08 August 2004

Evangelism: too important to be left to the evangelicals

I think I might have quite a bit to say on the topic of evangelism as time goes on. I sense a growing interest in the subject within my church, and it's a topic for the coming year's Christian education curriculum. And ever since I took this course called LifeKeys and it indicated that evangelism might be among my spiritual gifts, I've been thinking about it a lot.

"But wait," you are perhaps saying, "given what you've previously said about exclusivism, pluralism, and salvation, why on earth would you want to run around converting people to Christianity?" Well, just because I don't think being a Christian is a prerequisite for salvation doesn't mean that I don't think being a Christian is a wonderful thing. I myself have undergone--and am continuing to undergo--a conversion experience to Christianity, and I consider myself much the better for it, to say the least.

I think there are many, many people who are "unsaved" for whom an encounter with the risen Christ could be the occasion for their salvation. (See my previous post regarding my belief about the nature of salvation--I reiterate that I don't consider it to be necessarily linked to historical Christianity, but is certainly can be.) I also think that there are many people who are saved but have no connection to any religious community or practice, and that these things can be very valuable aids to living out your salvation and developing your relationship with the divine.

I'm not looking to take people who have healthy, improving relationships with God, Allah, or their Buddha Nature and substitute their working practice with a copy of mine. That's pointless. But for those in search of faith, or possessing faith but in search of practice, an encounter with God in Christ might be just what they need. And I think it's certainly incumbent upon Christians to get out there and make those encounters possible--Great Commission and all that. I think it's a great failing of many in the mainline Christian denominations that we don't do that--either because we don't know how, or because our own pluralism makes us think it's not necessary. But that's a cop-out, and I suspect it's a cover story for lack of courage, because it seems self-evident to me that there's a great need to spread the Good News, whether you're a pluralist or not, for the reasons outlined above. And the wages of apathy will be the continued shrinking of the mainline denominations until they exist only in history books.

There's another reason why liberal Christians need to get on the stick with evangelism. If we leave it to the conservative evangelicals, there will be many who will never be reached. In our postmodern, secularist society, lots of people are simply never going to be conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals. It's just not going to happen. Lots of people simply can't check their brains--and often their hearts--at the church door in the way that many conservative churches require them to. In this day and age, if belief in a literal, worldwide Flood and a literal, eternal Hell are presented as prerequisites for being born again, many people will choose to hold on to the birth they've got now, the one that lets them hold onto science and compassion. And that's the way the Good News is being told by most of those who bother telling it! In my opinion, that's a crime. But it's something that I think at least some of us "mainline, liberal" Christians are starting to realize we can do something about.

No comments: