October 28, 2020

Riffs x2: 05:06:09 Who Will Dominate the Culture? and What’s The Evangelism Problem?

NOTE: Sorry to have to turn moderation on folks, but this thread is too risky.

UPDATE: Ed Stetzer sends this along: Todd Johnson of the World Christian Database provided the following response: “This video seems to be making its rounds. It is full of misinformation and misinterpretation of data. We provide more reasonable current figures and projections of Europe’s Muslims in both the World Christian Database and World Religion Database. Jenkin’s book God’s Continent critiques the position that Europe is becoming Muslim. That book is probably the best single counter to this video.”

A few comments on two somewhat related posts about the state of things evangelical as we ponder the Coming Evangelical Collapse.

Someone sent me this Youtube video about the likelihood of Christians becoming minorities in countries dominated by a growing Muslim population.

The implications for Christians: evangelize Muslims and have babies.

Christians- and Jews- have been minorities for much of their history. The New Testament would be a completely different book if it were written to a majority Christian culture.

I can’t think of a single word that Jesus ever said that hinted at a goal of “cultural domination.” With all due respect to some of my Reformed, post-millennial, paedo-Baptist brethren, I don’t see that we’re called to fight a cultural battle by having children.

I’ll get some criticism for saying this, but there’s a racist tinge to this video that I don’t like. I know a lot of Muslims and it breaks my heart to see this kind of material tossed out there smearing them as a threat to “our” culture.

Further, the unstated, but blatantly assumed premise that Muslims will revoke constitutions and destroy the rights of non-Muslims in countries where they dominate is less than certain.

That’s not to discount the influence of Christians, their children and their impact on culture as worthless. It’s not, but it’s simply not the emphasis of Jesus or the early Christians as they functioned in their cultures. Jesus never sounded like the ominous narrator of this video.

The extent to which we influence or “dominate” culture seems irrelevant in scripture, since the salvation of the world is the coming Kingdom of God. “Christian culture” points to and participates in that approaching new heaven and new earth, but our hope is completely in Jesus. Why does the video assume that we’re invested in a particular racial or religious cultural expression?

When the culture warriors begin giving Christians directions on what is important, this is what it is going to sound like. Not the Great Commission or the Jesus movement, but a fearful, exclusionary response to losing cultural influence and experiencing possible persecution. “Immigration” is a word that couldn’t be spoken more ominously in this film.

The response of the church to whatever cultural situation it finds itself in is to proclaim and live the Gospel with integrity. At the heart of that calling is worship, but the outcome of that calling is missions, evangelism and church planting. Our response to the growth of Islam or secularism is to live faithfully, proclaim and teach consistently, evangelize boldly and church plant sacrificially.

So now that we are on the subject of evangelism, what are we to make of Ed Stetzer’s recent announcement that Baptists have heard all the recent emphases on evangelism and declining baptisms….and done less of both? We’re a denomination still in decline, reaching the point where applying the brakes won’t stop the free fall.

I know Southern Baptists have some evangelistic people and churches, but on the whole, we are becoming one of those denominations that fires preachers for not being evangelistic and fires preachers for trying to make us evangelistic. We’re going to apparently pay good people like Stetzer, etc to tell us what we have no real plan to pay any attention to.

A friend recently (within the last two months) took a church of nearly a hundred members, and he reports they apparently haven’t had a new member in 6 years. Good people, he says. They are educated above average, love the church, love the Lord. In Southern Baptist terms, I’d imagine they are all “good witnesses.”

But it- evangelism- is not happening. I’m really wondering where it does happen. The growing churches I know are either sweeping up Christians with church backgrounds, rebaptizing the church or baptizing lots of children. Few are experiencing any kind of adult evangelistic/conversion growth, and almost none from the efforts of laypersons.

A lot of ink is pouring forth in SBC land in regard to what we aren’t doing. I’d suggest that we are at a place where talking to pastors at conferences and on blogs about what we aren’t doing is going to bring about a lot of the same results we’ve seen: more decline. The vast majority of Southern Baptists- and most other evangelicals– aren’t really touched by that conversation, because they believe evangelism and church growth happen when you have the right pastor and that’s the whole game.

Of course, the theological wing of evangelicals clearly believes that if everyone will line up behind the right understanding of the Gospel, then things will change. Verse by verse preaching, complementarianism and plenty of theology- that will do it. I’m lukewarm on that prospect as far as it applies to evangelicalism as a whole. I’m all for making the Gospel clear and central, but I don’t have any illusions about how that’s going to be received by millions of people in my denomination or anywhere else.

No, the problem is who we have become. I think most of us know this. We knew it when we watched Penn Gillette’s video about the Christian who was willing to confront and proselytize him. We aren’t that guy and we aren’t those people. Oh, we want somebody to be like that, or we want someone to think of a way to evangelize people that we can participate in with a generous financial contribution. But most of us aren’t people who actually try to influence other people toward faith.

Are we universalists? Relativists? Postmodernists? Emergers who have abandoned a belief in hell? Your guess is as good as mine, but I don’t think we are missing information or even motivation. We’re missing the key component of reality. We (a lot of us) REALLY aren’t evangelistic people in the SBC anymore. Study it all you want, but something just isn’t there.

This is where I’m surprised that the pundits commenting on this situation aren’t willing to connect the dots. A big reason that the average evangelical isn’t evangelistic is the focus on the issues and tactics of the culture war. According to the culture war advocates, “those unbelievers” are the enemies of Christians and the kind of Christian culture we believe we are supposed to fight for. Are atheists, gays, Democrats, progressives and non-evangelicals in America actually people evangelicals are looking at as potential Christians? Give me a break.

The people in my friend’s church who haven’t seen a new member in 6 years? I’ll guarantee you that the discussion in those Sunday School classes are about how hard it is to be a good Christian witness in these terrible times with the liberals running the country. Being a witness = opposing the agenda of the anti-Christians trying to destroy the culture and corrupt our children.

The new “evangelism” is the culture war. We aren’t winning souls. We’re protecting out culture. If the other side wants to admit we’re right and come on over, great. (To see that mindset, read the Andrew Marin discussion thread.)

When I was a pastor, I got this great idea of starting a Bible study in a large, crowded trailer park near our church. There were a couple of hundred pre-fab homes, lots of families and I wanted to find someone willing to let our church host a Bible study one night a week. Simple outreach, right? No cost. No controversy. Local missions, etc.

So, I promoted this every way I knew how, and I’m pretty good at promotion after being a youth minister for all those years. My church- a church that had assured me they wanted nothing so much as to reach their community and grow- looked back at me with the deer in the headlights look you get when you’ve suggested we actually go knock on doors in the community.

Only one church member came out to help me. (One deacon, as I recall. God bless him.) It was amazing what would come up on a person’s schedule when you said the words “trailer park” in the context of the church’s mission. For most of a month, I covered that trailer park a couple of days a week, knocking on doors, finding no interest and getting no help. I stopped harping and made it my project.

Then I not only discovered a home willing to host the Bible study. I found a family- an entire family with kids- willing to visit our church.

They were, as we would have said, “trailer park people,” and our church was middle class, blue collar; all very proud to not be as low as those “trailer park people.” I should have noticed that no one from our church lived there, but back in those days, my optimism occasionally got out of hand and I missed the obvious. These people weren’t from our side of the tracks.

Do I have to tell you how this worked out? I didn’t think so.

One Sunday visit was all it took to make the indelible and correct impression that they were not “like us” and were not going to get a warm reception. Despite the stalwart attempts of a few good people, my “trailer park” people never came back.

This incident remains with me because my church had, previous to my coming, experienced quite a bit of growth under the previous pastor. Like most other Kentucky Baptist churches, that growth was along the lines of family, marriage and children; reaching “unchurched” members of the clans that dominated our church. Because this kind of growth was facilitated by the popularity of the previous pastor and it resulted in family pride, it was the kind of growth the church embraced. It gave them exactly what they wanted: their families next to them in the pews.

But when I asked our church to do baby steps of evangelism outside of those lines and into a different culture right out our back door, I got nothing, even though many of our people were mature Christians, trained in evangelism and genuinely wanted church growth. I would get a hundred for a gospel singing on any rainy Saturday night, but go do evangelistic work in a trailer park? See you Sunday pastor.

This is not a conversation about understanding the content of the Gospel. It’s not a conversation about methods. Even though it should be, it’s not a conversation about the role of the pastor. (It’s ridiculous that we’ve become so enamored of preachers that church members will openly say their church is growing because the pastor and his wife are “cute.”)

This needs to be a conversation about who we are, and if the average Christian in our churches would be willing to do anything, personally, in the cause of evangelism?

We have become a denomination whose leaders talk about evangelism, but whose people actually want little to nothing to do with it.

Our decline is because of who we want to be and how we want things to operate. We want the culture to adjust to us. We want our families to be saved. We don’t want to cross any barriers and we don’t want to have do something we decided the pastor is paid to do.

Get ready for many, many years of this. I think most churches will die before they will change this pattern.

NOTW: When a great unifying and focused evangelistic call does come, be sure that it will prompt plenty of controversy from the status quo.

Comments

  1. i did not watch the video/ i have seen enough and heard enough of this strange warped agenda for at least 30 years or so.
    ..
    however/ speaking from an evangelical stance: and when i say evangelical i mean evangelize: as in the way the Scriptures meant: as in the way the great commission was set before the church which apparently is still in place[if it is 2009]: which i believe includes any person who has simple faith that Jesus is their saviour/ and at same time i do not believe that the great commission was ever actually something to be completely fulfilled “by the church in total”/ [sorry for this run-on sentence i am a poor writer!]
    ..
    but/ there are times when i myself keep my mouth shut as a Christian and times when i do not/ there are times when i speak very specifically about the good news/ the gospel of Jesus Christ and times when i am very vague according to the situation/ there are times when it seems like “well, guess i will never be talking about Jesus ever again, what the heck was that all about ???” then WHAM suddenly the “evangelizing? or whatever we are calling it these days is happening again and it is different and yet still very potent and i do not have any power over this and it is not because of going to seminary or reading books on how to do this [save the scriptures] it is just i guess because God is doing this? but it certainly has nothing to do with making some sort of jesus /christian denomination halfmuslim baby race???? this is very strange/ and absolutely un-biblical: jesus’ desire is that all shall be saved and none be lost. i do not think we as finite beings can either understand this infinite desire.
    ..
    however, ultimately: really He is in control of such salvation and this has nothing to do with race. and btw He did bless what is now the muslim nation/s then in 4 different huge sections of history
    and this is seen in the scriptures/ even as yet still the Jews are still the chosen, and the Gentiles are grafted in. i think people / and i can include myself, just dont want to really focus on God in the midst of turmoil. when God HImself says do not be alarmed when all this stuff happens, and also He said He would end up blessing all nations under the [Jews} primarily / [one way or the other/ and the ones grafted in would cause them[Jews] to be jealous. [i am of course speaking of those who have not become fully awake] however: i dare not speak or judge any man’s heart this is up to God alone: i just know i am impatient/ while God seemingly tarries: becasue He knows many “chaff” will become “wheat”.
    ..
    okay thanks for time, sorry for horrible writing.
    xo.eternal

  2. p.s/
    i speak to all kinds of people from many countries including muslims
    both what i call [legalistic muslims and non-legalistic]
    everyone is my neighbor, in fact i am learning boundaries.
    and this is here in the states, it is very odd, actually.
    i would have never in my life: seen this coming.
    i kind of wish i had some debriefing: but oh well.
    ..
    i forgot to touch on this particular “neighbor” issue at hand.
    i think the turmoils between christians/ and family issues are way harder.
    that is the funk. but i do believe God is helping us work that out.
    thanks again for time.
    xo.eternal.