Evangelism in Post-Christian America

America is our mission field. We have been sent to this place by God. How do I know? Because we are here, therefore this is where God has sent us.

In my blog last Tuesday I highlighted the recent conversation about “Post-Christian” America. Both Newsweek and Mark Driscoll seem to agree that America is, indeed, moving toward a more secular, less overtly Christian culture. What they disagree about is the impact such a cultural shift will have.

If such a shift is, in fact, happening right now in our culture, there is a very important question for us, as Christians, to ask:
How do we best evangelize and share Christ in a culture that is not longer familiar with the basic story of Christianity? In other words, how do we best live as missionaries in our culture – a culture quickly loosing familiarity with the story of the gospel?

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC and one of the leading voices for Christians engaging the wider culture, has a short little article titled “Post-Everythings” that sheds much light on this very question.

“Post-everything” people are those who are now in their teens and twenties – and they are our future.

These persons are increasingly post-secular. They are much more open to the supernatural, to spirituality, and to religion but not necessarily to Christianity. They are also post-ideological. On the one hand, they are perhaps too concerned about issues of social justice to be labeled “conservative.” On the other hand, they are also post-liberal. Not only is the old Liberalism too self-righteous for contemporary tastes, it is also cracking up due to 9/11, the demise of socialism, and war. The emerging culture is also post-modern. Our society increasingly is opposed to purely rationalistic explanations for experience, and does not accept the hard-nosed, scientific secularism of the past.

Later in the piece he explains how our gospel presentation needs to change in light of our audeince:

Our typical evangelistic presentations are effective with persons who assume they should be good. Then the gospel-presenter tries to show them than they are not good enough – they fall short of God’s perfect standards – and therefore they need Jesus to forgive sin and help them do the right thing. This presentation was quite appropriate for almost everyone in my parents’ generation. My parents, who are evangelical Christians, and my in-laws, who are not at all, had basically the same social and moral values. … They were part of a world in which Christianity was the folk-religion even if it was not the heart-religion of most people. They believed that the purpose of life was to be a good person. This world no longer exists everywhere.

On the other hand, if you say to those in my kids’ generation, “You know you have to be good,” they will say, “Who’s to say what good is?” So what are we to do with these post-everything persons who are increasingly dominating our society? The traditional gospel presentations will not make much sense to many of them.

The content of our message – the gospel – must never change, but our words, forms of thought, attitudes, and cultural particularities must be understandable to those to whom we speak. As our culture changes, so must our language.

So how does Keller propose we proceed in being effective missionaries to our post-everything neighbor? He gives 6 suggestions:

1. “Post-everything people like narrative and story and tend not to like… simply enunciated doctrinal principles.”

This is great news for Christians trying to share the truths of the Bible because at the end of the day, the Bible is one grand overarching story of creation, fall, and redemption. Jesus is the center of the story found on every page of the Bible. Keller writes, “The plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus.”

2. “Post-everythings are experientially oriented. They do not simply want intellectual propositions.”

This can actually make the story of the Gospel very attractive to post-everythings because Jesus did not come to redeem us to a perfect systematic theology but to a relationship with him. The gospel is fundamentally relational and experiential. We can emphasize that in our conversations with friends and neighbors.

3. “Post everythings are very much against moralism and self-righteousness.”

Good. So are we. Emphasize that Jesus saved his harshest words for the Pharisees and always engage others with humility, respect, and a keen awareness of God’s timing in their life, not our own.

4. “Take note of post-everythings’ concern for social justice.”

Concern for social justice is a great ‘common ground’ on which to start conversations with post-everythings. Concern for justice may be the current social ethic that most accurately aligns with Biblical teaching. (Sexual ethics, on the other hand, may be where our culture and the Bible are farthest apart, but that is a conversation for another day.)

5. “Recongnize that post-everythings love art because they love the natural world.”

Art is a powerful force to inspire belief, one way or another. Are you prepared to engage the art in our culture – movies, music, advertising, and all the other forms – in a way that gets to the heart of its message? It is an important skill to develop if we are to have influence in a post-Chrisitan America.

6. “Post-everythings are not strongly swayed by evidence and proofs.”

In The Reason for God, Keller points us to the great philosopher Alvin Planginga who “believes that there are no proofs for God that will convince all rational persons. However, he believere that there are at least two to three dozen very good arguments for the existence of God…. And the accumulated weight of the ones you find appealing can be very formidable.” In other words, there is no airtight proof for the God existence of God. Instead, our goal should be more humble, to persuade, to pile on evidence, to point to the most reasonable conclusion to the facts we have before us.

As we strive to be missionaries to our post-Christian culture, I pray we will learn to communicate the message of the gospel in a language that is understandable, influential, and ultimately life changing for those around us.

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