FIRST-PERSON: Sharing Christ with the confused
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Lindsay is a prime example of someone who is radically postmodern and confused about the Gospel, in spite of her many and varied religious experiences.
In conducting a video interview with 22-year-old Lindsay, we discovered interesting insights into her beliefs and background. She was articulate, well-traveled and open to discussing her beliefs. She spoke freely about her views of God or, in her case, god. She stated that god was everywhere and in everything, including the cigarette she was smoking. "I am smoking god," she said.
At various points in her life, Lindsay had tried Baptist churches, Catholic churches, Buddhist temples and even aura readings but found organized religion a major turnoff. She acknowledged the Bible had some good morals but believed that people take it too literally. She believed in miracles and even the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus. Regarding Jesus, she said He was a leader; whether He was a fictional or real leader does not matter to her.
Lindsay holds several other positions that are quite strange. She described God with impersonal language, yet when asked about what God requires of us, she used personal language to describe God. She did not believe in absolute truth, but in an individual absolute truth, even if the respective truths are in direct contradiction to each other.
How then is the church and, in particular, individual Christians supposed to respond to the Lindsays, the confused who occupy every single neighborhood in America? Lindsay may seem "out there," but in reality, most of the people who walk the streets and many who occupy our church rolls are confused as well. Please take a moment right now and pray for Lindsay that she may come to know and grow in Christ.
We live in a postmodern context in which people no longer are looking to the institutional church for answers to their deep spiritual questions and needs as their grandparents and parents did. Therefore, of the three major categories of evangelism -- attraction, projection and media -- projection strategies will have to play an increasing role: Like Jesus depended upon His disciples, the church will become increasingly dependent upon its body to communicate its message outside the walls of the church.
For most Christians, evangelism is neither a positive word nor a part of their lifestyle. However, personal evangelism strangely may be the way out of the decline and the way to expand God's glory in America. As former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neal said, "all politics are local." With the church suffering from amnesia and those outside the church not finding enough reasons to search for God in our churches, one Christian person telling a searching person where to find God, hope and purpose may be the church's best hope for a brighter earthly future.
Evangelism in a postmodern context has some distinct characteristics. Examining the characteristics of spiritual and evangelistic conversations will provide you with insights into evangelizing people increasingly influenced by postmodern thought.
In the following list, I will attempt to sketch out how Christians need to carry out our great call to share our faith with the confused postmoderns around us. I use the terms postmodern and modern, recognizing that most people do not strictly and purely hold to one philosophy. The insights below are an extended excerpt from my 2003 book, "The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture" (Broadman & Holman). For a detailed explanation, see chapter 7 in the book. I recognize that this list is not exhaustive, but it should provide you with insights into sharing your faith:
POSTMODERN VERSUS MODERN
Multiple encounters ... less single encounters
Listener-centered ... less witness-centered
Dialogical ... less monological
Gospel story ... less Gospel presentation
Story then proposition ... not proposition then story
Asking good questions ... not giving lots of information
Community integration ... not individual isolation
Soft ... not loud
Consideration ... not argumentation
Guided tours ... not ticket sales
More supernatural ... less supersales (natural)
More earthly benefits ... less eternal benefits
More relational validation ... less evidentiary validation
More percent of time seed planting ... less percent of time harvesting
Sharing Christ can be fruitful and rewarding, yet it will be ever adapting to the changing culture. After conducting hundreds of interviews with lost people, it was easy to determine that the cries of the confused are many and varied. The lost people reflect many of the concerns and views of those around them. However, there is a common cry of the confused. It is found in the title of a Styx song, "Show Me the Way." Our personal evangelism to the confused, such as Lindsay, will involve showing the way, not simply telling the way.
Will McRaney, Ph.D., is associate professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also works as a church consultant through the Ministry Enhancement Group (www.MEGnet.org) focusing on issues such as ministry in a postmodern culture, development of contextualized evangelistic strategies, organizational alignment and the role of guest sensitivity. He may be reached at email@example.com or by calling (985) 871-0940.