Communicating the good news of Jesus in the West in 2020 is challenging. Christianity is often portrayed as irrelevant, out-of-touch, even unjust and toxic. And like it or not, that’s got to shape how we communicate the Christian faith.
In light of this, I’ve been exploring some different imagery for ‘connecting and confronting’ with the good news of Jesus in our cultural moment. In part, it flows from the ‘rubber hitting the road’ in everyday conversations. In part, it flows from working on a Mission & Apologetics module I teach locally.
You could think of these as like five different tools on a Swiss army knife – five approaches for beginning to help people consider the relevance and goodness of the gospel and the Christian worldview. They’re certainly not everything, but they’re perhaps useful ‘ways in’ as we consider our gospel communication in 2020 and beyond…
1. Putting a Stone in the Shoe
At the time, there’s nothing worse than a stone in the shoe! Yes, you can try to keep on walking, probably because you can’t be bothered to stop, but it’s not going to be comfortable if you do. Ultimately, you have to do something about it.
As evangelists we want to provoke in such a way that people can’t carry on the same as a result. I’m pretty sure I got this phrase from Dan Strange – and I’ve found it very helpful to consider – particularly in settings where we’re more limited in what the context might deem to be appropriate. For example, if you’re writing a newspaper column or giving a segment on the local radio, where anything too overt is going beyond your invitation. So it’s helpful to think: what one thought can I leave people with that will surprise – and cause an eyebrow to be raised?
I say this because often when we’re sharing the gospel we can feel a great pressure to say ‘everything’. And yet how often in the book of Acts do we hear of people demanding to hear more from the apostles? Let’s speak words of truth and grace that awaken a hunger in people, as when you begin to smell the satisfying wafts of a hearty feast and can’t wait to tuck in! Or to put it another way, put a stone in someone’s shoe!
2. Opening the Curtains
There’s so many unhelpful stereotypes out there about Christianity, which means we need to help people to see what the Christian life is actually like. What difference does it make to believe in Jesus? When the pressure is on. When life is hard. In a sense, this is answering the question, ‘why would I bother becoming a Christian?’
As such, I find it useful to think of part of the evangelist’s job as ‘opening the curtains’ onto the Christian life. We need to show it’s about more than going to church and believing certain propositions. It’s not quiche, cold tea and mumbling to a few dirges. This is a whole new life, a whole new way of thinking, feeling, living. It’s faith, hope and love. It’s ‘Christ in me, the hope of glory’. Open the curtains, let the sunshine in and show people the new reality.
But in doing this, make sure it’s connected into real life. Not a pious unrelatable vision of life, but rather completely earthed in the nitty-gritty. A case-study, personal quote or testimony may help to do this.
3. Draining the Bath
Sometimes when I’m giving my kids a bath, there’s that horror moment when I’ve drained the water and you see all the muck that’s left at the bottom.
Tom Holland’s latest book, Dominion, has powerfully shown the way in which the culture of the West is indebted to the Christian gospel. We wouldn’t be where we are – whether it’s art, law, human rights, etc – if it wasn’t for Christianity. So let’s not be ashamed of that.
Draining the bath means showing people how empty life without God is. When we strip everything back, what are our values built on? For example, one of the big themes throughout lockdown has been that of hope. But where can hope be found? And what about dignity or peace? Or satisfaction and forgiveness? Often our experiences show us that the places we look for these things leave us disappointed. And yet it’s amazing how short-term our memories are. The evangelist can join the dots – and therefore drain the bath of a life without God.
4. Tracing the Sunbeam
Augustine is famous for saying that part of the nature of sin is to worship God’s gifts rather than the divine Giver. We take the good things that God has made and we treat them as ‘god things’, idols, ignoring the One who made them.
The language of idolatry is a powerful diagnostic tool to help people see the ways in which we’re all worshippers. But it’s also helpful to then trace the ‘goodness’ of those good things back to the Giver himself. Every sunbeam that bursts into our lives and brings truth, beauty and goodness, comes from a God who is True, Beautiful and Good.
And so, rather than simply expose the ugly folly of idolatry, we can also acknowledge that our desire to value these things comes in part from a recognition that they have goodness in them. But rather than treat those good things as ends in themselves, as if they would truly satisfy, we’re to help people trace the sunbeam back to the Sun, to their Triune Creator, the One who alone is worthy of all worship.
5. Capturing the Longing
Whether it’s the longing for justice or for relationship or for something beyond death, I believe part of being made in the image of God means we all have in-built longings. This is innate to being human. These desires reflect the divine purposes for which we were made.
We’re not just molecules, bones and blood, on some evolutionary journey – and I think people deep-down both recognise this – and want to hear this. Longings aren’t simply a way of ensuring the survival of the fittest. Does that really fit with what we feel so deeply? For example, why do we care so much about injustice, when it rarely benefits ourselves?
And so as an evangelist, surely part of our calling is to articulate those longings, so that people can identify that within themselves – and show how the Christian gospel makes sense of them and fulfils them. It’s almost like we’re holding a mirror up, and saying, ‘You know those feelings you have – that deep desire for something more… well, here’s why’.
I’ve found these helpful to keep in the back of my mind in various contexts and situations. Do you have similar ‘tools’ you pull out when seeking to ‘take every thought captive’ for Christ?