Typical Evangelism seeks to pick people off one by one while paying little attention to the context in which people are living. This is like going to a group of Pirates, resplendent with all the appropriate scenery, gear, and pirate habits and urging Pirates to convert to becoming Cowboys without providing them any kind of context in order to understand the Cowboy life vis-a-vis their Pirate lives. The consequence of this kind of evangelism, when successful, is to have a few Cowboys walking around in a Pirate culture not really making much of an impact since everything is understood in terms of Piracy. The consequence of this kind of evangelism, when unsuccessful, is to have a bunch of pirates walking around who fit right into pirate culture but who constantly insist that they are Cowboys, or perhaps even going so far as to say that Cowboys are really Pirates, only better.
Indeed, I would contend that much of our evangelism today is the type that doesn’t really confront people with the idea that conversion means understanding, and so living life, in a measure and in a way that is dramatically different then what is considered common-place. Our Evangelism has largely forgotten the anti-thesis that insists that the thinking of Christians must be overwhelmingly different then those who are not Christians. This has resulted in whole Churches and denominations, and thus Christians, that are devoted to aping the culture in their Worship services.
It strikes me that the solution to this is to start asking ourselves if an Evangelism that picks people off, one by one, without paying any attention to the context in which they live is proper evangelism. This is especially true given that we live in an anti-intellectual age while ours is a Gospel that requires one’s thinking to be radically altered in order for adult conversion to be genuine.
But maybe there are other means to see genuine conversion apart from demanding people, living in an anti-intellectual age, to engage in struggling directly (and ‘directly’ is a key word) with the propositional nature of the Gospel. Perhaps, instead of expecting individuals one by one, here and there, to do intellectual labor and so be converted we might pursue an Evangelism that seeks to change the whole scenery and context so that people are converted because they indirectly do the intellectual labor unto conversion by means of seeing themselves fitting into a different cultural and contextual storyline.
Imagine trying to convert Little Red Riding Hood. All she knows is her story. But if you change her story (her scenery, her preoccupation with the wolf, her sorry Red Riding hood) and suddenly she might be able to hear the new message that there are other story lines where she isn’t forever having to flee from carnivorous wolves.
People are chameleons. Most people are eclectic or conglomerate thinkers who do not think about their convictions but pick them up like the common cold by being infected and affected by the cultural backdrop against which they live. In our culture most people (including Christians) are pagan humanists, not by choice, but because, being chameleons, they have blended in with the worldview scenery. One can’t help but wonder whether or not if one changes the scenery, or if one provides an alternative scenery for people to live against, the consequence wouldn’t be large scale genuine conversion as chameleons change their colors to fit against their new backdrop.
This would require our Evangelism to be stocked with another arrow in our quiver. While we would retain the arrow that presses the propositional nature of truth that thinkers could engage and so be converted via the Holy Spirit’s awakening of their intellect via direct challenge, we could add the arrow that creates a beautiful living context that people would be invited to so that they might be genuinely converted via the Holy Spirit’s awakening of their intellect via an indirect challenge. An indirect challenge that invites them to exchange the storyline they are living in from a culture of death to a very different storyline where they can find a culture of life. This is, it seems to me, a covenantal approach to evangelism, if only because what people are being asked to do is not to individually arrive at the truth, but rather to experience, in a covenantal context, the goodness and the beauty of the Christian life. To pick up the metaphor that we used earlier, we would ask them to quit being pirates and come into a different story line that is more appealing. (“Just imagine…no more swabbing the deck, no more being hung from the highest yardarm or walking the plank or being keelhauled, or having parrot poop on your shoulder.”) We would quit expecting people to embrace a naked, solely intellectually driven Christianity, and offer to them a Christianity that doesn’t demand every single individual to understand all the propositions of Scripture but does provide a story line that implicitly contains all the propositions of Scripture as the scenery against which they can understand their living.
This would require the Church to start (it’s already happening in some places) to build alternate communities. These Christian faith communities would be parallel but not isolated communities. They would be parallel enough to provide a contrast to the life of non-Christian communities but not so isolated that those living in faith community would cease being salt and light to the larger community.
Failing this approach, but still harmonious with the thrust is the suggestion that perhaps our Evangelism needs to be done in this culture by means of writing good stories. Once again, the foundation of the thinking is that people, being chameleons, are more prone to draw meaning out of a good story about the true and the beautiful quite apart from holding direct conversation with themselves about what is true. In an non-intellectual age perhaps giving people the means by which they can be drawn into a narrative they find appealing, even if they can’t articulate why, is a way of doing sound evangelism.
The common strand here is the idea that most people don’t live the life they live because they have sat down and had a conversation with themselves about what is true. Most people don’t build their worldview houses with propositional sticks and stones but rather move into houses that they think look nice that other people have built before them. Now the houses they move into do indeed have a propositional structure but that is not what they are seeing when they move into them. Rather what they see is that the worldview house they are moving into fits the context of the storyline they are living. Change the storyline and they will want different houses, perhaps not even knowing why.
Nobody is advocating dispensing with individual evangelism that focuses on the propositional nature of truth. That still needs to be done because people who convert in that kind of context are the people who can help build the proper cultural storyline. What is being advocated is embracing, for those who are not thinkers (and legion is their name) a way to offer Christ that still includes all the propositions of Scripture but serves them up in a embodied context.