Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?
CJ: Eddie Glaude, a Princeton University professor, wrote a Huffington Post article in which he declared that the black church as we know it is dead! This controversial statement elicited much consternation as it was interpreted as a pronouncement of death of the church.
Actually, Glaude’s statement was a reality check on our romantic ideas about the heroic black church that was engaged in evangelism and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Glaude called us to rethink our revisionist history and our unrealistic expectations, while also encouraging us to be the change we want to see in the church and the world.
I believe this sobering word is one not just for the black church, but for all churches of which Christ is the head. There has been much lamentation about the decline of Christianity in America; fears that we are soon becoming like god-less Europe abound.
Some of these concerns are warranted, but I believe that what we are seeing is the death of Christendom, not the way of Jesus Christ. Cultural Christianity is giving way to an authentic faith worth living and dying for, a faith expressed through good works.
Indeed, there are many local congregations that are dying or ready to die. Like the church at Sardis in Revelation 3, those churches needn’t die if only they hear and obey what the Spirit says. My hope is that we will certainly see the death of racialized, tribalized, and commercialized religion and the resurrection of a supernatural faith in which followers of Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear credible, life-giving witness to the gospel.
Ed: Evangelism has fallen on especially hard times. It seems that everything else—even good things like discipleship—has overwhelmed our passion for sharing the love of Jesus with others. What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?
CJ: This might sound Pollyannaish, but I believe that we should search the Scriptures for models for evangelism. What comes to mind about traditional evangelism efforts I grew up with are groups of believers walking neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and handing out gospel tracks.
I think that method, though not dead, is certainly on life support. Praise God it’s not the only way of reaching people with the good news. In fact, in our late modern or postmodern age, more relational ways of sharing the love of Jesus in deed and word seems to be more fitting. There’s an old saying that goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Unbelievers needs to see that we care for them, not just their postmortem souls but all of who they are as fallen image-bearers of God. Relationships matter, and so does our attention to the hell people are catching. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorted that good religion cares about the bodies in which souls move and breathe.
Secondly, apologetics needs to be a part of any contemporary evangelism strategy. It’s no longer enough to share Jesus; we have to be like Paul on Mars Hill and demonstrate to skeptics and seekers why Jesus matters and why he must have preeminence in all things. Still, this should be done winsomely and with heart as well and head.
Ed: You are a plenary speaker at our 2019 Amplify North American Evangelism Conference this summer, and you are talking about “One Family: A gospel that reconciles.” Talk to me about a gospel that reconciles all things, and all of us, and how we can live that out daily.
CJ: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Reconciliation has been accomplished by the work of Christ—his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. What is more difficult, however, is that the world often doesn’t see that reconciliation because those of us called to be ambassadors and messengers of that reconciliation are often so divided.
This isn’t new: “we see this division in the Corinthian letters and elsewhere. But the sin of division isn’t an excuse for failing to live out the mission to which we are called.
Adopted into one family of faith, we have to press through whatever seeks to divide us in order to be Christ-like. Intentional, whole-life discipleship is necessary to restore us to our place as ambassadors of this reconciliation.