Saturday, April 19, 2008

Secular Evangelism

A number of conversations this week have touched on the topic of evangelism and its relationship to social services. I have come to believe that to interpret these two elements of The Salvation Army's mission as complementary or parallel ministries is to deeply misunderstand the nature of both of them.

It's not a question of doing one or the other but realising the ways in which they already co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. The sacramental encounter of mission occurs in the thin place between allowing acts of compassion to speak for themselves and feeling compelled to introduce Jesus into every conversation.

A blog in the Rubicon this week reminded me of Fred Brown's excellent book, Secular Evangelism, which nearly 40 years later continues to be relevant today. Here's a sample:
“We should stop thinking of evangelism as a means of inflating our congregations. Since the days of which I am writing, a lot of troubled water has flowed under the bridge of evangelical debate, and now most of us are agreed that to treat people as pew fodder, and little else, is, considerations of effectiveness apart, a denial of everything central to Christianity….it represents nothing less than devout blasphemy, a spirit that has done more harm to the cause of Christ’s kingdom than multitudes of non-churchgoers. It is devout because its sincere aim is to serve God and further his cause. But it is blasphemy because it uses God’s name to manipulate and condition other people.”

1 comment:

Graeme Smith said...

Just discovered your blog and couldn't agree more with you on this. Secular Evangelism is the book that is next on my pile to read so will go on holiday with me and the other Fred Brown books are on order!

Another excellent book on this subject is The Provocative Church by Graham Tomlin. It suggests that the root of real evangelism is in the living out of lives surrendered to God. One quote in particular stands out:

"the actions that demonstrate or recall God's rule over the world [are] 'mission', and the words that explain those actions [are] 'evangelism'."