Modified Engel Scale and TGMX

Nice article from the work of Paul and Sue Hazelden. Rather than regurgitating it here, I am hoping you will take the time to click and read their article HERE.

Of course, it must be noted that the Engel Scale is cognitive… so it does not really include the affective aspect. If you want to look at The Gray Matrix Extended, that combines the Modified Engel Scal with the affective axis, Click on this article HERE.

As both would note, these don’t define a methodology. Rather they provides a perspective to understand spiritual transformation. So the role of social ministry, dialogue, and such are not dealt with in detail.

Additionally, as I have also noted before, In This Other Article, one could add an additional axis, to include the role of behavior. While as Evangelicals, we like to emphasize that salvation is by faith, not by works, it is also true that in many cultures people often start by adjusting their behavior to a faith community, before actually responding in faith. Even in more individualistic cultures, often connecting behaviorally with a loving community of believers (whether church, ngo, bible study, or otherwise), brings one close to a position to respond to the message of Christ. Of course, the opposite is true also, interacting with hypocritical or mean-spirited or cold Christians can lead to negative perceptions affectively, and then to cognitive and behavioral.




Salvation versus Conversion. Missiological Implications

The Great Commission
The Great Commission (Matthew Version) Image via Wikipedia

I believe missionaries/evangelists should focus on “salvation” more than “conversion.” Of course, there are so many different meanings for the terms, I will give what I mean by them. If you don’t like the definitions… I understand.

Conversion is a single, one-time divine event where a person transitions from a state of judgment to a state of grace, being adopted into the family of God.

Salvation is a process that starts at birth, goes through a time of searching to divine justification (freedom from the penalty of sin) through to a process of sanctification (increasing freedom from the power of sin) and ultimately to eternal glorification (freedom from the presence of sin).

A lot of people think of salvation as a one-time event… but I think that theologically speaking, that concept really applies to conversion/adoption/justification/redemption. So one might say that “I am redeemed” but also say “I am BEING saved.” However, even if you don’t like terms as they are used, I think you can agree that these are reasonable concepts (at least within the Evangelical understanding of Christianity). Term “A” refers to a one-time “saving” event. Term “B” refers to a process of growth leading to eternal life (that includes the salvific event).

8 Reasons for focusing on salvation (process) rather than conversion (event) in missions.

  1. The Great Commission (Matthew version especially) sees mission work in terms of life process. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel (share God’s word to all), baptizing them (those that are responsive), and teaching them to obey (long process of sanctification). There is no “fire and forget” in missions. The John version suggests we are sent out in like manner and calling the Jesus was sent out by the Father. This also suggests a broad understanding of our mission since the mission of Christ was broad.
  2. Overemphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer. While the “Sinner’s Prayer” is a nice encapsulation of some basic Gospel truths, it is just words. We are saved by faith, not by words. Maybe in some parts of the world this is not a problem… but in the Philippines, it is easy to get people to say some words if you do some act of kindness for them. Telling a person of faith that they are not saved because they haven’t said the sinner’s prayer is wrong. Telling a person who says the sinner’s prayer that he/she is saved regardless of heart condition is dangerous.
  3. It tends to disconnect “faith” from “faithfulness” and the cognitive from the volitional and active parts of our being. Overemphasis on the one-time experience can confuse us into thinking of faith as a momentary cognitive logical assent. However, faith without faithfulness is not faith. Faith without volitional and active involvement is not real faith. I am not arguing for losing one’s salvation. I am not arguing for a works-based salvation. I am simply pointing out that the idea that faith is simply a “mental assent to a doctrinal truth” is not well-grounded. We should be emphasizing that a Christian is to live a faithful life, choosing daily to follow Christ, ignoring temptations to go astray. A Christian perhaps can be converted without faithfully following Christ, but a young follower of Christ should understand this person to be abnormal… a mutant of sorts. We need to focus on the Christian as a faithful follower/disciple of Christ.
  4. Focusing on conversion tends to make us stereotype non-Christians. Non-Christians may be hard or soft atheists, closed or open agnostics, ignostics, are an innumerable broader range of religious/philosphical and emotional convictions. If conversion is our goal in every gospel presentation, then every presentation without a conversion response is a failure. However, if one recognizes that some non-Christians are completely ignorant, or woefully misinformed about Christ and living as a follower of Christ, then any conversation that leads to a better understanding and brings them to a point that they can ultimately start to follow Him, is a successful conversation. This is the Engel Scale in action. Likewise, if someone is hostile to Christ, and is brought toward a more positive attitude about Christ and following Him, then this also was a success. This is the affective axis on the Gray Matrix. One could turn the straight line scale (Engel) to a plane (Gray) and then to a cube by adding a third axis. This axis would be behavioral. We can not only work to explain God’s truth (cognitive growth) and increase affective/emotional growth of unbelievers, but we can also help them to conform behaviorally. This is touchy since the world is fully of people who conform superficially. However, if we recognize that behavior can be self-destructive and addictive. Helping the unbeliever to find release from the destructive behavior may also be a useful part of their path towards following Christ. Some people need to be freed from their personal demons before they are able to move forward in the path of Christ.
  5. Focus on conversion means that we often expect too much in too little time. It is perfectly normal and healthy for a person to “count the cost” of following Christ. A missionary/evangelist should help them gently through that process rather than forcing a poorly thought out (and perhaps unreal) response. In the case of where a person comes from a culture or family network that is actively opposed to Christianity, focus on a radical conversion experience leads to a clash of culture that the person is ill-prepared (yet) to deal with. Must he or she reject his new faith (at least externally) and revert back to the culture/religious system of those around? Must he/she radically separate themselves and become an outsider? Must he/she become a compartmentalized “closet” Christian. Is their another option? Focusing on following Christ as a journey may allow those interested in following Christ in these situations to work through these challenges with the help of a loving and Christlike mentor.
  6. Focus on conversion is built on the questionable premise that we know who is converted. The Bible, such as in I John, describes how we may know that we are children of God. However, the Bible does NOT give definitive guidelines for knowing if another person is a child of God. The Bible focuses on self-examination. If one is simply focused on conversion, this is a problem. Who should we try to convert? If someone says that he is a Christian, should the missionary try to prove to him that he is not really? Or if someone says that he is a Christian, should the missionary ignore him since “he is already saved?” This gets into some of Paul Hiebert‘s ideas regarding Centered Sets, Bounded Sets, and Fuzzy Sets. But even if you don’t like set theory, the concept is pretty simple. A conversion-focused missionary is focusing on the boundary (between the converted and unconverted). But if you can’t be sure where the boundary is (since God is the judge of faith/hearts of others, not us), then what are we really supposed to do? On the other hand, if missionaries are salvation-focused, they are focused on Christ. Why? If a person is not a child of God, what should a missionary do? Direct them to follow Christ and become conformed to His will. If a person is a young believer, what should a missionary do? Direct them to follow Christ and become conformed to His will. If a person is a mature believer, what should a missionary do? Direct them to follow Christ and become conformed to His will. That is much clearer.
  1. Focus on conversion tends to lead towards nominalism. I suppose this is obvious, but the term “easy-believism” came from the over-emphasis on the conversion experience. “All you gotta do is accept the free gift of Christ. It doesn’t cost anything. Jesus paid it all. Just say ‘Yes’ and the blessings of God are yours.” This understanding is so shallow (following Christ has led many to martyrdom… salvation may be free, but it is also costly) and has left many open to apostasy. The church, the mentor, must disciple and nurture young believers, seekers, and mature believers alike. This requires focusing on the full lifespan of a follower of Christ.
  2. Conversion is more quantitative, Salvation is more qualitative. Conversion is an easy metric. I was reading a website of an evangelist of someone I hadn’t heard of who claimed to have led (I believe it was) 800 million people to Christ. Is that true? Presumably that is not even remotely true. But outward conversions (remember, we can’t know what is going on in the heart) is easy to measure. We can count people “walking the aisle,” raising their hand in church, saying the sinner’s prayer, or testifying. In some other religious traditions, one could count going through confirmation, joining a church, or exhibiting some “miraculous” manifestation. Counting this way is easy. But salvation is hard to measure because it is process orientated (Romans 12:1-2 becoming conformed to Christ and transformed) is hard to measure. It is not measurable except in the lives being changed. It is easy to get credit from man and church for conversions, but for the transforming of lives to faithful followers of Christ, the credit goes to God and He alone. One might argue that the quantitative nature of conversion is better for missionaries to focus on because it easier to measure. But the missionary is meant to be a catalyst of change… not a numbers keeper. In the long run, transforming a few lives will cause greater impact than a lot of shallow decisions.  This is a better thing.

Quoting Harvie Conn regarding Christian mission work in some Muslim cultures:

“’Sound conversion’ become largely limited to one-step transitions of allegiance. That step is essential as initiation into the process. But it must not be isolated either from the process of growing in understanding of what commitment to Christ means or we face again the onslaught of ‘nominal Christianity.’ Faith thus becomes devalued to the act of one moment rather than the attitude of a lifetime that has a beginning at a moment in time,… Conversion must be genuine by all means. But its genuineness will be tested by a lifetime of fruitbearing, not a quick step to some altar rail more ideological than biblical.”

(The Muslim Convert and His Culture, Harvie M. Conn)

Critique on Evangelism. Part 2


5.  Evangelism tends to be too focused on “the conversion event”. James Engel developed the Engel Scale to show conversion is part of a longer discipleship process that goes from complete ignorance of God to a faithful steward of God. Anything that moves a person from the low end of the scale to the high end of the scale should be looked at as evangelism. The study that showed that Americans who came to Christ later in life supports this.  On average these people heard the Gospel 6-7 times prior to conversion. If it takes 6 – 7 times of sharing the Gospel, then each of those times is an important part of the path of spiritual transformation in the individual. Pushing for a decision each time may be unnecessary… even counter-productive. In fact, I have known of people who have come back to an Evangelizer the day after angry because they felt pressured to say what the Evangelizer wanted them to say. It is unlikely that such pressure brings real conversion, but it is quite likely that such pressure serves as a barrier to their responding to the message.  Frank Gray developed the Gray Matrix that shows that not only is there a vertical axis (the Engel Scale) of cognitive growth, but there is a horizontal axis of affective (or valuing) growth. Anything that moves an individual from the left side of the axis (hostility to God and His message) to the right side of the axis (a favorable opinion) should be seen as evangelism. One might even add a third dimension for behavior. The behavioral conforming of an individual could also be considered part of the broader evangelism process. Some people would not care for this since it broadens evangelism to a point that it is hard to distinguish from other ministries… but why is it important to distinguish it. Shouldn’t evangelism be the natural outflowing of a Christian’s life.

6.  Evangelism is too disconnected from behavior. The old saying that goes, “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear a word you are saying” is quite relevant here. If we are unable to show genuine compassion for a person, why should our words be valued? If our lifestyle is inconsistent with our message, why should we be taken seriously? If our message and lifestyle make the Gospel message appear ugly… isn’t that like putting a millstone around the neck of another and tossing them into the sea (drawing from the imagery of Jesus). Paul told Titus about the importance of decorating or adorning the Gospel with our actions (Titus 2:10). Actually, one of the best ways of sharing our faith is by sharing what God has done in our lives (and not just the happy moment– but sharing a true testimony, warts and all). Post-moderns, for example, may not value “objective truth” but they value personal experiences. Our testimony in Christ is part of God’s message.

7.  Evangelism is too often tied to cultural or denominational change. Far too often I have had Christians come up to me to share their faith. As I let them know that I am a fellow believer… it becomes soon evident that they are in no way satisfied. That is because I am not “their kind of Christian”. They hardly take a breath before moving to why I am the “wrong kind of Christian.” I have also seen people sharing with unbelievers where the presentation of the gospel dovetails right into a presentation of their denomination or church. It is not clear whether the person sharing is able to tell where the Good News of Christ stops and the “good” news of their particular group begins. Related to this is the tendency to focus on cultural change. Some cultural things must change. But not all. We, when sharing the Gospel, must be able to distinguish between God’s message of repentance and our cultural imperialism. We as Christians often want to make others into our image, rather than Christ’s image.

8.  Evangelism is too often done without understanding the other person and what they believe. This is related to previous points. But our ignorance of what others believe hurts our ability to share the Gospel in a way that would be understood and appreciated. We should understand the religions or belief systems that others have. Many of them take the time to try to understand what we believe. By understanding where genuine differences lie (and surprising common ground) we are likely to be able to prepare the ground for sharing God’s message of hope.

9.  Evangelism does not give enough respect to the concept of “dialogue”. Consider four types of communication:  Preaching/polemics, teaching/didactics , Argument/apologetics,, and Dialogue/discussion. Evangelism is generally thought of as being the first three types, especially the first and third. Evangelism can be one-directional talking (preaching or teaching) or it can be two-directional. But the two-directional method most often used is argument. Preaching and Argument tend to start from an adversarial, and sometimes disrespectful, position. Argument actually commonly pushes people further apart in their beliefs, rather than bringing them together. There is a “backfire effect. Perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of dialogue as a method. Since dialogue (respectful sharing of thoughts) tears down barriers and lessens misunderstandings, it can open doors to effective sharing of faith.

End of Part 2.

Go to Part 3.