Monday 19 August 2019

Christian evangelism - Why double-negative Christianity has failed, and Fourth Gospel positivity should be deployed

The Fourth Gospel is based on the positive and enhancing gift from Jesus of Life Everlasting in Heaven, with everyone who chooses likewise; offered to all those who love, trust, believe-in and follow Jesus.

(And therefore, naturally, live accordingly.)

But because of the historical ignoring or subordination of the Fourth Gospel, and doctrines and practices based on the Synoptic Gospels, the Epistles and other parts of the Bible, or church authority, or tradition, or philosophy... for most of its history nearly all of Christian evangelism has been based on a double-negative strategy.

The double-negative strategy is to state that Christianity will save Men from something horrible.

So, without Christianity Men face negatives such as fear of Hell, extinction, misery, futility, guilt; and the message is that Jesus came to save us from these negatives.

But this no longer works in the modern world because our culture is psychological, and the negatives are regarded as psychological symptoms. So the negatives of life (fear, despair, guilt etc) are seen as emotional states; and the strategy for dealing-with them is this-worldly therapeutic.

Modern culture offers to 'save' us from such emotional states (either now or in the future) by essentially technological means such as politics, sex, drugs and distractions. If we are afraid, we take a tranquilliser; if we are miserable we take an antidepressant or get drunk, if we feel guilty we take our minds off the problem by immersion in mass and social media... etc.

However, if (like me) you regard the Fourth Gospel as the heart and true message of Christianity; then Christians can offer something that the secular culture has completely failed to address; which is an escape from  nihilism, despair and alienation; or, to put it positively - the provision of meaning, purpose and hope.

And the message and lesson is simple: If you want this - life eternal, as divine beings participating in God's creation - then You Can Have It.

(But... To have it You Must Really Want It.)

Eternal Life does not come to everybody, because we are free agents and Heaven is the kind of condition must actively be chosen; and most modern people (apparently) don't want it and reject it.

You must want Heaven more than anything else.

And that's all.

(But for most people, that is way too much...)


BruceB said...

Paul’s “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some”??

I suppose this approach isn’t possible for Catholics (though I think the Church is more positive post-Vatican II) but maybe it is possible for Evangelicals. And I think you could save using the 4th gospel alone – I’m sure some were since that’s all they had.

Jared said...

I really resonated with this post. It made sense that when we try to find a solution if we don't believe, we're going to turn to technology or the wisdom of men. But if we want to believe, the positive solution is to believe we can choose Heaven. I've learned lately that I have a choice whether to be in actuality a Christian, it's not a given. But I really like the positivity of this post, that we can go through the process to choose Heaven. God has a plan for us to progress to accept that informed viewpoint.
I can see one of the ways that the fourth gospel teaches us to trust in God's goodness is John 10.
To me, one of the features of the gospel of John is that it most completely shows the Divine operating in the human realm.

seriouslypleasedropit said...

"Double-negative Christianity" --- evocative phrasing! I'll remember that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@spdi - I think this double negative is a consequence of the mainstream Christian theology of God as omnipotent, outside of time, and creating ex nihilo. This makes it very difficult to explain why Jesus Christ is *necessary*, and creates all kinds of tortuous explanations - such as the double negative (which I suppose derives from a way of interpreting Paul).

The basic assumptions of Mormon theology (e.g. pluralist, time is real and sequential, evolutionary) make it much more straightforward to explain that Men are destined to become fully divine (as Jesus stated/ implied several times) and why Jesus was needed for this to happen... Although I feel that some development of detail and emphasis in Mormon theology is required for this to be done with optimal clarity and positivity. That's what I try to do.

JoeBagoDonuts said...

Do you consider this double negative only a problem in Western theology? I understand the Eastern Church has a much different anthropology particularly with regards to Original Sin although they also teach an omnipotent God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JBD - It is a problem in the entire traditional theology; it is structural to the Classical Philosophical basis that theologians have used since the early centuries of the church; although it isn't in the Gospels (especially not the fourth). However, there have been wide variations in emphasis and style. Sometimes there has been a strong emphasis on 'jesus came to save us from hellish torment' and at other times - for example in the 'Celtic' re-conversion of England during the Anglo Saxon era (which was essentially what we now call Eastern Orthodoxy) there was a much more positive favour; especiall contrasted with the Northern paganism.

I'm pretty sure the Christianity of the ordinary 'peasant' has usually been (and is) very different from the theology of the philosophers, and more true to the reality of Jesus's teaching (in the IV Gospel).