Monday, May 17, 2010

The Future Face of Evangelism?

What if you lived in a country where your Christian faith was held by less than 5% of the population? How would that affect your methods of evangelism? And what if the religious views of the population at large were hostile to Christianity? It is hard for us in North America to conceive of this situation but it is reality in many countries of the world.

The above description fits most of the nations of the world that are dominated by Islam, Hinduism, or, Buddhism. But, it is also becoming more the case in many European countries where Christianity used to be the dominant faith. What happened in Europe? Could it happen here?

Perhaps the reason for Europe turning away from Christianity is the religious disillusionment resulting from two devastating world wars. This was a form of continental version of the question “Where was God when it hurt?” America was spared much of that. However, we are dealing with the moral relativism that has the effect of making all truth claims equal, or for the secularist, equally unimportant.

Besides the effect of secularization and moral relativism we also face the unprecedented growth of alternative religions competing with Christianity. Americans in the past held to a Christian consensus, or worldview. Even the non-Christian in America would agree that the God of Christianity was the God they would put their faith in if they were going to be religious. Even though there were cults and alternative religions from the early years of our nation they were extremely small as a percentage of the population and had little influence.

Since immigration has become a wide open door, both legal and illegal, we find ourselves in the company of immigrants who bring their native faith with them. Many of these immigrants come from countries that are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or something else. They have added their numbers to the religious pluralism that has grown exponentially in just the last few decades.

Americans, on the other hand, have walked away from many of the basic tenets of Christianity as well as church attendance. George Barna in his research of religious trends in America has documented this dramatic drift away from our evangelical heritage. At a speaking engagement in Missouri I overheard part of a conversation at a restaurant on the subject of religion. The only statement I heard completely was, “I think you should just do your best, be a good person, and God will accept you.” There are so many a priori assumptions in that statement that it is hard to know where to begin. But it is commonplace today.

In past decades Christian evangelism assumed a Christian consensus and got directly to the point of the sinner putting his faith in Christ. That may no longer be possible. We live in what is being called a “post Christian” America, where the Christian consensus is a memory. There has even been discussion among Christian leaders that one day we will find that evangelism is a hate crime because it says that another religion is false. But the Bible does not let us water down our message like that. We will have to defy laws that restrict the gospel. We will also have to present the gospel message as if the person had never heard of Jesus, or didn’t know God required exclusive devotion. There are no "religious buffets" in the gospel where one can take a little New Age, some relativistic "truth", while trying to keep "sweet Jesus."

Jesus said of the Pharisees that they compassed land and sea to make one convert and when he was converted he was doubly a child of hell as before (Matthew 23:15). Why was he doubly a child of hell after his Pharisaical conversion? It is my opinion that commitment to a belief system has a binding effect on a person’s ability to process truth claims. No one lets go of a firmly held conviction without a struggle. Now this believer in “another gospel” is not like the American who would believe the Christian gospel if he were to be a believer at all. Now he must be pried away from that belief before he can be open to the gospel of Christ. This is the essence of counter-cult evangelism.

In the future our evangelistic methods will have to assume that the non-Christian adheres to another faith that is contradictory to Christianity. That type of evangelism will call for knowledge of alternative beliefs, refutational information, relationship skills with people of non-Christian faiths, and most important, a good working knowledge of Christian doctrine and history.

Watchman Fellowship offers training in such evangelism. We have been doing this sort of training across America in both large and small churches. There is a growing awareness of its need in many parts of the country where religious pluralism is the norm. There is less of it in the Bible Belt because we are still somewhat insulated. But, eventually even Georgia will feel these “winds of doctrine” blowing through the Church.

If you wish to have Watchman Fellowship come to your church for training and awareness contact us