Encouragement draft: pt 1

I’ll be putting up draft segments of my issues paper. Please, please give me feedback.

Encouragement is something that Christians have done and continue to do. Throughout Acts, for example, we see various people going around encouraging various churches, like Silas, Paul, and especially Barnabas whose name is Son of Encouragement. Hebrews 10:25 tells us to encourage one another as we see the Day approaching.

Encouragement as an English word is defined as inciting towards some action or practice or state. This includes the ideas of consolation – which would be getting someone to be less sad or more happy – and exhortation – getting someone to do something like being generous or not smoking. In Christian vocabulary, encouragement usually means something more. Larry Crabb’s widely read book on Encouragement: The Key to Caring sees encouragement as a basic ministry that anyone can take up. He defines Christian encouragement as:

that kind of expression that makes someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough.

In more recent years, Gordon Cheng wrote a book on Encouragement: How words change lives via Matthias Media. He defines Christian encouragement as:

speaking the truth in love with the aim of building Christians up in Christ-likeness as we wait for the Day of Judgment. Christian encouragement will likewise involve speaking the truth in love to unbelievers, thus encouraging them to put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.

The main idea common to both is that the direction of encouragement is towards greater Christian maturity, which is what makes Christian encouragement uniquely Christian.
There are however things to say about both books. Larry Crabb’s book is by nature not theological. He’s coming from the counselling angle. His interest is in getting people to properly employ a form of ministry. His insights, whilst clearly useful given the generally positive response he gets, do not have any clear theological underpinning. Cheng’s book is overly focused on words. Now, given that encouragement will require communication, words are probably going to be a fairly important part of the process. But given the usual criticisms of the Sydney Diocese as being far too Word-centric, this publication would seem to add to the warrant for that kind of rhetoric. But even for the book itself, the justification for Cheng’s definition of Christian encouragement seems to be the coincidence of the functions and telos of encouragement and speaking the truth in love. And whilst Cheng is on to something with his comment about speaking to unbelievers, I think he doesn’t go far enough because he is tied to an argument based on words as the central connecting thread. The connection of gospel proclamation, encouragement, and speaking the truth in love is based on the similarity of their word-generated effects, without critically analysing why you can connect these together like that. That the whole thing rings true suggests that they can.
I will argue that the gospel as event, that is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is itself encouragement because it is consolation, namely, forgiveness, and because it incites people to do something, namely, to repent. Thus, the gospel sets the direction of encouragement, towards God, places itself, not simply words (though again they will be fairly important), as the primary means by which this encouragement is given, and sets the target of this encouragement, ie. all people, since all are in need of the encouragement the gospel provides. Thus, I will argue, Christian encouragement is gospel encouragement.

Comments are closed.