GETTING TO VERSE 24 – confessions of a failed evangelist

There are two cracks emerging in my faith, in particular my capacity to share the gospel. Am I confused? Dislocated? Dizzy, certainly.

One crack comes from the long history of Christianity in this culture. The church has been the founder of public schooling and hospitals, a driver of social change and social welfare, prison reforms and unionism, provider of community centres of suburbs and cities, and the smiling collector of odd-bods and broken people. All that is now taken for granted by society as though it is ‘natural’ or ‘human’.

It seems the church’s  track record has been re-populated with a series of half-truths about bible-bashing, religion-based violence, paedophilia and the stealing of children. We did all those things, but we spent an awful lot more energy on the other stuff and now we are hugely quiet about it because Jesus said to do our deeds in secret.  So the half truths roll on and on in public consciousness, and we and our good news are on the nose.

Despite the atheist twentieth century and its sum of totalitarian butchery, people assume there is safety in atheism , agnosticism or, more likely, pragmatic apathy. I need to re-imagine the position and posture of the church in this society, for we are no longer a welcoming host but a tolerated guest.

That’s one fracture, but the second is waiting there too.

The second is the very changed context in which we now find ourselves.  No centre, allergic to truth-claims, multi-cultural and relativist, liberal to the point of anarchic, so how do we ever talk?

There is no trouble for me in getting out there, though I note that for many the church is ghetto-ised. In conversation I identify and affirm people, listen to their truth and enjoy their sacredness, as in Acts 17.22-23. But I can’t make it through to verse 24. There it is – I need to bridge that gap, as Christians always have sought to do in every time and place.

So, both ‘where I am coming from’ and ‘where I am heading for’ are cracked. Both feet unsteady, no wonder I feel dizzy.

For these two reasons and two others, I need to build new bridges between the culture and the gospel – because of the unsurpassed access to God that is present in Jesus and because I love Him and want people to know the Grace of his love as I do ( in their own way of course). Those reasons are not negotiable, though I have seen ministers and theologians who gave up on the task.  Easier to retreat to some sort of fundamentalism or , on the other hand, to revert to the proclamation of a non-gospel of “shared values” and “nature-spirituality”. Worthy though they are, popular though they are, these options are not enough good news for people to change their lives.

I carry nine questions that are too engaged to escape:

  1. What do atheists really need and miss out on in their lives if I were able to press them to admit it?
  2. What would assist agnostics to have enough confidence to act?
  3. What trust can I build with the ex-Christians that they would try Jesus again?
  4. What would make the apathetic majority, marinated in wealth and security, to care enough and to see that the Jesus way was necessary?
  5. How can I address gay persons and stolen/abused children who have been so publically hurt in the name of Christ, plastered with texts from the bible?
  6. What do Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Sikhs persons need that a Jesus-focus in their religion would address? And what distinguishes “double-belonging” as a cultural stance from a syncretistic one?
  7. And even if we could find our way into these questions (I don’t believe in pat answers), how could church leaders motivate church people to pursue their capacity for witness?
  8. How do we do this “with all gentleness and respect” ?  How do we “ready” ourselves? (1 Peter 3.15-16).
  9. And out of all these, how can we (congregations, church schools and agencies, including church office) make to the wider community an unavoidable offer of the Jesus-option?

There, I think that describes my dislocation. I am not confused. I know the goal and the values, thanks to a long love of scripture and a grey-beard track-record. But the track behind is not the way forward. Stories from St Elsewhere, in Europe or America, will mislead the questions from here. Come, Holy Spirit, the road beckons ahead.

And the tenth question (there had to be one): Who is there to walk this way with me?

There are two cracks in my faith. And that’s how the light gets in.

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