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Beyond Proclaiming Christ

Where We’ve Been

In the 1940s Billy Graham became one of Youth for Christ’s first full-time evangelists. In post-World War II America, he took to the airwaves and spoke at rallies around the world. Thousands responded. And, in some ways, modern-day evangelicalism was born.

Back then the Bible was taught in schools. It was a regular part of the curriculum for high school students to memorize John 3 or Romans 8 as part of their Bible classes. Church attendance was way up, too. Culturally, America was much more Christian than it is today.

The roots of most of what we call “evangelism” today are tied to this heritage. It’s all built on the premise that most Americans have a working knowledge of the Bible, that they believe in God. and look at the world through a somewhat Christian worldview. I’ve never attended a evangelistic rally, youth event or church service where the Gospel was presented, or anything in between that didn’t have these as working assumptions.

In proclamation evangelism the role of the speaker is to connect the dots in people’s heads. They’ve heard of God. They know who He is. They have read parts of the Bible. They’ve attended church in the past so are comfortable with the format. The speaker and evangelistic rally really puts it all together and creates an emotional, religious experience, and then calls them home.

I’m not going to say that the proclamational evangelistic rally doesn’t work anymore. But if you attend one today you’ll see that most of the people who go aren’t regular Joe’s– they are Christians who came to see a Christian band but are willing to hang out to hear the speaker. And for some of those perhaps the proclamational-style is what they need so they respond?

But take someone completely unchurched? Say, a neighbor whose parents didn’t take them to church and they think Christianity is a crock? Or, like the Average Joe in America believes that if they are a good person they’ll be OK in the end. It’s too weird for them. I know because I’ve done it. A bunch. And I’ve had to go back and apologize one-too-many-times to the point where I’d never invite another friend.

It’s not that I don’t believe, as an evangelical, that I need to share my faith. It’s that I think that for the people in my life the proclamational gospel message should be replaced with a methodology that reflects today’s culture– one that is three generations removed from the Bible being taught in schools and 50% of Americans attending church each Sunday morning.

Here’s what I’ve learned

We live in a post-Christian world. We live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is one of several religions on every block. (Go ahead, walk down your block and ask all of your neighbors what religion they’d ascribe to. I dare you.)

And every day another person, claiming to be a Christian, is deemed newsworthy because they have defrauded people, or gotten away with child molestation, or supported some right-wing cause in the name of God. For skeptics or self-proclaimed agnostics or leavers or  even members of other faiths… each of these reinforces a stereotype or an idea that Christians are ____.

They simply don’t know any Christians who are legit, like you.

The Age of Living the Gospel

In a post-Christian world you are going to have to live the Gospel before your friends, family, and neighbors to the point where you are asked, “What is it about the way you live that I can have?” Or “I don’t know any other Christians like you. What makes you different than what I see on TV?

Within pluralism, experience trumps information. Experiencing the Gospel through a neighbor’s goodness, kindness, grace, and love cuts through the stereotypes and defies logic’s last stand. It’s not that information isn’t important. It’s that information isn’t trusted until the source is trust and that trust is validated through experience.

You see, it’s not that I don’t proclaim Christ. It’s that I let my very life do the talking.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~ Jesus said this in Matthew 5:16

We now live in a world where the person with the microphone and the big crowd is less trusted than the guy who mows his lawn every Saturday morning. You are legit while the person on the platform is a potential suspect.

In a post-Christian world, people will hear Good News only after they’ve experienced Good News from you.

The challenge for you is this: Do you have the guts to live a life that reflects Christ? 

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Photo credits: Billy Graham in the 1940s Youth for Christ Peoria, Jack Ryan mowing lawns by Liam Ryan via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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