Tuesday 19 June 2018

Why is traditional Christian evangelism ineffective in The West?

Well, to be exact, it isn't always ineffective - indeed, conservative evangelical protestants are among very few denominations still winning converts among native European-descended people. But the numbers are small, and most Westerners are immune to their message.

Why? Because traditional Christian evangelism focuses on salvation - on saving-from Hell. (Note: All the following is true, and I endorse it...) Traditional evangelism focuses on sin, and the need for repentance from sin. It focuses on getting people to recognise their sins, acknowledging that sin really is sin; and on having faith in Jesus as Saviour - in understanding that faith in Jesus is both necessary and sufficient for salvation.

All of the above is true and necessary and absolutely-must be affirmed by all Christians - and yet it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because people don't believe God - consequently they don't believe in the reality and objectivity of sin, they don't believe in Heaven, so they don't believe in Hell... even worse, they prefer Hell to Heaven; because Heaven would entail giving-up some favourite (usually sexual, but maybe emotional) sin. It doesn't work because people don't feel the need to be-saved; and they are unimpressed/ uninterested by what they are being saved-for.

And it doesn't work because the primary suffering experience of modern people is alienation - of being cut-off from the world; of finding life (meaning this mortal life) meaningless and purposeless: of finding nothing really-real, and of being haunted by a conviction that life is merely a senseless and lonely spark in eternity.

To save someone from alienation is not like saving someone from the consequences of sin; saving from alienation requires, more than anything, a purpose for life. From that purpose can come meaning, and that purpose may also give meaning to relationships; and when that purpose extends beyond biological death then a great deal has been achieved.

Christianity as a faith has, so far, been bad at providing positive purpose. Instead, purpose has traditionally been provided not by the faith but by the church, by the human organisation. Yet most Christian churches are now corrupt, and indeed anti-Christian overall; and those which are not corrupt are small, scattered; and mostly incapable (through lack of persons and resources) of providing an 'alternative purposive life' for alienated moderns.

What is needed, then, is development of Christian doctrine that goes beyond salvation; moves directly from saving-from on to living-for; from the negative to the positive.

I think this means Christianity picking-up from the incomplete 'project' of Romanticism - as exemplified by Blake and Coleridge; of seeking to reconnect Man with a living nature, of recognising that God is within as well an an external person, of thinking much more about the nature of Heaven than the avoidance of Hell. And understanding Heaven as an active, dynamic, purposive world - a world of loving relationships united in divinely creative activity.

And recognising that this is something we can, and should, be doing here and now, on earth, during mortal life.

This is the Good News of Christianity for moderns; and ought to be the first point of contact and primary message. Salvation is absolutely-necessary; but it is a means and not the end. As it says in the Fourth Gospel  (John 20:31):

...these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

Which makes clear that the ultimate purpose is 'life', which (through this Gospel) means the divine, Heavenly consciousness.

Even knowing this; not everybody will even want life everlasting, life more abundantly, the life of Sons of God - most of Jesus's audience rejected it, after all. But modern people ought to be clear, at least, the magnitude of what it is they are rejecting.

If they can first understand the nature and scope of what is positively 'on offer' - only then, and if they want it, they can then decide whether or not this offer is real and possible.


Michael Dyer said...

The Bible uses positive visions all the time, positive inducements, it tries to show the beauty and attractiveness of the truth. Many great evangelists have as well.

You know what's fun though? Just verbally beating on people, yelling at them, especially if they're already in the pews and you know they won't fight back.

Of course there's a time for harsh truth and judgement. Life is serious business and some things have to be strenuously opposed and condemned. But a stick with no carrot is pretty unbalanced as an approach for human beings.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Fundamentally, it is futile to preach repentance to those who have no practical experience of being called to account for their sins. One must do it mainly for the good of one's own soul (because to preach repentance regardless of the conversion of others is a necessary good work in itself) rather than in the false hope that it will sway anyone who didn't yearn to hear it.

I say 'yearn', but I don't mean a merely secret longing such as nearly every child of God must feel, but a desire which cannot be hidden from the world.

Lucinda said...

My own experience is that sin is so blinding that I could't get much of anywhere about positive desires until I was free enough from the sin.

I recently read a bit from CSL's Weight of Glory, and I think it makes sense when he talks about the schooling, the need to learn the basics before the appreciation and desire for the beautiful can have meaning. The need to learn the Greek language before getting to appreciate Greek poetry. Discipline is often the only way to begin the possibility of positive desire.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - But it is the positive desire which beckins us onward. I think it is telling that Mormon mission aries (apparently) begin with the Plan of Salvation - which includes a quite specific vision of where things are going, and why. But this is distinctive to Mormonism - and for many Christians, what happens after death in a positive sense - what we actually *do* - is on the one hand extremely vague, and on the other hand seldom discussed, or much thought about - and then with a kind of exaggerated caution (which can be seen in CS Lewis's 'disclaimers' with which he feels it necessary to surround The Great Divorce). Yet I think the Fourth Gospel is trying to explain to us, again and again, what Life Everlasting is going to be like (or could be like). Of course it can only be *known* then, but many 'analogies/ symbols/ metaphors are deployed to give us a relatively exact, sufficiently exact, idea of it.