Don't Give Up on Post-Christian Places
Third, we'd like to encourage growing civility and true pluralism in our society, that is, to counteract anger and contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of mutual respect among people of differing beliefs.
Monsignor Richard Figliozzi is a self-identified "evangelical Catholic" from the Archdiocese of New York. After reading your section on the "catholicity" of "gospel ecosystems," he proposed collaboration on a weekly luncheon aimed at presenting Jesus to post-Christian executives. How would you respond?
If by "presenting Jesus" the Monsignor means reporting on what is happening in churches, the state of Christianity in the city, the idea of truth, social teaching, apologetics, marketplace ethics—in other words, if it's about having a conversation, I would gladly participate. If, on the other hand, presenting Jesus means evangelism, then I would need to be free to elucidate my particular beliefs concerning biblical authority and the way in which salvation is appropriated (i.e., by faith alone). In such a scenario, I'd feel responsible to explain the difference between the Catholic and Protestant traditions. I am happy to go anywhere to proclaim the gospel, so long as I have the liberty to present the message with integrity.
Why must the church pursue "gospel renewal," and where in the US do you observe such movement?
We earnestly need gospel renewal as individuals and, on a larger scale, in our churches and communities. With regard to the latter, I have in mind an especially vigorous season of preaching, conviction of sin, prayer, joy, worship, and evangelistic activity—what we typically mean by the word "revival." Think for instance of 1 Corinthians, where Paul applies the gospel to churches. He first addresses the problem of relational divisions and factions. Then he deals with immorality and divorce, declaring that we Christians are not our own. In chapter ten, where he confronts the practice of meat sacrificed to idols, Paul undermines cultural norms by announcing that we are free, but not completely so because we're supposed to sacrificially love one another. Chapters twelve and fourteen go into worship issues. Notice, in all of this, the apostle doesn't say "here are the rules." He routinely goes back to the gospel, connecting the dots between salvation in Jesus and the particular issues before God's people. In Center Church we consider such examples from church history to see that these are the ways and means by which God brings gospel renewal.
On a personal or local church level, yes, I see evidence of renewal. Thankfully, there are always pockets of the world in which the Spirit at work. But in terms of an expansive movement where the church is growing at a faster rate than the population, I am unaware of such a movement today, at least in North America or Europe. Years ago, I read a volume of sermons on the New York revival of 1857-59, where 80,000 people joined the church during those years (ten percent of the 800,000 people living in the city). That is an example of gospel renewal. And while we may not observe it at present, we maintain that miracles from the past instill hope for the future, where good seed penetrates hard soil and dry places wait in expectation for a coming deluge.