November 9, 2012

Evangelism: What are we doing wrong? Pt. 2


Evangelism. It's for many a discomforting term. I get that. But I think that there is something good about evangelism that is often missed. In my kick-off post for this blog series I wrote, "Many Christians affiliate the term with fanaticism and spectacle that they are not interested in associating with." It doesn't seem a stretch to imagine that many Christians are additionally convinced that those outside the Christian faith hold the same perception. In their book,??Unchristian,??David Kinnaman??and??Gabe Lyons??share research conducted by the??Barna Group??that found non-Christians to commonly find Christians to be:??hypocritical, pushy,??homophobic, naive, too political and judgmental. ??It's unsettling, for certain. The last thing most Christians would want to do is validate such misconceptions. Yet, sociologist??Bradley R.E. Wright??believes just that: these are??misconceptions. In his book,??Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites... and Other Lies You've Been Told, he argues that Kinnaman's research may not be totally accurate. To begin with, Wright contests the data reported in??Unchristian??and while it's worth the time reading this (ch. 8 of his book) it is not what I want to focus on here. Rather, it is few points that Wright makes.??

The first point that Wright makes is that Christians tend to "overinflate" negative stereotypes about themselves. I'm not sure that this is exclusive to Christians. It seems a universally human thing to function out of fear and scarcity. Wright's argument is that presenting information in such terms tends to do little in motivating us. He adds that other research evidences more??ambivalence??than negativity in the perception of Christians by non-Christians. To be honest, I'm not sure which is worse!??Nonetheless, Wright's other point could be summed as this: So what?!??Well, that is a slight summary of his point. So, let me explain. Wright wonders whether public perception should change how we act and how we practice our faith. If such conceptions are in fact wrong, why ought we pay attention to them at all?

I think Wright is correct in stating that we have to be careful about??exaggerating stereotypes. Especially when we do this to insight change. Fear does not often motivate us to anything substantial or meaningful over time. But I do think how others perceive of us is important???Jesus said that we ought to be known by our love for each other, after all. There is a small majority within the Church that do and say ugly things. But these are not the majority of those Christians I know. Yet, we have frequently allowed a minority to hold the public spotlight and therefore dictating how our culture perceives of all Christians. As I said elsewhere recently, "[i]n response, we have frequently and politely relegated ourselves to the sidelines, not desiring to offend or impose ourselves on others." To be frank, I'm not content with such a posture. I am not satisfied with a public that is??ambivalent about Christians. And I'm quite happy to take back what it means to be a Christian from those would popularize the perception Unchristian documented.

In the book of Jeremiah, we see God's people living in exile in the Babylonian empire. Imagine such a world. Maybe a modern day similarity might be undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Or possibly Palestinians living under Israeli rule. And then God says to his people, "... seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.??? Could it be that this divine direction is not so different than what Jesus commanded? Could it be so simple as loving our neighbor? Could it be that whether ambivalent or negative, the reason such perceptions are held is due to the fact that we have not unselfishly loved our neighbor?

Some would argue that we can't simply do evangelism by actions. "What a bunch of hippie crap!" A fair protest. The people of Israel knew why they lived the way they did. They had been in exile before and they held within their hearts, their rituals and whole identity a story that bore good news???then and now. And when a Babylonian wondered why they lived the way they did, an Israelite knew what to say. The trouble is that we often do not know what to say. But it starts, I think, with earning the right to say anything at all. To be present, to listen, to seek the welfare of those around us.

Next time, I'll share a few thoughts on how we might talk about the good news.

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