At its root, Christianity is a disciple-making faith. But in pluralistic modern contexts, what does it take for the gospel to connect with its hearers? Few people have pondered this question more deeply or successfully as York Moore, whose combined ministry of social justice and gospel proclamation has seen him bring a robust, faithful message to many, many thousands of people. Curious to glean his wisdom from today on evangelizing the future, I asked him the pressing questions that tomorrow's pastors and evangelists will need to wrestle with. Look for Part 2 on Thursday. - Paul
Paul: For many modern Christians, old-style gospel proclamation and concern for social justice seem worlds apart. As both a "modern abolitionist" and someone who's led thousands to conversion, how do you see their relationship?
York: Paul tells the Thessalonians that, "… [O]ur gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction," (1 Thess. 1:5). When the gospel comes to a people, it is never anything less than a "speech-act."
Evangelism is always a matter of proclaiming the news of God's love through Christ. However, when the gospel comes to a people, it is always also to be done with power through the Holy Spirit and with conviction. The way in which we understand a demonstration of power today certainly includes applying the gospel to places of brokenness and injustice. This is not in competition with evangelism—it is an extension of it.
Concern for social justice and healing for those who suffer is how the gospel is displayed. When the gospel is merely speech, it is hollow—empty, and without practical significance. For some people groups, the gospel comes with the power to heal. For others, with the power to address systemic political injustices, to still others with the power to restore families and communities. To the largest "unreachable people group" in the world—modern day slaves—the gospel comes in power to free them from the brick kilns, massage parlors, and cocoa fields of oppression and despair. The great news is that this is not an either/or decision for God—the same gospel that can free us from our sin, from death, and from hell is able to save little boys and girls from demonic oppression and slavery.
Our Jesus is able to both save us from the hell to come as well as the hell that is now.
Well said. With that truth in mind, at what point in your preaching do you notice people getting uncomfortable?
I have worked hard for over 20 years to be able to communicate the gospel powerfully to the "anti-churched." They're not merely non-churched persons, but people who are opposed to religion in general and Jesus Christ in particular. Because of this, cultural Christians and average "moral Americans" are frequently uncomfortable with my preaching. I introduce them to a vision of Christ that is radically incompatible with their domesticated, mythologized Jesus. For non- and anti-churched listeners however, the vision I paint of Jesus almost always connects with them in a deep, personal way.
After preaching a message entitled, "The God of Sex Slaves" in Los Angeles, a lesbian student named Maria approached me weeping uncontrollably. She said, "The Jesus you spoke about is the one I know who has been after me, even from my childhood. I couldn't put my finger on it before your message, but I knew God wanted something from me and now I know what it is—he wants my life, my passion, my everything." She continued, "I want to follow that Jesus!"