If you died tonight, do you know you would go to heaven? Or do you not care?

“If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?”  That question, or some variation, has started thousands of evangelism conversations and is the opening line for many evangelism programs (especially “Evangelism Explosion” started by D. James Kennedy).  The conversation then goes on to “how you know,” and it exposes people who trust in their good works, or perhaps are just uncertain, whereupon the evangelist can point to the finished work of Christ and to the free salvation He promises.

Today, though, according to a survey by the Southern Baptist publisher LifeWay, over half of Americans never wonder about that question.  A Christianity Today feature calls this “The Evangelistic Question That Died,” but I’m not so sure that the evidence is that people as a whole are no longer concerned about their eternal destiny.

The breakdown of the survey results is telling:  67% of Americans who never attend worship services have never wondered about whether or not they will go to Heaven.  (Perhaps the general consensus today is that everyone enters some kind of white-light paradise–or that if we just die, that death isn’t all that bad–so worrying about the prospect of going to Hell is no longer as much of  an issue as it once was.  Since those who don’t go to church are the main targets for evangelism efforts, maybe the question is not the best evangelism-starter.)

Meanwhile, 57% of “born-again or evangelical” Protestants also never ask the question.  (But perhaps this is because they have an assurance of salvation. Then again, 43% of them do wonder if they will make it to Heaven, so maybe they don’t have as much assurance from the Gospel that they should have.)  Interestingly, only 34% of non-Evangelical Protestants–presumably those from the more liberal mainline church bodies–never ask the question.  So 66% of “liberals” do worry about their salvation, so perhaps might be open to the conversation!

Significantly, only 36% of those aged 18-29 never wonder if they will go to Heaven, which means that, despite laments about young people leaving the church, this is an issue for nearly two-thirds of them (64%).

The regional breakdowns are also interesting.  In the so-called Bible Belt of the South, 50% of the population never wonder if they will go to Heaven.  (Again, this probably includes both secularists and Christians who know they will get there.)  In the lesser-churched West, the percentage of those who never ask that question is 52%.  In the Midwest, it’s 45%, which means that a majority of 55% do wonder.  And in the ostensibly secular Northeast, supposedly the most secular part of the country, only 31% never ask that question.  Over two-thirds of the population, including New Yorkers and New Englanders, 69%, the largest percentage surveyed, do wonder about their eternal destiny.

 

The Evangelistic Question That Died | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church–for free

Rod Rosenbladt, emeritus professor at Concordia-Irvine and a co-host at the White Horse Inn radio program, has a presentation that has become a classic, with tapes and transcripts passed from hand to hand like samizdat novels in the former Soviet Union.  It’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”   Many, MANY have found it a lifesaver, indeed, a proclamation of the Gospel that is so powerful that they have come to faith.  Even long-time veterans–and casualties–of churches have come to understand through this presentation the full magnitude of the Gospel, with many embracing it for the first time.  It’s featured in a sidebar on this blog as being available from New Reformation Press.

Well, now New Reformation Press, with the support of South Orange County Outreach and Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano, California, is making this this presentation available FOR FREE.   You can download it as an mp3 file, as a written transcript, or as a video!

I’ve heard Dr. Rosenbladt give this message in person and it blew me away, so hard-hitting and effective and pastoral it is, giving such comfort to troubled souls and making so real the full implications of Christ’s Gospel.  You want an example of evangelism?  Here it is.  It is addressed specifically to the casualties of American Christianity, to those who have become burnt out, disillusioned, and despairing due to the pressures, expectations, and culture of so many of our churches.

Listening to this presentation would be an excellent Reformation day observance.  In both its proclamation of the all-sufficient work of Christ and in its critique of churches that neglect that message, it captures what the Reformation was–and is–all about.

Get it or view the video here:   New Reformation Press » The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.

Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

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

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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