One of the main features of the New Testament is the call to the proclamation of the Good News concerning Jesus. As Jesus went everywhere preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, so He has commissioned his disciples to take this same Good News to the world. The Good News was called the evangelion in Greek, from which we get the word evangelism. Evangelism is the proclamation of good news concerning the kingdom of God made accessible through Jesus Christ. Further explained by the apostles, evangelism is the good news of God’s salvation from the judgment of sin. It includes the announcement of forgiveness of sin from God through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the modern times of previous generations, in line with features of this period, evangelism most often consisted in some kind of delineation of the main points of the Gospel as understood in the New Testament – God’s love, man’s sin, God’s salvation in Christ, and the appropriate response of faith through a prayer of acceptance. There were many wonderfully designed packages of presentation along these lines that God used to help untold numbers come to faith in Christ. Some of the more popular forms in my time were: the Bridge Illustration, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Roman Road, and Evangelism Explosion. Crusade evangelism, as it was called, followed a similar pattern. People with a special gift for evangelism, Billy Graham being the classic example, held large gatherings to explain the message of salvation. Thousands upon thousands of people came to experience the reality of a relationship with God by this means.
But with the advent of the post-modern period in the last twenty years or so there has been a notable shift in the way evangelism is understood and practiced. Much has been written to encourage a more missional approach to evangelism. People like Alan Hirsh and Robert Frost in their book, The Shaping of Things to Come, make a lot of the fact that we live in a time when the church is no longer central to western society as it has been for some 1700 years. Now in a marginalized position, the church can no longer expect the non-Christians to come to the church. They advocate that an attractional model of evangelism and church ministry must give way to a more missional approach. Being missional, it appears, means penetrating the community seeking to make a difference for the sake and in the name of Jesus Christ. It consists of practical and spiritual ministries to people in need so that people come to recognize the reality of Jesus in their midst. And so there are many notable efforts being made to expand Christ’s kingdom by this means.
While it is important to contend with the obvious shift that has taken place in our western culture it’s possible that a vital element in evangelism is being lost in this missional work. It is apparent that the current generation is not responsive to packaged approaches to evangelism.
The real danger in these times is that the true nature of the Gospel remains unclear and that people are left with fuzzy notions of what it means to be a Christian and in the end have no assurance of a relationship with God. My concern is that churches might be missional without actually being effective in making disciples. It seems to me that there is a great need for clarification on this matter. It’s evident that the very concept of evangelism is not popular at this time because the very term implies a certain kind of authoritarianism, conversion efforts, or even bigotry — all of which are rather distasteful to post-moderns. Post-modern evangelism is considered a bit of an oxymoron.
So it is that I am on the look-out for material that effectively tells about how God’s Good News can be presented to a post-modern generation. I know that being relational and authentic is really important. This is a good thing. I also know that one’s own story can be very powerful and that people need time to grasp the nature of who Jesus is and what it means to believe in Him. But I think a great deal more thought needs to be given on what it really means to make disciples in the missional paradigm of this post-modern age. If you have any ideas on this, feel free to share your thoughts.