What does evangelism look like among those for whom absolute truth claims are anathema? Brian McLaren of Cedar Ridge Community Church spoke at a Billy Graham Center evangelism roundtable in April 2004 called "Issues of Truth and Power: the Gospel in a Post-Christian Culture." Wheaton College president Duane Litfin responded to McLaren's presentation. Their presentations, summarized here, are just two of several to be included in a book that will be published next year by Graham Center director Lon Allison and InterVarsity evangelism specialist Rick Richardson.
Brian McLaren: The Broadened Gospel
For McLaren, the gospel is not primarily informational but relational/missional. That is, imparting information about how to be individually saved is secondary to inviting people into relationship with a king and with members of a kingdom whose foremost concern is wholeness for a broken world, rather than an insurance policy for eternal destiny.
The gospel, McLaren said, starts "with God's concern for the world, in which God creates a community called the church, comprised of persons who stop (or repent of) being 'part of the problem' and choose instead to join God as 'part of the solution'—thus simultaneously entering a mission and a community in which one is accepted by grace, through faith in Jesus."
Making absolute truth claims—so important to evangelism in the modern era—becomes problematic in the postmodern context. Instead, he said, we can focus on recruiting people who follow Jesus by faith (without claims of certainty or absolute knowledge) with the goal of being transformed and participating in the transformation of the world. "Our lack of example in speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity may also explain why we must rely so heavily on arguments, many of them making claims that appear to postmodern people to be coercive and colonial, and therefore immoral, heavily laced with adjectives like absolute and objective to modify the noun truth," McLaren said.
Additionally, he noted that the message of the apologetic of good lives and good works is much more costly than asserting the message of absolute objective truth or proclaiming a version of Christianity as the true metanarrative.
"I think most Christians grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like absolute and objective (linked to foundationalism and the myth of neutrality)," McLaren said. "Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They're wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture."
Church is not a place one attends but a community to which one belongs, he said. The community shares in mission and spiritual practice. It is rooted in a common story whose emphasis is on the continuing work here and now, always drawing from our past.
"Rather than measuring the church by its attendance, we will measure it by its deployment," McLaren said. "One of the greatest enemies of evangelism is the church as fortress or social club; it sucks Christians out of their neighborhoods, clubs, workplaces, schools, and other social networks and isolates them in a religious ghetto. There it must entertain them (through various means, many of them masquerading as education) and hold them (through various means, many of them epitomized by the words guilt and fear). Thus Christians are warehoused as merchandise for heaven, kept safe in a protected space to prevent spillage, leakage, damage, or loss until their delivery."