Is Christian Evangelism Wicked?

Is Christian Evangelism Wicked? January 12, 2021

In all the swirl of bad news and uncertainty about the future, here is something pretty depressing, depending on how you look at it or what your feelings are on the subject—some might experience a rush of gladness, others a foretaste of doom. The article breaks down the stats for The Episcopal Church for the last forty years and projects what we might expect to see in the future:

Marriages (future estimates in italics)

1980                38,913
1990                31,815
2000                22,441
2010                11,613
2019                6,148
2030                3,000
2040                1,500
2050                750

The number of TEC marriages has been in decline for many decades, but that decline increased in velocity around 2000. TEC marriages halved between 2000 and 2010 and halved again between 2010 and 2019. On its current trajectory, the number of TEC marriages will be negligible well before 2050.

And Baptisms of children:

1980                56,167
1990                56,862
2000                46,603
2010                28,990
2019                17,713
2030                10,000
2040                5,000
2050                2,500

The picture is pretty grim. For example, in the end, the author brings up some sect I had never heard of—the Christadelphians–and then suggests some ways of reversing the decline. Focus on the next world rather than this one, he says, and work on church planting and reaching the younger generation. Also, look at what’s going on in the rest of the world and try that, rather than constantly telling the rest of the world how to be.

It’s hard to do that, however, if you think you’re on the side of all that is right. If you believe in your own goodness, as Bishop Spong did (he is quoted at the beginning of the piece) then other people not recognizing the truth that you see is really their own problem. This manifests itself in strange policies like discouraging active evangelism—the our-big-red-door-standing-wide-open-is-all-we-need-to-do approach to spreading the good news—and getting your seminarians in trouble for trying to tell the dying about Jesus (that was Matt’s CPE experience).

The person who either doesn’t believe in the world to come or believes that everyone will happily go there because God loves everyone (except maybe Hitler), looks at the person who really does believe in life everlasting and that the only way to get there is through Jesus and his difficult and embarrassing cross and imagines that that person (the one who really believes) is deluded and should not be allowed to go about spreading all the hate everywhere. Evangelistic efforts narrow down to trying to let other people know that everyone is already ok—which everyone believes anyway, so why go to church? But, in some strange kind of belief, the wrongness of other people encroaches somehow into the world, and so there does have to be some correction, the kind where you tell other people that they should stop really believing that Jesus died and rose again, because that is superstitious and weird.

I’m rereading/listening to That Hideous Strength, which I first read straight through in about a week back when TEC was having its little trouble. It was as if Lewis had come into my own world and described to me my “lived experience” with terrible clarity. Frank Griswold was Wither. It was uncanny, and stressful, and I had to skip to the end to find out how it turned out. All these years later I’m a lot cheerier about the demise of all nice things. And I find it sort of humorous that God would be so willing to endure with his creatures for so long. We are always taking what belongs to him and twisting it ever so slightly so that it seems reasonable (to us) but in the process we wreck it, we turn it into the opposite of what it was meant to be. And yet he goes on in his patience, giving us time to reconsider.

Evangelism for the Christian, though it is embarrassing and weird, is not about going around the world telling other people how they are wrong and we are right. Evangelism is about going to every corner of the world (even the pew) to declare—in clear and precise language–that we are all, all of us together, wrong and Jesus alone is right. It is the most inclusive and loving message a person can proclaim. Even if it didn’t “work” it would still be the best thing to do, but it does work—it is the way that God pulls us out of the horrors of this broken and twisted and ruined world and into his marvelous and eternal light.

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