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Evangelism – Good News?

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You travel over land and sea to make one single convert. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you yourself are!

Jesus (Matthew 23:15)

Christian communities and Christian individuals often give two different unattracting views: universalism – all is fine, whatever one does (there’s no urgency to follow Jesus); or at the other end of the spectrum: a God who sends (most/nearly all) people to hell as well expressed by the following meme and often articulated in the not-found-in-the-Bible-injunction that one should “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour”.

If evangelism is to mean anything, we have to find a way significantly different to those two positions. As well as these two repellant perspectives, other things put people off Christianity: the dysfunctionality of so many Christian communities, and the abuse (sexual, emotional, spiritual, financial,…) by people in positions of leadership and others in the Christian community.

Quite some time ago now, the wonderful theologian Karl Rahner said it well:

The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.

Another factor, increasingly, is simply the diminishing size of the Christian community. This increases the dysfunctionality of a community – one person described it to me with the metaphor of rats increasingly eating each other as the cage gets smaller. Shrinking congregational size also often raises the ratio of dysfunctional people to a point where the community ceases to function in a healthy way. [To be clear: there is nothing wrong with the acknowledgement that we all have unwell areas in our lives, and a Christian community is healthy when it can accept within it individuals who have particularly broken aspects to their personality].

Declining church attendance regularly changes the motivation of evangelism to being to keep this religious club going. Younger people (in church-speak, that’s anyone under 50 years) tell me that if they visit a church community, they are immediately leapt upon to contribute and to help with any number of tasks. That has been their welcome, discouraging from even exploring a Christian community.

I don’t know who first said the following often quoted statement, but I find it begins to express something of my own experience:

I’m not a Christian because I want the reward of heaven. I’m not a Christian because I’m running from hell.I am a Christian because the character of Jesus Christ is so compelling to me that I want to spend my life chasing it, embodying it, and sharing it.

The Hound of Heaven has certainly captured me. “You have seduced me, O GOD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed,” (Jeremiah 20:7). I cannot visualise my life apart from being plunged into and growing into the inner life of the Trinity that is the heart, meaning, and purpose of reality. Seeking to share that is like letting others know about a great movie. The urgency in the Gospels to following Jesus is no less today with climate change, poverty, injustice, war…

I think all this is better expressed by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). I would encourage you and your community to start there. That may lead back to other wonderful insights in Vatican II documents.

What do you think?

First and third images used after asking Naked Pastor

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2 thoughts on “Evangelism – Good News?”

  1. I am that rare religious-creature: a Christian in Unitarian Universalist Church. I was drawn there precisely because so much of the UU ministry here follows the teachings of Jesus in supporting the excluded, oppressed and suffering.

    That’s not to say there are not occasional troublesome flare-ups of human problems, nothing’s ever perfect once people get involved!

    ‘universalism – all is fine, whatever one does’

    To that I would say all that is done with the purest love and intention *is* fine whatever one does, but of course we are not generally so Jesus-like! What I have found for me is the greater the spiritual freedom we have or seek the greater our discipline must be in upholding ‘good’ values and constant self-searching. We are all capable of sanctimony, then good intentions slide into judgment and exclusion yet again; in the UU Church we are exhorted to ‘uphold the worth and dignity of every human’. It is the basis of our commitment and where true faith and true joy and goodness will be present.

    Or as Jesus said it” ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

    It’s all the same thing.


    On another note I would love to see a Bishop Bosco : )
    Your writings have kept me on the straight and narrow for many years now!

    1. Thanks, Tracy. The best book I read recently about universal salvation was by David Bentley Hart:That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation – my simplified, broad-brushstroke of a blog post can well be balanced by such a deeper examination as such a book brings to this. I think the universalism of Bentley Hart is not an “all is fine, whatever one does” universalism – it is much more about reconciliation is always possible (with God). I suspect we will be much on the same page in all this. As for your final paragraph – I thank you for your compliment, and appreciate the wisdom you bring to me (and others here). Blessings.

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