If you have been a part of the church for any length of time, you hear about the importance of evangelism. “We need to expand God’s kingdom.” “We need to show our city the love of Christ.” I don’t object to any of this. It’s so desperately needed. But there’s one problem. I don’t see it happening.
I know there are wonderful exceptions. But my point still holds. They are the exceptions. So much of church growth is simply recycled members from other congregations. Of the few conversions, they are often people that are coming back to the faith. But true expansion into virgin areas of skepticism and unbelief? I ache to see it. But I don’t.
Our evangelism doesn’t work because we live in the postmodern world, where no absolute is absolute, where truth in bendable, where all perspectives are equal and valid. Here the Christian faith is seen as judgmental, hypocritical, and even worse irrelevant.
How do we go forward here?
How? We go backward. About 1600 years.
Augustine was an early church father and bishop who lived in the 4th century AD. He wrote two remarkable books that appear on the lists of the top 100 books ever written. And both bear on evangelism. For he too faced a hostile and hardened Roman world that was highly critical of the faith. How did he seek to evangelize them? By telling his own story and then by telling the Bible as story.
In his Confessions, he confesses his intellectual and moral errors with such honesty that it almost hurts to read it. There is a voltage that still jumps off the page after all these years. It has spoken to countless searchers and skeptics throughout the ages. I wonder. What would happen if Christians just gathered non-believers to tell their story, confessing their past and present sins publicly? What kind of voltage would that produce?
In the City of God, he simply tells the big story of the whole Bible as the struggle between the city of man and the city of God. But in it, he doesn’t just criticize other beliefs. He shows how all their longings and dreams are brought to fulfillment in this one great story. I wonder. What would happen if we began to speak about the Bible this way to a skeptical and uninterested public? Would they perhaps listen?
Augustine took a risk to do all this. It had never been done before in his time. Maybe it’s time for us to take the same risk.