The new rules for evangelism

Last week we blogged about the conclave of world evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and liberal Protestants that put together a document on the Ethics of Evangelism.   Christianity Today has a good analysis, including what the document leaves out and what it says that some might find troubling:

“I think the fact that the WEA [World Evangelical Alliance] is engaging with the WCC[World Council of Churches] and the Catholic Church here indicates that they are becoming more willing to embrace interreligious dialogue,” Mannoia said. “On the other side, I think for the WCC and the Vatican to make the statement that witnessing is in the nature of the church marks a significant adjustment.”

George Hunter, dean of the School of World Missions at Asbury Theological Seminary, sees an even more significant adjustment in what’s not in the document. “A lot of times in these documents it’s what they leave out that’s really telling,” he said. “Probably the Catholics engaged in the greatest concession by omission here: sacramental expression. Omitting sacramental rites from the ‘essence’ of evangelism is a huge statement from the Catholic Church, and an indication that they are willing to give up an important part of their tradition in order to meet evangelicals in the middle.

But Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said the document doesn’t include everything evangelicals would have liked to see, either. “We wish that the verbal witness of the good news of Jesus was considered more central to how we express love to our world,” he said. “While it was appropriate to teach how acts of service and justice, as well as Christian behavior, are witness, we desire to say that the most essential element of witness must be the verbal expression of the gospel adorned by love acts, respect, and gentleness.” . . .

Jerry Root, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said that he similarly fears the document’s failure to make verbal proclamation explicit “leaves the door open for some to consider any proclamation at the time of service a coercive act.” The document, he notes, says Christians “should not … violat[e] others’ rights and religious sensibilities” and “never denigrate, vilify, or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”

“This is ambiguous,” said Root, author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. “If I said to another person, ‘We need Jesus for the hope of heaven,’ could this be considered a denigration of another’s faith because of that faith’s inability to provide a Cross-centered redemption? We never want to be offensive, but there are some features of the Cross that simply are offensive, by nature, to those outside the faith.” . . .

Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said that while the omissions are significant, evangelical leaders are likely to be more uncomfortable with some of the language that’s included than with what’s left out.

“There’s at least four mentions of the necessity of interreligious relationships and continuous commitment to engagement with other religions, and I’m not sure that this is realistic or theologically a major part of missions,” he said. “This leans very heavily toward Catholic and WCC notions that the God of other religions is the God of Christianity, and that’s something evangelicals are not willing to accept.” . . .

Similarly, Hunter notes one section that states, “Christians are to acknowledge that changing one’s religion is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom.”

“That is not consistent with evangelical policy in the past,” Hunter said. But he thinks it’s worth questioning evangelical emphasis on the “moment of decision.” “Faith is more like a gift—like falling in love—than a methodical, carefully discerned decision.”

But is “changing one’s religion” the same as “converting,” or “having faith”? The terms faith, religion, and witness appear repeatedly in the document, but not evangelism.

“This document steps back from a lot of the activistic language we see in the Great Commission and throughout Matthew and favors the more Jesus-centric language of John—Jesus as the perfect witness to the gospel,” said Dana Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. “You don’t see any language like convert or evangelize in the document because it would be perhaps perceived as too strong.”

via Top Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Bodies Issue Evangelism Rules | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

So we have a sort of Evangelicals Catholics & Liberals Together moment.  Evangelicals feel good that they have been included at the table for once.  Catholics gave up the sacramental dimension and evangelicals gave up going for the instantaneous decision.  With the emphasis on peace and justice and interfaith dialog, rather than the actual Gospel, it sounds like the liberal protestants basically had their way.   Or am I missing something?

 (Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)

HT:  Ted Olsen

Reagan veneration in Eastern Europe

In the context of a rather snarky column on congressional junkets, we learn that the ex-Communist countries of eastern Europe are putting on big celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, something we didn’t really do in the United States:

Yes, we’re told that the codel [congressional delegation], led by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), after a stop to mingle with the troops in Germany, was on hand Monday in Krakow, Poland, to kick off a week of celebrations across Europe to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan. (The birthday was Feb. 6, but . . . it’s a big event.)

Krakow was home to Pope John Paul II for four decades. The events there celebrated the special relationship between Reagan and the pope in the fight against the Soviets.

The traveling party’s next stop was Budapest, where it arrived Tuesday to join the Hungarian parliament’s commemorative session for Reagan. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was on hand to speak.

A Reagan statue is to be unveiled Wednesday in Freedom Square, where the Soviets left a monument to remind the Hungarians that the Russians saved them from the Nazis. Reagan is staring down that monument, we’re told, looking through it to the U.S. Embassy. The Hungarians are putting on a gala dinner.

via European birthday bashes for Reagan – The Washington Post.

To ban or not to ban

That is the question. . . .I think it’s good for people to hear from those who disagree with them. I believe in freedom of expression and freedom of conversation. Contrary to what some of you realize, I have banned people from this blog, those who kept throwing in racist comments or obscene language. Some of you have asked me to ban different commenters for being offensive in various ways. I have sometimes admonished the offenders, but I have resisted blocking them from participating in the discussions. But now I have heard in one of the comments (somewhere past 400 in the “Where are the Lutherans” thread) a new consideration. Some commenters, it was said, bring out the worst in some of you, to the point of making you sin in your reactions. That frames the issue differently, not in terms of rules but in effect, not focusing on a person’s misbehavior in isolation but on the harm it does to others, thinking in terms not of abstractions but in love of neighbor.

So what do you think? Should I ban participants in this blog with greater frequency? Are any of you being harmed morally or spiritually by anyone who comments here (no names need be mentioned)? Not just offended but tempted to uncharitable thoughts and emotions?

We really do have a kind of community here, so I take seriously what you think. Can we take a vote?

An evangelical critique of contemporary worship

D. H. Williams, a theology professor at Baylor, offers a searching critique of contemporary worship as practiced in the typical megachurch, published in Christianity Today, no less.  You need to read it all, but here is the opening description of the service:

On a recent Sunday, I found myself visiting a Protestant megachurch. Entering the “worship center” was eerily similar to being ushered down the aisle of a movie theater: floor lighting, padded chairs, visual effects shown on two large screens, and music over the speaker system.

A band appeared on stage to begin the service with live music. It was dark, and I thought I heard the audience singing along, but it was impossible to tell. And although I was seated in the front row, I sensed that the congregation was almost superfluous to the activity on stage. As in most forms of entertainment, the audience functioned as passive onlookers, participating only in an unseen, intensely personal way.

While the band played, song lyrics flashed across the two big screens, with words like great, God, and high figuring prominently. The musical performance was outstanding, even if the vocabulary was extremely limited. If the songs aimed at an emotional response, they were probably successful, but like so much contemporary worship music, they lacked any element of substantive teaching.

Immediately after the singing, without any announcement, much less Paul’s words of institution (1 Cor. 11:23-26), the elements of the Lord’s Supper were hurriedly handed around. Again, I was amazed at the blandly efficient nature of this activity. We could have been passing pretzels and soda pop. No one offered any guidance whatsoever on the sharing of this critical ordinance or sacrament. It seemed a strictly vertical encounter between each individual and God.

Next came the sermon, offered by a capable person who worked very hard to relate while teaching some biblical content. A simple outline appeared on the screen so that we could follow the train of thought. So did the relevant Bible passages, lest anyone could not find them in an actual Bible. I noticed that the illustrations came almost solely from popular movies and television. Then the service ended as abruptly as it began, with a few announcements over the speakers and a cordial “thank you” to the congregation. No benediction or closing prayer—not even a person to give it. The house lights came on, and it was time to leave.

via Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

The sociology of the gay marriage debate

Australian Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent,  looks at the sociology of the gay marriage debate, how the cultural elite are using the issue to achieve moral superiority over the non-elite.

From a sociological perspective, the ascendancy of the campaign for gay marriage provides a fascinating story about the dynamics of the cultural conflicts that prevail in Western society. During the past decade the issue of gay marriage has been transformed into a cultural weapon that explicitly challenges prevailing norms through condemning those who oppose it. This is not so much a call for legal change as a cause: one that endows its supporters with moral superiority and demotes its opponents with the status of moral inferiority.

As a result, it does not simply represent a claim for a right but a demand for the institutionalisation of new moral and cultural values. This attitude was clearly expressed last weekend by Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. The burden of his argument was to accuse Christians, particularly evangelicals, of being more troublesome than Muslims in their attitudes towards mainstream views. In particular he warned that “an old-time religion incompatible with modern society” was driving Christians to clash with mainstream views, especially on gay issues. Incidentally, by “mainstream” he naturally means views he endorses.

Phillips’s use of language implies opponents of gay marriage are likely to be motivated by “old-time religion”, which is by definition “incompatible with modern society”. From this standpoint, criticism or the questioning of the moral status of gay marriage violates the cultural standards of “modern society”. What we have here is the casual affirmation of a double standard: tolerance towards supporters of gay marriage and intolerance directed towards its opponents.

The declaration that certain values and attitudes are incompatible with modern society tends to serve as a prelude towards stigmatising and attempting to silence it. That is why the so-called enlightened opponents of “old-time religion” more than match the intolerance of those they denounce as homophobic bigots. . . .

In the US, questioning the status of gay marriage is often depicted as not simply a rhetorical expression of disagreement but as a direct form of discrimination.

Consequently, the mere expression of opposition towards a particular ritual is recast as not a verbal statement but as an act of discrimination, if not oppression.

As American journalist Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian, gay marriage is not a suitable subject for debate.

“There are some subjects that should be discussed in shades of grey, with acknowledgment of subtleties and cultural differences,” she wrote, before adding that “same-sex marriage is not one of those”.

Why? Because “there is a right answer” she hectored in her censorious tone. The phrase “there is a right answer” represents a demand to silence discussion. And just in case you missed the point, she concluded that opposition to her cause should be seen for what it was: “As shocking as racism, as unforgivable as anti-Semitism.”

It is worth noting that the transformation of gay marriage into a crusade against sexual heresy coincides with the cultural devaluation of heterosexual marriage. In contemporary times, heterosexual marriage is frequently depicted as a site for domestic violence and child abuse. . . .

Paradoxically, in some quarters the idea that marriage for heterosexuals is no big deal coincides with the cultural sacralising of a same-sex union.

via Where gay matrimony meets elite sanctimony | The Australian.

HT: Joe Carter

The ethics of evangelism

Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance (evangelicals), the World Council of Churches (mainline liberal Protestants, plus the Orthodox [why?]), and the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue (Roman Catholic)  meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, issued a document entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct.”  It affirms the importance of evangelism (a.k.a. “proseletyzing”), but sets forth some ethical guidelines when doing so.  You can download the document at the link, but here is a news account summarizing the points:

There are three main parts that make up the Recommendations for Conduct.

The first part provides a biblical basis for Christian mission, asserting the Christians should follow the “example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church” in their witness and that “conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The second section outlines 12 principles Christians are called to follow in witnessing of Christ in a manner consistent with the Gospel. These include: acting in God’s love; living with integrity, compassion and humility; rejecting any form of violence; and offering respect to all people.

The document concludes with six recommendations to all Christians, church bodies, mission organizations and agencies.

They are: study the document; build respect and trust with people of all religions; strengthen religious identity and faith while at the same time deepening knowledge and understanding of different religions; advocate justice and respect for the common good; call on governments and representatives to ensure religious freedom for all people; pray for the well-being of neighbors, recognizing prayer is integral to the Christian life and of Christian mission.

via The Christian Post

See any problems with this?  Can you think of other ethical considerations or applications that should guide one’s “witnessing” or a church’s evangelism efforts?

UPDATE: Christianity Today has a fascinating article on what these new rules for evangelism mean and what they leave out. I think I’ll do a post on that next week.


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