The Joy of the Gospel
by Jeff Ritchie
Like many people, I have been inspired by Pope Francis. His deep faith, wide mercy, and simple lifestyle have resonated with my spirit.
Knowing that the Roman Catholic Church has issued many profound statements about evangelism over the past 50 years, I looked forward to seeing what the Pope had to say in his book The Joy of the Gospel. I was not disappointed.
I would like to share some of the contributions this leader of the largest Christian communion has made to the understanding and practice of evangelism and connect them with a Presbyterian document from 1991 that says many of the same things as we find in Joy of the Gospel.
Pope Francis grounds evangelism in our identity as the people of God. We are all “missionary disciples,” he says throughout The Joy of the Gospel. The Church “is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way toward God…. (S)he exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary.”
Why do we tell others the good news of God? Pope Francis makes the motivation personal. Have you encountered the love of God in Christ? Then “you know that it is not the same to live without him; what you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate to others.”
A second motivation to be a teller of God’s good news comes from within: the closer we get to God, the more we identify with his purposes which embrace the whole world. The statue over the harbor in Rio de Janeiro captures the welcome Christ offers, and we as disciples have the privilege to express this in the concrete relationships we have with people.
Pope Francis especially exhorts us to look at Christ in the Scripture and take our cues from God’s Word as we enter into the lives of those we encounter. It is at this point that a Presbyterian document on evangelism can speak to us in fresh ways. “Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way” was written in the early 1990s as a statement of what Presbyterians believe about the nature and practice of evangelism.
At its heart “Turn to the Living God” is call to look to Jesus as our mentor and model for evangelism. Consider these insights:
• “Jesus lived among the people with whom he shared the good news. He ate with them, walked their dusty roads, and made their concerns his own…. The church is sent into the world to enter into the common life of men and women, sharing their aspirations and sufferings, striving against inhumanity, and healing the enmities which separate them from God and from each other” (pp. 12-13).
This past couple of weeks we have been rocked as a nation by the killing of African American men in two cities and by the killing of police in another city. How can we “strive against inhumanity” and be part of the “healing of enmities” in our own contexts? As we answer that question for ourselves in word and deed, we become “good news” people.
• “Jesus touched persons with leprosy. He ate with tax collectors. He respected women and children…. Today the church is called to practice evangelism that reflects open-hearted hospitality, eager seeking, and acceptance of all persons” (p. 13).
My wife and I know a young mother who demonstrates the hospitality of Jesus to all she meets. At our grandson’s birthday party a few weeks ago Leslie brought her son and engaged with the parents of the other mothers and fathers who had accompanied their children to the party. The easy way she entered into conversation with those she was meeting for the first time, finding connections and demonstrating real interest and caring was a case study for me of the inclusive love of Jesus referred to in “Turn to the Living God” and in Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel.
• “Jesus evangelized by living a holy life. His character was the embodiment of his own teachings and drew people to him” (p. 16).
Some people seem to radiate peace to those around them. They are a non-anxious presence when tensions arise. Mercy, kindness and tenderness abound in them. “I want what you have” is the kind of response to this attractive lifestyle of being the good news in addition to telling and doing the good news.
These are only three of the insights from “Turn to the Living God.” I want to encourage us all to go back to the Gospels and get fresh insights of our own how we can make God’s heart our heart, his mission our mission. May we join, or renew our commitment to join, what Pope Francis calls “the revolution of tenderness.”
Associate Director for Mission
Note on the sources: The Joy of the Gospel is available for purchase from Amazon or Pauline Books. “Turn to the Living God” may be downloaded as a PDF document from http://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/Turn-to-the-Living-God-25th-Anniversary-Edition.pdf.