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preaching to non-christians – reuben munn

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I’m currently writing a series of talks for a course our church is running called The Story of God. It’s designed for non-Christians as an introduction to the Christian worldview, journeying through the biblical story over five sessions. I’m enjoying the challenge of preparing messages especially for a non-Christian audience, which is not something I do very much. It is raising some interesting issues for me around communicating Scripture and the gospel to those outside the family of God.

Firstly, telling the story of Scripture to non-Christians is forcing me to identify what plot-points in the biblical story are important to cover in order for them to grasp the scarlet thread that weaves its way through the biblical narrative. Covering the Old Testament is particularly tricky. Is Abraham in or out? What about Noah (I figure he’s gotten enough publicity recently, so he’s out!)? How much of the story of Israel pre-Jesus is really important for non-Christians in understanding the gospel? I have used the theme of the image of God in telling the story, so I’m talking about Israel as God’s image-bearers in the world, and how they fared in that vocation. That provides a kind of macro look at Israel’s role in the story of salvation, without getting caught up in the details. I have found the image of God motif a really rich one for telling the whole story of Scripture, especially in exploring the identity of Jesus (the perfect image), the Christian life (being transformed into the image of Christ) and the future new creation (the image of God fully restored in humanity).

Then there is the challenge of defining terms and succinctly describing key moments in the biblical story. What do you do with sin? Is that word so laden with unhelpful baggage that it is best discarded when talking to non-Christians? I have chosen to keep the word ‘sin’ in use because it’s in the Bible, but I’ve defined it as human beings distorting the relationships that comprise the image of God (relationship with God, self, others and the world). Is that a legitimate way of defining sin for non-Christians, or a strained attempt to carry the image of God concept throughout the story? And what about the atonement? How do you boil that down for non-Christians without becoming it becoming cliché or cluttered? I’d like to include every model and metaphor of the atonement available in order to present the fullest possible picture, but of course that’s impossible, so which one do I choose? I’ve also chosen to use the word ‘repent’ when describing what it means to become a follower of Jesus, but again, I’ll try to define the word as carefully as I can, and name the ways in which the word has been abused.

The great thing is that trying to tell the story of Scripture as clearly and succinctly as possible for a non-Christian audience is helping clarify the shape of my own theology. And it is giving me a fresh passion for communicating the gospel (however we define it) to those who have not yet embraced it, that their eyes may be opened to see Jesus and respond to him in faith.

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