I think most evangelical churches, including my own (Seventh-day Adventist), is due for a crisis. It may not happen in 10 years. It may not even happen in 20 years. But I believe that every year that passes, in which the culture becomes increasingly more secular, will be one year closer to this happening.
Allow me to share an extended quote that makes me suspect this:
“In the face of the postmodern shift, the effectiveness of our traditional methods of evangelicalism will wane because they are (mostly) grounded in modern assumptions whose perceived value and formerly prevalent influence in culture are also waning. To understand how and why this is so, let us examine two examples: evidentiary apologetics and ‘seeker services.’
The first practice of evidentiary apologetics uses modern science to defend Christianity. Authors using this strategy typically build a scientific case for the veracity of Scripture and the resurrection using historical and scientific evidence. The popular “New Evidence That Demands A Verdict” by Josh McDowell and “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel are just two prominent examples of this strategy. Creationist science and the ‘inerrancy’ defense of Scripture are other examples. All such authors and their strategies depend upon the hearer believing in the authority and objectivity of modern science. But that belief has waned within postmodernity. But that belief has waned within postmodernity. Hence, in postmodernity, evidentiary apologetics comes off sounding like an agenda-ridden manipulation of scientific methods. Scientific defenses of the Bible fail to carry weight because the ‘inerrancy’ defense assumes that there is an objective scientific basis for ‘what is an error.'”-David E. Fitch, The Great Giveaway
So let’s step back for a minute and process some of that. Here’s how the process of conversion has generally worked for the last few hundred years since the dawn of the modern era. People used to believe, behave, and then belong. So, for example, you could show someone the “truth” about a given doctrine, and as long as it was presented with clarity from the Scriptures, people would believe it. The believer would then begin to live out the ideals of this doctrine, and they would later be baptized and formally be a part of the group. And so many churches, understanding this, have become experts at presenting doctrine using apologetic strategies in which the underlying assumption is that people believe in the authority of Scripture and care about it.
But what happens when you encounter a group in which truth is relative? What happens when you encounter a group in which people doubt the ability of arriving at perfectly objective truth through means of the scientific method? Have you ever heard someone tell you, “Well, that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” That idea is perfectly reflective of the postmodern mindset. I’ve encountered it plenty of times as a pastor, and I presume many of you have as well. I believe that denominations that primarily focus on these forms of evangelism will see diminishing results as the society around them become more secular.
So what do we do? How do we do evangelism in a postmodern context? Will these forms of evangelism no longer work?
Again, David Fitch says,
“The question then is, How do we make sense of the Christian claims that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ in a postmodern world where old ways to truth have broken down? The answer is we display what these words mean in the way we live and worship to that its reality, once displayed, cannot be denied, only rejected or entered into. We will persuade through living displays of truth, not rational one-on-one arguments…Evangelicals often preach that what the culture needs is absolute truth, but what the culture needs is a church that believes the truth so absolutely it actually lives it out.”
Does this mean that our regular methods will no longer work and what does this mean about how we engage evangelistically? I believe that God has called us first and foremost to be missionaries in our local context. Not every place is the same. Not every people group responds the same way. Therefore, we have to be mindful about how society has or has not changed and seek to adapt accordingly.
Thoughts? Have you noticed any trends in either direction in the way you’ve normally done evangelism?
[image by sukisuki]