Here are some thoughts/questions:
-How to we employ a corrective stance that communicates in a manner that is faithful to maintaining a servant heart?
-Is there an appropriate dose of aggressiveness or even arrogance when it comes to one’s theological perspective?
-Can Jesus’ temple clearing or the Old Testament prophetical examples guide our correction of other Christians in their faith?
These are tough questions, especially when the tendency in North American Christianity is towards individualized complacency, closed off to the idea of others correcting our theological opinions. While a loving “kick in the pants” may be needed in some cases, I wrestle with how this is done. I guess what I am wondering is if there is such a thing as “humble correction?” Or is this tension reflecting my uncomfortable reaction to conflict?
As someone reminded me last night, today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. My first reaction was to continue my tradition of giving up Lent for Lent, which I think may be missing the point. And what usually happens with this practice of non-observance is that Easter comes out of nowhere, usually just meaning nothing more than an extra church service on Friday, and a chance for some yummy chocolates on Sunday. It’s no wonder that without the preparation practice of Lent, Easter often takes the backseat to Christmas in my Christian faith.
All this to say, I wonder if it isn’t time to wander into the practice of celebrating Lent as a part of my Christian faith. It’s hard to say how this will look. Simply abstaining from something like pop or watching Canucks games, while perhaps helpful (not the Canucks part!) it seems that in my unfamiliarity of the Lenten season I need more then just an outward shift of focus. As Lent is understood as the preparation for celebrating Easter, the recognition of the death and resurrection of Jesus, my practice of Lent needs to capture the essence of what it means to grasp this true meaning.
Before I immerse myself in the tangible practices of Lent, my Lenten commitment must first give up the practice non-observance. It’s easy to abstain from drinking pop as a daily discipline (at least I think so…), but it’s hard to live in faithful preparation towards reflecting on and celebrating the life Jesus lived, gave up, and now continues to live.
Again, how this looks, I am not sure. But my hope is that a meaningful recognition of Lent as a time of preparation for Easter may in fact reveal a deeper understanding of what Easter means for my faith. Maybe I will realize that Christmas isn’t the only pinnacle of the year or my Christian faith.
May the Lenten journey begin…
Well, that’s the answer to my question… The “good news” of the Christian faith finds relevance through the work of the “engaging community.” Here is what I mean:
Speaking on the topic of “creative persuasion,” Os Guinness made an intriguing observation about Christianity in
The difficulty with the engaging motif is that by itself it can simply morph into another aspect of secular culture. Therefore, only with a distinct understanding of the faith community can Christianity be engaging. Here is where I think Stanley Hauerwas is on the right track for any sort of relevant cultural engagement. He says that “the church must recognize that her first social task in any society is to be herself.” Obviously this statement leads to the question of what it means to be the church (for another time…). But the point is that Christians need to be themselves: A community of faith rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How this looks is going to vary, but to drop this historically particular fact of the Christian faith eliminates the relevance of the Christian message on the basis that it is no longer the Christian message, simply becoming a moral ethic or spiritual mysticism. While these things aren’t bad, on their own they only represent part of the complete message of the “good news.”
I will admit there is some tension in these two sides of my definition. However, without this tension, there is the danger of moving towards one extreme or the other. This is a concept I am still working through and trying to understand as I consider my faith and life in this world. This approach to evangelism must creatively engage the world from a particular place of reference.
I know I’m young, and the practicalities of my optimistic view of church may never be fully realized, but this doesn’t stop me exploring the possibilities of how the message of hope Christians have can influence this world for the better.
Some may call me naïve, unrealistic, or conservative, but I’d prefer hopeful…
You may be asking where I am going with this whole question of “is evangelism possible?” So far I have discussed some of the issues in North American culture, as well as a couple of attempts to communicate the “good news” as relevant. And just so you know, my critique thus far has been completely unoriginal (not sure if that’s good or bad…), but I thought I should give props to one of my prof’s books, where he discusses in much depth and far more eloquence many of these issues (Craig Gay: The Way of the (modern) World. Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As if God Doesn’t Exist).
That said, this whole question of evangelism’s relevance was sprung in my mind when I recently attended a lecture at Trinity Western University by Os Guinness, where he lectured on “Truth in our Contemporary Society” coupled with a lecture titled “Creative Persuasion.” Concurrently, I have been reading Stanley Hauerwas in preparation for one of my assignments. Hauerwas’ primary contention with the church in North America is that it has succumbed to the authority of liberal democracy, rather than remaining faithful to the particularity of the Christian message (Resident Aliens is an excellent short book on much of what Hauerwas stands for).
So what exactly does Guinness’ “creative persuasion” and Hauerwas’ “alternative community” imply for the Christian message on Western society? Can they possibly answer my question?
Well, in order to keep my posts at a length that sustains the attention of demanding fellow bloggers and readers, I will leave you hanging.
More to come…
1. Personal Savior –The Billy Graham Method
This is the traditional evangelical mode of evangelism, and as the 20th century showed, it reaped success all over the world. This type of evangelism focuses on revealing the need that everyone has for a personal savior in their lives. By revealing the depravity of the individual’s ability to find fulfillment (& eternal life), Jesus is presented as the way to freedom both in this life and the one to come. Despite this method’s tremendous success, I question it’s effectiveness for the 21st century. Its linear way of presenting the gospel as personal fulfillment appears formulaic to today’s generation. As a result, Christianity appears to be just another entree on the buffet of religious choice, and a highly unpopular one at that. And in a society as affluent and “spiritual” as ours, people no longer realize that they even have a need for the personal savior being presented.
2. Generalized Apologetics – A Liberal Method (notice I said “A” not “The”)
Reacting against the seemingly simplistic model of personalized evangelism, this model counters by attempting to remove the overly “Christian” overtones from theology, particularly anything related to evangelicalism. The message is made as generalized as possible, dropping the typical labels associated with Christianity. The goal is to promote justice and unity in the world, and hopefully present a more intelligent form of faith that many of the folks who reacted against the first model may find appealing. Visible impact towards the betterment of society is the goal. Adopting secular categories for religious discourse is seen as the best way to achieve this impact. While this project is often quite successful, it can have the tendency to melt into society, eventually losing all aspects of its’ faith basis, becoming just another program or group. By dropping the historical particularity of the Christian faith, it also becomes simply another choice among the many.
Ok, I apologize is I offended anyone with these two very rough characterizations, as both sides have (& still do) achieved much success. However, my problem is that these are often the only two options Christians are presented with when it comes to interaction with the world. Personal salvation or social impact… Is there not another way? So I ask again, is evangelism still possible?
All this said the question I have been asking recently is whether or not Christianity is still “good news” in this world. I understand that for some this question is rhetoric, because of course Christianity is still relevant. While I would be prone to agree, I empathize with people who’ve had countless negative experiences with insensitive or inappropriate forms of evangelism. These situations only reinforce the argument for Christianity’s irrelevance. Some will say Christians should hold out and prod on, while others will adamantly declare Christianity’s public demise.
Where am I going? Well, I am not yet sure. Perhaps some of you have some thoughts… We are in a unique cultural situation where “spirituality” is embraced as long as it’s not related to “religion.”
So… How is Christianity “good news” in this time, and how (if it is) can this message be communicated? Basically, is evangelism still possible?
Just something I’m wondering…
El Nino - video powered by Metacafe
In light of global warming once again making headlines, I figured a little comic relief from the late Chris Farley could perhaps lighten the mood as the world continues to grapple with this issue.
(sorry for the lame links to other videos... I couldn't figure out how the stop them)