In my last post, I referenced individuals from across Christian theological perspectives that have affirmed a fundamental shift in evangelism in a “post-Christendom” world. We have now been hearing this message for two decades. But we have been slow to adapt.
The message? This ain’t your grandma’s world, and what reached her for Jesus won’t reach her grandchildren -- and certainly not her great-grandchildren.
Four cultural shifts have taken place. While I know them by memory, my recollection is to give credit to Rick Richardson and Gary Rohrmayer. The shifts are, 1) from apologetic argument to compassionate demonstration; 2) from large events to personal process; 3) from monologue to dialogue; 4) from short term presentation to long term relationship. In this post, I discuss the first two.
1) From apologetic argument to compassionate demonstration.
I graduated from two academic institutions that are renown for their academic excellence and evangelical conviction. But I was never required to take a class in apologetics! I am not sure why. Perhaps it was a time when “cultural Christianity” made apologetics seem unnecessary? After all, Billy Graham could gain a hearing by saying, “The Bible says!” That may have been true in grandma’s world, but no longer. In fact, Francis Schaeffer was saying it wasn't true in the 1970s.
As that “culturally Christian” world began to shift, an apologetic approach to the faith again came to fore. From the “Four Spiritual Laws” to “The Case for Christ,” winning the argument by evidence has been a common response for many concerned to reach the lost. This will always be effective for some people. Think no further than C.S. Lewis, who was “dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God by the sheer weight of the evidence.”
But most in our culture are not looking for “evidences.”
And many of the questions we seek to answer, they are not even asking.
A recent survey by Lifeway Research affirmed that many of the un-churched (43%) never even think about an “after-life.” “If the only benefit of being a Christian is that you get to go to heaven, most un-churched people don’t care. It can’t be the only way of talking about faith.” See the survey here: http://bit.ly/292N1ML
They wonder if faith and God matter here, in this life.
They also want to know if we authentically care about them as people. For both individuals and society, the adage, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is significant. Individuals need to know we have a deep compassion for them as we share the Good News. And they also want to see a church that shows compassion for those around them. Indeed, another finding of the Lifeway survey is that half of the un-churched (51%) would join in with a church for a community service event! God is a God of love, and God’s people should demonstrate as much.
2) From large events to personal process.
James Engel developed a scale showing a process of evangelism that included 20 different steps, beginning with a -10 and ending with a +10, with the middle step called, “A disciple is born.” That was in 1975!
So the idea of process has been with us for over four decades. Yet, in the seventies and eighties we also had a proliferation of “evangelistic tracts” and a continued emphasis on large events with “altar calls.” Times may have changed, but it taken a great deal of time for us to learn to adjust. Christians winsomely sharing their faith are finally realizing they need to respect a person’s process, and that the process is getting longer. It is extremely rare for someone to respond to the Good News of the Gospel upon a first hearing. They need to hear it in a variety of ways and probably from a variety of people.
“Jim” was a recovering alcoholic with a quick wit and a cynical bent. Besides his years in recovery, he had grown up completely outside any church. His wife had come to faith, but it was two years before he finally came with her to church. For whatever reason, he and I bonded quickly. He would come up to me after church and offer his cynical yet witty comments and questions. I would try and remain nonplused, smile, and give a fair answer. Or laugh with him and acknowledge some truth in his comments.
Jim hung around for over a year, finally coming to faith in Christ during a weekend event with a guest speaker. He asked if he could talk about becoming a Christian, so I introduced him to our guest, who also had an addiction history like Jim. I later learned Jim want to talk with me. We had a relationship, and I had walked with him on his journey. I should have known better than to “hand him off.” But I was learning. Learning to respect the process, and realizing it had had to be a personal process.
Is your church loving people authentically and going on a journey with them over time?
Watch for the next post when I address dialogue and relationships.