Evangelization Today was Evangelism Today

The Roman Catholics have become evangelistic, which means “evangelization” is the new term, while evangelicals, who used to be big on “evangelism,” are not so evangelistic today.

In a WaPo article by Michelle Boorstein, we get a taste of what is happening and what Catholic leaders would like to see happen:

John Gallagher felt anxious as he set out on a rainy Sunday afternoon to knock on doors in Georgetown, inviting people to a barbecue and, hopefully, to Jesus Christ.

The 25-year-old had been in Catholic schools through college, has a priest brother and a deacon father, and is a member of a parish and a young Catholics professional group — his faith is his core, his identity. But talk to strangers about it?

That’s what the Vatican is asking Catholics to do — to take up evangelizing, to speak openly of one’s faith in order to spread it.

While such personal sharing has long been the province of, well, evangelical Protestants (among others, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), it means a paradigm shift for Catholics, whose spiritual lives have been largely centered inside the parish. But with Catholicism in the West facing major losses and what Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl — a Vatican point man on the new request — calls a “tsunami of secularism,” the church this year is pouring resources into a massive campaign dubbed “the new evangelization.”…

The campaign seeks to overhaul the concept of evangelization to something built for 2013, more subtle invitation then pushy dogma. In new church-created classes, lectures, conferences and iPhone apps, Catholics are asked to think of evangelization in terms of generous gestures, small comments and overcoming the fear of simply inviting someone to church.

The effort is global but heavily focused on Europe and the United States — places where Catholicism has lost the most ground. Ten percent of Americans are former Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center. From the Vatican down through bishops and then to priests, the church is telling Catholics — many for the first time — to find ways to evangelize, a word and concept with which many of them don’t identify.

“Catholics tended to be more private about faith” after they grew in stature and size in America. “There was this ‘we’ve kind of arrived’ comfort factor,’ ” said Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, a Catholic school in Front Royal. “We’ve been kind of resting on our laurels with these beautiful churches and traditions. But we are in a new situation now.”…

Rome is calling for all Catholics to respond, and while many have, church leaders don’t have data on how deeply the effort has penetrated. Responses have included families who start podcasts and programs, such as one run out of the St. Paul and Minneapolis diocese that posts videos of Catholics poring over issues such as the role of doubt and why Catholic teaching opposes in vitro fertilization. Church leaders say the typical church-going Catholic has heard the phrase “new evangelization” but might not have gone further than that.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Ron Friesen

    Roman Catholics have been evangelistic for a long time. Pope John Paul II was very evangelistic and preached sermons Billy Graham would have preached. Most evangelicals have not noticed. I suspect that they are noticing because Pope Francis is getting a lot of interest in the evangelical world.

  • Dan

    Since the time of Pope John Paul II does not qualify as “a long time” in Catholicism (which measures its history in centuries and millennia, rather than years and decades).
    While there has always been evangelism in Catholicism, the recent push for “The New Evangelization” begun by John Paul II is different by centering its focus on the laity as the evangelizers. This New Evangelization has its theological roots in the 2nd Vatican Council which stressed the idea of the universal call to holiness, that holiness and discipleship are essential for all baptized Christians, not just those who are ordained or in religious communities.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I am interested in the emphasis on speaking of faith. I have long been impressed with the RCC’s powerful liturgy and other uses of symbols, while the ways that evangelicals have intellectualized the faith (turned it into a set of things one must announce that one “believes”) by emphasizing the words has troubled me. I would hope that the RCC’s efforts would beware this trend among evangelicals.


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