Beginning at the beginning …
23 January 2001
‘Let’s start at the very beginning … a very good place to start …’, sings Maria von Trapp (played by Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music. Realizing her charges don’t know the first thing about singing, Maria has set out to teach the children the basics of music: ‘when you read you begin with A B C … when you sing you begin with do-re-mi.’ Maria recognized an important point: it is difficult for one to truly understand and apply a concept when one lacks foundational knowledge of the concept.
As obvious as this lesson may seem, many Christians have failed to grasp this simple truth when witnessing. Instead of relating the Gospel message from the beginning, these Christians insist on beginning their evangelism in the middle—or at the end—of the story, while some Christians even deny the beginning is important! They preach Christ crucified but don’t realize this means nothing to cultures that have no Biblical foundation, or have lost that foundation. Questions arise in the minds of those being evangelized: Who is Jesus? Why am I a sinner? How is the God you preach any different from the other gods I worship?.
In order to forego these questions and see lasting change, another method for evangelism is needed—one which lays down the foundations of Christianity and explains the Gospel message ‘from the bottom up’, beginning with Genesis. The Apostle Paul recognized the need for this type of evangelism when he preached to the Athenians (Acts 17:16 ff.), and a few of today’s missionaries are also understanding the necessity of using ‘creation evangelism’ (Q&A: Creation Why it Matters) to reach the lost world. Tim Askew and Greg Greenlaw, with New Tribes Mission, are two such missionaries.
After spending years learning the language and the culture of the Nakui people of Papua, New Guinea, Tim and Greg have begun to lay a foundation for the Nakuis, teaching them how and why the Bible was written. After Greg ‘taught about God and His attributes…and on Satan and his fall’, Tim began speaking about Creation.1 Through careful and patient instruction, the missionary team is showing this people group ‘God’s rightful place of authority as creator, man’s dependence on God, Satan and how he became an enemy of God and creation, and … man’s responsibility for our sin and the price of death we pay.’2
Tim knew the recent lesson on Adam and Eve’s disobedience would be pivotal for the Nakui, because of the ‘content [of the lesson] and because of Nakui culture.’ Although the Nakui are a people who ‘pass blame and rarely ever admit wrong’, the foundational teaching has caused many to grasp ‘the full extent of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Some of [the Nakui] are experiencing a real heaviness over their hopelessness as Adam and Eve’s descendants and followers down the same road of sin.’2
Tim asks for prayer that ‘the Holy Spirit would convict these and others that they would see their need for God’ and adds ‘[n]ext week we will be able to start tracking God’s redemptive plan starting with His promise in Genesis 3.’2
New Tribes Mission has long acknowledged the importance of foundational evangelism, and the curriculum NTM missionaries base their teaching on is Firm Foundations for adults and children—a chronological study of the Bible.
Because our culture is gradually moving away from its Biblical foundations, and because other cultures have already lost their knowledge of the true Creator God, Christians need to learn how to evangelize effectively by beginning with the beginning—in Genesis. In our western culture, there is an additional problem which those teaching remote tribespeople encounter far less often. The tribespeople have not been trained by an evolutionized culture to see the foundational chapters of the Bible as wrong—disproved by science, allegedly. (Indeed, a problem that even Paul did not have to face, since Paul’s opponents were willing to hear him out (Acts:17:19–20), unlike the near-total censorship of creation in the media and scientific establishment.) So the person sharing the Gospel in our culture has to do more than teach the foundations, they have to be able to logically defend them as true and reasonable (1 Peter 3:15). This is a major reason for our emphasis on arming and equipping Christians with good creation materials.