This ain’t your momma’s America. The societal change in North America, and Western Europe, in the last generation has been remarkable.
Secularism has been on the rise. Church attendance has been down. And whatever optimism we may have about the rebirth of spirituality among the rising generation, this is not the society of yesteryear. We live in an increasingly post-Christian milieu, and there is a growing sense in healthy evangelical congregations that we can’t just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them.
Not everything needs to be rethought, but some of the methods with which we’ve been most comfortable need serious and careful evaluation in light of our quickly evolving context. And according to pastor and author Jonathan Dodson, one of the areas that most needs our attention is evangelism.
The Believable Gospel
What if we thought about evangelism not only as opening our mouths, but also opening our ears? What if we thought hard not only about what we claim, but what questions we ask? What if we not only told nonbelievers what we believe, but probed what they believe?
And what if we were willing not only to have a five-minute conversation on the street corner, but give our time and energy selflessly to develop the relationship, ask careful questions, listen intently, patiently address their obstacles to the gospel, and walk with them through life?
If we did, we’d be much better prepared for being part of the mission to North America in the twenty-first century.
Reaching “Resistant” Peoples
Before planting City Life Church in Austin, Dodson spent time “on the mission field” in Southeast Asia, in Burma, Laos, and Thailand. When he came to Austin, he sought to bring the same missionary mindset to a people who spoke his language and shared his cultural familiarities, but had a vastly different worldview.
Following in the wake of Western Europe, the United States and Canada have become vastly more secular, and we’re realizing that the Great Commission is no longer something we can outsource to the missions department. The Commission is for disciplemaking at home and aboard. It is domestic and international. Every Christian is sent by God and can engage their city with a missionary perspective, even when we don’t need to learn a new language and culture.
In the post-Christian moment, Dodson calls attention to pockets of “resistant peoples,” and wants to ask the hard questions about what it means to engage them with the gospel, and not just throw our hands up. There may be political, cultural, theological, or ethnic reasons they’re rejecting the gospel. They may equate being a Christian with being Republican, or being anti-environmental — two misconceptions which are easy to work through, if we only knew the issues.
In this new episode of Theology Refresh above, Dodson, who is author of the new book Unbelievable Gospel, provides a fresh take on mission in a post-Christian context, where evangelism is typically a community project.