“The early Christians,” Bishop Stephen Neill has said, “argued about everything except evangelism.” Twentieth-century Christians seem to have gone them one better. We seem to spend much of our time arguing about evangelism. Our style of mission (which should have priority: preaching crusades? or open housing? or neither?) is most certainly shaped by our understanding of what evangelism is.
Current commitments in evangelism tend to cluster in three groups.
Evangelism is “institutionalized” in many denominational programs. The key word here is “recruitment.” The typical action is membership visitation. The aim is focused on church extension.
Radicals have “secularized” evangelism. Their key word is “involvement” and their typical action “demonstration” or “community organization.” Evangelism is politics, and the aim of mission is focused in response to revolution.
The evangelical camp has often been guilty of “atomizing” or individualizing evangelism, focusing on “decision” as the key word, proclamation as the typical action, and individual salvation resulting from an isolated religious experience as the end result.
While conservatively oriented groups are all gung ho for traditional soul-winning efforts, many old-line denominations have been marking time as they agonize through an evangelistic stocktaking.
The moderately conservative Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) called a virtual halt to new evangelistic endeavors while a blueribbon task force labored to bring forth a theological basis for the work of evangelism that would speak to the present condition of the Church. After two years the task force was so divided that it seemed for a while it would be unable to agree on a one-position paper. Eventually a middle ...1
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