As I continue to reflect on my past beliefs about the church and about Christianity at large, specifically evangelicalism, I began to wonder about the whole concept of evangelism and how it is a primary motivator in Christianity, both historically and today.
Now, to be clear and to set the record straight, this post is not an attack on the concept of evangelism itself. I believe that evangelism is deeply rooted in the Scriptures and is a command from Jesus espoused in the Gospels and reiterated throughout the rest of the New Testament. Even the Old Testament is filled with numerous examples of prophets speaking for God about the societal and moral ills of God’s chosen people, but yet also filled with a loving hope that God does not forsake God’s people.
What I am going to criticize is how we have managed to share the Good News over the years and how we have a large problem with how the faith is being viewed and how people receive the Christian faith message today.
So if you are willing, let’s dig in…
The Guilt Trip
Growing up I felt compelled by evangelical preaching from a very young age. I got to hear some fiery preaching from a young age and that profoundly shapes your psyche well into adulthood. This “fire and brimstone” method of preaching uses fear and guilt into manipulating the audience into believing the message. The urgency to believe is profound and hard to resist. It’s a compelling way to preach if you want your congregation to espouse to the message you are delivering and it’s also a way to grow a church as well. When people feel that they are being 'scared into Heaven’, it’ll work on a majority of the people, especially young people.
To be fair it wasn’t always ‘fire and brimstone’ every Sunday, there was some love and compassion peppered in here and there in an attempt to ‘balance the scales’, but it seems like love and compassion are not ‘effective’ primary motivators if you want urgency and growth. So then many rely on fear and guilt and grow dependent on that in their delivery and writing.
Moving To Something Better
I’ve studied preaching and evangelism over the years and have read both evangelical and progressive perspectives on this subject. I’ve found in both arenas that while fear and guilt might have been effective over the past 200+ years of preaching and evangelism, there has been a cultural shift where those methods no longer work and people are resistant to such preaching and evangelism. People what to be inspired, not condemned. People want to feel love, mercy and grace; not hate, fear and trepidation. This does not mean that you can’t preach about sin and salvation, but what it does mean is that how you present the gospel: the good news of Jesus, has to change if you want it to make an impact on the new generations growing up in our culture.
Where To Land
So for me, I’ve changed my delivery and my focus when it comes to sharing my faith (which I do differently) and when it comes to preaching (which I am no longer active in doing). When it comes to sharing my faith, I take on an ‘incarnational’ approach.
I believe the most effective way to share the good news of Jesus is to live the good news. It’s to share about this unconditional, upside-down kind of love. It’s about sharing the better way than reliance on the government, reliance on self, and reliance on temporal things.
Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking reform in government, seeking strength and growth in self, and seeking comfort in the here and now. We need to do these things as flesh and blood creatures living on earth.
But it’s not the end all be all. We must tap into the reality of spirituality. We must realize that we are greater than the sum of our physical parts. We are spiritual creatures connected to the Great Spirit itself: God (or however you identify with the Divine).
We must realize that the Christian message is one that does not make friends with the government. It does not capitulate to culture. It does not focus on the virtue of selfishness. It is one that seeks to be in defiance to the waves of the government power. It seeks to define culture in a way that is inclusive of every human being. It seeks to do good, pursue justice, right wrongs, and be generous to those in a less privileged position than yourself.
The gospel is truly good news. It always will be. But we must take it on and live out its message in a way that people can be open to receive it.
Be like Jesus.
The real Jesus. The one found in the Scriptures (in the red letters). Not the one co-opted to nationalism, racism, and all other forms of evil and oppression.