Here's part two of our conversation with abolitionist/evangelist York Moore. Be sure to catch Part 1 for needed context. -Paul
Paul: What consistent obstacles to faith do you encounter in your work with non-Christians?
York: The obstacle to the gospel at a cultural level is the increasing incompatibility of an emerging American mythology that increasingly centers the story of the human self around a radicalized, sexualized interpretation of humanity. Pornography, homosexuality, and debauchery in general are creating a new understanding of the human self and human relationships.
Myth-making is something Scripture warns us, when Paul tells Timothy, "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). In the process of forging a new understanding of the world and the human self, the age-old and predictable pattern of myth-making is in play today. The contrast between "sound doctrine" and "myths" by Paul is intentional as both these words in the Greek point to more than mere propositional truths but rather holistic narratives that provide a comprehensive view of the world and self. Just as Paul points out to Timothy that the myth-making of their day revolved around sexual "desires," so today the product emerging from the American myth-making enterprise is a sexualized understanding of the human self.
As we work with non-Christians who take for granted a sexualized understanding of the human self, we will run into compatibility problems perceived as justice issues. We see this in many places already. To question homosexuality, for instance, or to offer a vision of what it means to be free from sexual consumption, has moved from merely being "homophobic," to a matter of social justice. What is more important, however, in our fight against the American postmodern myth-making process is the rejection of the conclusion that the human self is fundamentally a sexual self.
Seen in this light, our engagement with the philosophy of postmodern myth-making is, in my mind, the deeper obstacle to the gospel which is often masked by surface challenges of language, culture, and evangelistic form.
In your work with students, do you find that they have a desire to see their friends come to faith? How do they express that?
Many Christian students have a deep desire to see their friends come to faith, but their passion and conviction in this area is directly connected to the vibrancy of the spiritual community in which they belong. Where there is a general lack of vibrant community, Christian students often lack the motive or conviction that non-Christians around them need or would benefit from a relationship with Jesus. On the other hand, where there is robust spiritual community demonstrative of the "deep conviction, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit" Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians, there is almost always a passion to see non-Christians come to faith.
In my work within InterVarsity chapters across the country, there is a growing insistence on this type of spiritual community amongst Christian students. There is a "missional hunger" that has helped lead InterVarsity in our most dramatic organizational growth as we turn 75 years old this year. We have grown from over 900 staff to over 1600 staff in recent years. We've seen a 100% increase in student conversions over a 10 year period of time. We are planting new chapters at an unprecedented rate, and the chapters we are operating on over 700 college campuses are expressing a missional passion that we haven't seen in decades. In missionally hot chapters, there is an assumption that non-Christians need Jesus and there is the relational capital to draw them into community.
What resources or relationships are most valuable for them?
Students coming to Christ today are almost entirely non-churched, so basic worldview and theological storytelling is of central value. The Christian story provides the metanarrative lens that postmoderns in America are seeking. Despite what many who write about the lack of interest in and even denial of metanarrative in postmodernity, American cultural postmodernity longs for a new way to interpret the story of the world and the Bible provides this "diagetical narrative."
Because of this, discipleship of new Christians—which incorporates doctrine and theology, Scripture study, and life application in a communal context—has been a powerful way we've seen life change in new Christians. Whole-life discipleship through missions trips, urban projects, and community involvement has been extremely fruitful for both new Christians and for seeking non-Christians.
In addition to this, new Christians need a local church, not just an InterVarsity chapter, where they can flourish and invest their lives. The role of the local church has never been more important for young new Christians as it is there where they will become enculturated as the people of God. Unfortunately, in many markets in the United States, local churches where healthy enculturation can occur for truly postmodern non-churched converts are few and far between. Relationships with "cultural translators," women and men who can help bridge the gap for new converts to the local church, are increasingly important for young new Christians.
From your perspective, what's the "tomorrow" of evangelism?
The tomorrow of evangelism revolves around a posture of collaboration, service, and hyper-contextualization. As the vision of Christendom (the church as the dominant social force in areas of politics, law, academia, business, etc.) fades, the church in North America is finding itself increasingly on the margins of society, an obscure artifact of a formerly religious country. So, ministry from the margins will be increasingly important for leaders of tomorrow's church to embrace.
In this, there is much to learn from our sisters and brothers in Latin America, China, and much of the Middle East and Africa, where the Christian faith has always been the faith of the downtrodden, poor, and politically disenfranchised. Currently, InterVarsity is struggling to maintain official student organizational status as a religious organization because of this emerging religious marginalization. In many places, we have been barred from officially practicing and organizing Christian activities. In these places, we are operating covertly, with little resources but are finding that the way forward in evangelism and mission is still possible.
Ministry from the margins is becoming a needed skill in Christian ministry in North America. This means that leaders need to become experts in three key areas:
Collaboration: Collaborating with non-Christians, even those with dissenting viewpoints, is a necessary skill set for future leaders to cultivate. Through my "justice invitationals" around human trafficking, we've seen thousands come to faith throughout the U.S. during week-long anti-trafficking rallies and events. We've also worked with political leaders, market industry leaders, academic and community leaders, and many others in ways typically not possible for a religious organization to do. Miroslav Volf, in his excellent work A Public Faith, calls the church to embrace Western pluralism by working in a collaborative fashion with divergent constituents. The future of evangelism will require leaders to become experts in engaging divergent constituents. Doing so through collaborating on issues of the common good is one powerful way forward.
Service: Working toward the common good at a communal and even societal level is increasingly important, but so is engaging directly with the temporal needs of the hurting and disenfranchised. As issues of poverty, urbanization, migration of peoples, modern-day slavery, and racism continue (and likely increase) in the America of tomorrow, the role of service in evangelism will take on increased importance.
In recent decades, service evangelism has been practiced by wealthy, well-educated suburban Christians in fairly innocuous ways (mowing a lawn, providing a meal, volunteering at a local shelter). While there is value in this kind of service, the mission of the American church in the future will face suffering, injustice, and need on a scale not seen in some time. Even if this is not true or on the scale I envision it, because of the marginalization of religious life and community, direct care of temporal needs will be a way to recapture the perception of the value of faith in the public sphere moving forward.
Hyper-contextualization: America is increasingly a place of heterogeneity in terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, and national origin. Because of this, there really will be no sense in which we will be able to speak of an "American church" or religious experience in America, but rather we will need to become fluent in different "modalities of American religious life." The ability to navigate culturally multilingual, multiethnic, and multinational contexts is already essential for Christian leaders and will only increase. We cannot be all things to all people so learning to partner with others inside the church and outside to provide service to community is one powerful way the church of tomorrow will be able to hyper-contextualize and find a voice and effectiveness in the America of tomorrow.
- Monthly issues on web and iPad
- Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net