Thursday, May 4, 2017

Misusing Isaiah 55:11 in Support of Evangelism to the "Happy Pagan"

You don’t believe the Word of God if you don’t start your evangelism with the Bible! God’s Word will not return void! Just give 'em the gospel and if they don't want to listen, oh well!” This was told to me by a well-meaning Christian college student after one of our club meetings this year. 

First off, as one who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, the 
perspicuity of Scripture[1], and its preservation and protection by God, I find this objection rather misguided. Misguided because the verse we will address is taken out of context. Secondly as one who has attended and engaged a few atheist rallies up in D.C., and having dialogued with a handful of skeptics here in the ‘Burg, I find this objection from well meaning believers very disheartening.

Some of you reading this posting may not like what I have to say but being in this kind of ministry is not a popularity contest. This posting is going to present three responses, that while Scripture is, without hesitation or reservation, the Word of God, Isaiah 55:11 does not support that we share the Bible every time we witness to an atheist or a someone who hates our Bible. In fact those who use Isaiah 55:11 are taking that passage out of context.  Before I do this allow me to share a couple of things.  

First off let me say that I believe in the power of the gospel to be used of God to save the soul as stated in Romans 1:16,  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Second, there is really nothing wrong with a statement that the Word of God usually does have some effect, whether good or bad on whomever hears it. We know that 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 supports the good side of this,  “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

That being said, let me move to the three responses.

Response #1: Scripture demands that we handle the Word of God appropriately2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

With reference to using Isaiah 55:11, it is the basis for such a statement that is erroneously used in most cases. This passage has been recited and passed on, so often, that most people these days do not even know the reference let alone the context, of what is actually said. Putting this verse in its context (vv. 9-11):

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;  So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty [void], Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

So the thrust of what is being said here is that when the Lord says something; when He sends forth His Word; when he sets forth His Word to do something; it will be done and will in no way be thwarted or return unto Him void. 

So while we can stand firm on a conviction that the Word of God is indeed powerful (and it is), using this verse as some kind of blanket assurance or defense that no matter how we put God's Word out there, it will work, as is commonly done, is to offer false assurance and is an irresponsible mishandling of Scripture in today’s post Christian culture. 

Response #2: Those living in the secular city hate our Bible.  This is something I alluded to in the beginning of this post. The anti-theist, atheist, or skeptical “None” thinks that is our best response to their skepticism and will not listen to that which they hate because to them it is a book, full of fables, myths authored by a genocidal homophobic deity.

Without getting into the whole history of what makes one hate the Bible, there is usually a story that has some underlying side story of someone shoving the Bible down their throat as a young person. Whether this is true or not, they are not going to listen to our Roman Road or Got Life presentation.

The day after coming home from this past year’s Reason Rally, a dear brother who does street evangelism, went up  to the Rally with the intent of sharing the gospel. Taking out the bull horn and standing up on the box, he tried his due diligence to wax eloquently and share the truth to those who did nothing but "refute," heckle, and bash his message. The following day between church services, he told me what had happened, stating that he got torn up, and needed help in understanding today's skepticism and how to engage in an “intelligent” conversation with the “happy pagan” who hates the Bible. 

Response #3: The Parable of the Sower contradicts the demand to share the Bible in every evangelistic encounter.  In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 c.f. Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-10) details the results of the Word of God, denoted by the seed being sown in the passage, lands on hard soil, rocky soil, among thorns, and on fertile soil. Remember that the soil is the heart of man and the seed is the Word of God and that I believe EVERY evangelism scenario will depict at least one of these cases in the parable.

Please note that the goal of pre-apologetics is to bring the person we are sharing with to the Word of God. However we do not lose sight that when we are sharing the Word, we don't wish to mishandle the opportunity to bring that person to the Word, understanding that the hearts and minds that we are engaging denote one of those soils mentioned in Jesus’ parable of the Sower.

We must release the power of Jesus within you and through you when confronting our skeptical world. It is true that His Word as given to us in the Bible will never return void and unfulfilled. You can bank on that revelation for eternity. But God also expects us to handle the Word, when we share it responsibly.


When it comes to Isaiah 55:11 and other passages that we may address later, it surely pays to stop and examine any such "pet" verses we may find always on the tip of our tongue. We need to take a few steps back, take a quick look at the context of the Scripture, and make sure we are not using things out of context to say something we want, rather than what the passage is actually saying.

Notes

[1] The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture (often called the perspicuity of Scripture) is a teaching that "...those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them"

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