is that our evangelism is to be soaked in trust. There is trust between the Spirit, Philip and the eunuch from the Spirit’s initial prompting of Philip through to the eunuch’s baptism. There is no anxiety in the story. Matthew comments: “It is mission premised on the massive priorness of God’s love and grace toward us”.
The third and final point that Matthew makes about evangelism from the account of Philip and the eunuch is the humility of evangelism. The way God is depicted in this encounter could have gone in a very different direction. Given that the eunuch was a court official of the queen of the Ethiopians in charge of her entire treasury, we can picture him as a government heavy weight. He was also wealthy – he had his own chariot and his own scroll of Isaiah. All this helps us understand that the eunuch knew about politics, power, government, influence, policy and wealth. So, we can imagine that it could have made sense to talk with him about God the King; God the ruler; God the all-powerful. The eunuch would get that God is like his queen. Philip could have told him about Jesus the winner, the positive thinker who wins friends and influences people. All of this would fit with the eunuch’s day to day working life.
Yet the way that God is depicted in the encounter between Philip and the eunuch heads in the direction of humility. It picks up on the injustice that the eunuch knows from being taken as a child to be made into a eunuch. It picks up on the degradation that the eunuch knows from having a grotesque appearance due to the absence of testosterone in his body – limbs that grow too long, obese, hairless. The eunuch wants to know who the prophet is talking about – one who is led to the slaughter, who is humiliated and denied justice – because it sounds like himself.
The eunuch knows power and powerlessness, injustice and justice, wealth and degradation. But what is God like? The evangelism by Philip is one of humility. He depicts a God who sides with those who experience injustice and degradation and powerlessness. He presents the good news of Jesus as being Jesus who enters our story without reserve. The lamb who was slain and who takes away the sins of the world. This is an evangelism of humility.
When you think of the evangelism that you have experienced or avoided, is it evangelism known for its respect for the integrity of people? Is it soaked in trust? Is it characterised by humility?