Monday, 31 December 2007

2007: some thoughts for evangelism

Last year, I wrote some thoughts about what I felt the events of 2006 meant for Christian outreach. It's interesting to look back at these thoughts a year later.

Some of these themes and trends have continued over the past year. The postmodern mindset is perhaps more pervasive than ever - and so, on campus at least, is scepticism. And Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, was followed in 2007 by other atheistic dogma like Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great.

However, on reflection, there are some other trends that have occurred over 2007 that are perhaps more important for the future of Christian witness.

The Environment

It's true that issues such as global warming and our use of the planet have been on the back-burner for many years. However, the green agenda has come well and truly to the forefront of many people's minds in 2007. The IPCC's report in February 2007 was just the latest in a series of scientific reports that pointed to the grave realities of global warming and the need to care for the planet. Increasingly, green politics came into effect as well. All three major political parties in Britain now have developed environmental policies. Surveys throughout 2007 have shown that green issues are likely to be a vote-swinger for an increasing number of the British electorate.

Many non-Christians view Christianity - or, more particularly, the Bible's view of the environment - as part of the problem here. A twisted view of theology (twisting the Biblical command for humanity to 'fill the earth and subdue it') combined with modernist Christianity that confused Christian living with Enlightenment ideals (of human progress at all costs) has left Christianity tarnished. Increasingly, many younger people and a handful of older people fail to see the relevance of a God that would allow his creation to be spoiled.

Contemporary Christians face the challenge of clearly thinking about and articulating a Biblical view of the stewardship of creation. It will not do to have a simplistic eschatology where care for the environment is seen as tantamount to moving around deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic. Instead, we must speak about the God who is good, whose creation is good (if cursed by sin) but who has designed humans to be the climax of his creation and for relationship with him.

Community and the Atonement

I've been reading a number of Christian critiques of penal substitution over the past six months, which proliferated in 2007. I'm absolutely convinced that penal substitution is central to an understanding of the gospel. However, what a number of these critiques have pointed to is a very simplistic understanding of the implications of this view of the cross. It's often assumed that if one holds to a penal substitutionary understanding of the cross, that the implications are only for the individual and primarily for the eschatological future. It's therefore seen to be neccesary to drop or adapt our view of the cross to make it more appealing to a culture that wants to see Christianity engaging more in society (and with environmental issues - see above).

Convinced that I am that penal substitution is throroughly Biblical, I'm equally convinced that the implications are much wider than just salvation for the individual. Penal substitution has a lot to say about justice, community and society. It's my hope that we evangelicals understand this more clearly and begin to link our engagement with the world in the light of the cross.

In the light of this, I'm planning (eventually) to blog on the wider implications of penal substituion and the world.


My final observation about 2007 is the growth in therapeutic evangelism: the sort of evangelism that speaks of life being made more comfortable with Jesus. A quick glance at many of the evangelistic sermon texts preached around the world in 2007 shows that this is becoming ever more popular. We're losing the idea that the gospel is public truth for everyone.

I used to be warned by a church leader in Bristol not to reduce gospel preaching to 'spiritual air conditioning', speaking about a gospel that makes life that little bit more comfortable. We'll need to increasingly be on our guard to prevent ourselves slipping into this. Reading Will Metzger's book, Tell the Truth, will be a great start to prevent this!


Dave K said...

You know Peter, this is why I love your blog. Where as I am so often staring at my own navel you are looking out and engaging.

Pure pastoral quality.

peterdray said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Dave.