Friday, August 11
To spread the Gospel is, of course, the Christian mandate. And, while I completely agree with St. Francis that we should "preach the Gospel, use words when necessary," I think that Catholics are prone to use that adage as a way to avoid talking about the Faith with people who have absolutely no idea what it is. While I think we're getting much better at rehabilitating fallen-away Catholics, or welcoming into the Catholic Fold people who already ardently love Our Lord, we're still crumby at introducing Christ to people who have no idea what Christianity is.
So, how to do that has been a matter of reflection for me recently. I thought this was interesting:
Q: How can we speak evangelistically to people today? Is it different from how we spoke to former generations?
A: Much of our evangelism here in the United States was developed in a context of Christendom, in which just about everybody knew the basic information of Christianity and were favorably disposed to it. Evangelism got people to act on what they already knew and, in a sense, already passively believed. You could call people to commitment relatively quickly. You could also use pretty forceful persuasive techniques. In dealing with postmoderns, you're dealing with people who do not know the basics of Christianity. If anything, they have a negative idea of what Christianity is. So it makes no sense to them if you come on too strong and quickly ask for a commitment. We should count conversations rather than conversions, not because I don't believe in conversions, but because I don't think we'll get many conversions if we keep emphasizing them.
Q: So what does evangelism to postmoderns look like?
A: We [Protestants] have become good at boiling the gospel down into little four-step outlines. Modern people love diagrams; it's all about engineering. But postmodern people feel that truth comes as a mystery, a story, and a work of art; truth is more like poetry than engineering. This forces us to ask if we have a clear understanding of what the gospel really is. If, for hundreds of years, we have turned the gospel into a problem-solution mindset or series of arguments, we must ask how that may have distorted our understanding of the gospel. In many ways, the modern evangelical gospel is a message about how to not go to hell. When you step back and ask if that's really the gospel from Jesus' perspective, it's pretty hard to answer yes
(All of which continues to suggest, to me, that while not identical with the Catholic mind, the post-modern mind can be much more sympathetic to the Catholic than was the Modern)
Q: What questions might people ask of Christians?
A: Many would ask, "Is Christianity good, and can it make me into a better person, or will it make me a jerk?" They ask that because when they think of Christians, they tend to think of people who are narrow-minded, judgmental, arrogant, and angry. And they think, "Wow, I really want God, and I'd rather be a Christian than a Buddhist or a Muslim, but Christians look like jerks. I don't want to become like that."
And I think there's a lot of truth to that..