August 16, 2009
A book and an article from the past week have stirred some thoughts on evangelism, especially in relation to the previous two posts. One is an article from Episcopal Life by William H. Stokes urging us to make evangelism the church’s top priority. The article translates the word ‘evangelism’ into “strategic branding, marketing and advertising.” Stokes says that the Episcopal Church has “an amazing story to tell” but doesn’t really push very far as to what that story might be. I have no particular objection to strategic branding, marketing and advertising. I even think such concepts might have some benefit to evangelism. Evangelism, however, cannot be reduced to techniques and strategies. Evangelism is not even presenting the story of the Episcopal Church and our particular way of living the faith, (although that story and our practices are not irrelevant to evangelism.)
I was recently part of a conversation in which one person saw inviting people to become involved in the life of the parish as evangelism and another was asking,”but are people being saved?” I understand evangelism as presenting the story of Jesus in compelling ways and inviting others to commit to sharing in the community that follows him, (primarily expressed outwardly and visibly as Baptism and Eucharist.) In other words becoming part of a worshipping community and engaging the spiritual practice of that community can lead to commitment to following Jesus. Becoming part of a community of faith and spiritual practice is critical for many of us in finding that were are able, by the grace of God, to live ever more toward that which is of ultimate worth. At the same time, I know of no substitute for some kind of conscious chosen response that is commitment to follow Jesus for salvation.
The presentation of the story of Jesus can and usually will include our personal testimony and I continue to believe that we, art All Saints’ will need to be much more confident about proclaiming and professing our own faith, without believing that we will somehow be insensitive to people of other faiths. I was helped with this by Gustav Niebuhr’s book, Beyond Tolerance (Penguin, 2009) in which he recounts reflections and stories of confident Christians and others responding to people who are different , seeking understanding, and growing in their own faith without becoming relativists about those commitments. This is the kind of faith that will help us face, and offer confident leadership, in an increasingly diverse world, and the kind that we will continue to nurture at All Saitn