My friend David Fitch just wrote a lucid examination of why the traditional “You must admit you are a sinner in need of God!” evangelism strategy doesn’t work in the cultures of post-Christendom. I recommend you go read the entire post, even though he uses the word “paradigmatic.” He argues that Christians need to be taught at least three things about how to bring people toward Christ in these new cultures:
- Sin is a complex doctrine – it’s just just about breaking God’s law and guilt, it’s also about oppressive powers and missing the mark and being broken.
- Sin is a language we learn in community – this is so true! Most of my awareness of my sin has come through my interaction with others in community and family.
- As witnesses we are therapists of sin – I especially appreciated this. Therapists rarely go out of their way to convince someone they are sick. Instead they probe, asking questions and digging deeper until the person is ready to see what has been there the whole time. In the same way, as witnesses to Christ, we sit with others and listen, asking questions and encouraging deeper reflection, remaining sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the one doing the convicting anyway. I am convinced it almost never is fruitful to try to intellectually argue someone into believing they are a sinner. They have to see if for themselves, and that only happens when the Holy Spirit begins to work in someone’s life.As such, this kind of gentle, listen-ful witnessing needs to be coupled with prayer.
Sometimes people get nervous when I say we need to re-think evangelism for post-Christendom cultures, but, like Fitch, I am in no way proposing we ditch the doctrine of sin, just the way we have been formulating and talking about it.