The previous article observed the decrease in evangelistic fervor among churches of Christ, reaffirmed the power of the gospel, briefly surveyed the history of major evangelistic methods in the last half century, and suggested an unparalleled cultural shift has occurred and is occurring in Western society. This cultural shift must inform our efforts in evangelism if we are to be effective.
The Cultural Shift Described
Because change tends to get past us unnoticed, we often carry on business as usual. This is no stationary world! In 1982, John Naisbitt's Megatrends suggested new directions. "During turbulent times many people need structure--not ambiguity--in their lives."(1) Regardless of the felt needs around us, however, the secularization of our society has eliminated religion as a popular answer.(2) Today the secularized are a large segment of our nation. Nor are Christians or our churches immune to the influences of secularization.
For the secular person who is without God in the world (Eph. 2:12), life's credo or personal philosophy does not include God. Even if God's existence is acknowledged from a distance, he is not considered a vital part of human experience.
Many cultural trends could be identified, most of which would be related in some way to this changing worldview which we are describing. Increased individualism, loss of dependence upon authority, increased violence, lessened religious influences, the impersonalization which resulted from technological advances, increased loneliness, more unhealthy relationships and families, increased divorce rates--all of these frequently heard concerns indicate that something is happening in our society.
Where is Our Offense?
A ball team cannot win without an offense. No matter how effective the defense, defense along cannot win the game. Just having an offense is not enough either. The offense must be effective. In a ballgame, the offense must be capable of scoring points.
Many writers among us have addressed the problem of secularization. I have written nothing new here. Our literature, periodicals, and bulletins are filled with articles bemoaning our circumstance. The problem is that the result of such articles, written to us and read by us, is almost totally to make us aware of the threat.
You know by now that I agree that the threat is real, and I feel a debt of gratitude to those who labor to help us realize the encroachment and the conflicting worldviews that we now face. Humanism is virtually a household word among us. Such articles have helped us build a defense, but where is our offense?
Who is speaking to the people around us? We are not dealing with philosophy, we are answering a mandate to disciple people. We are battling ideas, but we must be cautious lest we find ourselves in the untenable position of personally battling those people who hold those ideas.
Developing an Offense
The ultimate purpose of these articles is to help us develop an offense that is capable of penetrating our world.
When a cultural shift takes place, people change. If we as Christians--aliens, foreigners and strangers--maintain the countercurrent and are not caught up in the change, the obvious differences between us and those around us are unsettling.
We often tend to bury our heads in the past, "people are people, the gospel is the gospel, they simply are not interested." Effective communication requires understanding between the sender and the receiver. Unless we make diligent effort to make certain understanding is present, we have failed to communicate the message.
How can we effectively communicate the gospel message in our world? What kind of offense is needed? How can we facilitate understanding? I believe the book of Acts provides helpful answers as we think about taking the gospel to a society that is basically unchurched. How can we combat the opposing public opinion, misinformation, and prevailing self-sufficiency? How can we avoid the trap of reshaping the gospel into a "gospel of popular issues," or a "gospel of special emphasis," or a "gospel of the church"? How can we develop an offense when the natural tendency of most Christians is to pull into isolation? How can we deal with our fears? How can we address the fears of those about us?
1. Naisbitt, Megatrends (New York: Warner, 1982), 240.
2. Os Guiness, The Gravedigger File (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983), 52-53 says that in secularization religious ideas become "less meaningful and religious institutions more marginal."
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