Linus’ buddy the little blonde girl may have had good results as an evangelist by hitting people over the head to get them to change their religious stance. But in the current climate of religious change in our country; it is doubtful that hitting someone over the head—with your lunch box or even your version of the truth for that matter–will yield much fruit.
Preaching the gospel is getting far more difficult in our county where resistance to Christianity is spreading. The old tactics of competitive evangelism –“my truth is better than your truth”– are simply not as effective as they once were.
Many are calling for change in the predominant style of evangelism; a change that couples sharing gospel truths with demonstrations of Christ’s love and relationship in an impacting way. In a post-modern America that is increasingly antagonistic to Christianity–just arguing for our version of the truth is frightfully anemic.
America is no longer a Christian nation.
President Barack Obama recently stated at a press conference in Turkey that “as Americans we no longer consider ourselves a Christian nation.” This quote was startling to many people but in reality it was just Obama giving voice to the inevitable trend that is showing up everywhere — Christianity is no longer as popular or influential as it once was.
Obama’s comment came as a reinforcement of a published cover article for Newsweek magazine. The article entitled “The Decline and Fall of Christian America” discussed the shift in the religious identifications of the United States and claimed that according to polls done in recent years things look pretty dismal for Christianity.
The article pointed out that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen over 10 percentage points since 2000, and meanwhile the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation at all has nearly doubled in the same amount of time.
While such statistics may seem jolting to some, Christianity’s slipping image is in actuality old news. In 2007, in a book entitled unChristian, Barna group president David Kinnaman, began revealing statistics about the spiraling downward popularity of Christianity.
His research showed that: a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. While today, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.
Kinnaman also illustrated that Christians seem aware of the shift in people’s perceptions of “the faith.” Barna polls showing: that 91% of the nation’s evangelical Christians believe that “Americans are becoming more and more hostile and negative toward Christianity.” The author, Kinnaman writes,
“Some Christians fear the changing reputation of Christianity and it certainly represents an uncomfortable future. Yet, rather than being defensive or dismissive, we should learn from critics, especially those young Christians who are expressing consternation about the state of faith in America.
Jesus told us to expect hostility and negative reactions. That is certainly nothing new. But the issue is what we do with it. Is it a chance to defend yourself and demand your rights? Or is it an opportunity to show people grace and truth?
In order to deal with the vanishing common ground between Christians and those outside the faith, Kinnaman and many others such as John Piper, Mark Devers, Francis Chan and Rick Warren to name a few are all calling for changes in our evangelistic methodology.
What these best selling Christian authors are saying is that Christians need to begin to deal realistically with the pessimistic and skeptical views that those outside of Christian circles possess and that we need to take measures to change their view of Christians.
It seems to be a consensus that when we set out to evangelize in American society today, we must take into account the expanding hostile environment that surrounds us and have strategies to counter act the negativity. While it is true that none of us are perfect, our lives should lend credence to and speak well of the gospel we are preaching. And our interactions with others should be the confirming echo of our witness for Jesus Christ.
It is taught throughout Scripture that our lives are meant to be God’s best advertisement in our community and that Christians corporately need to begin living that way. Jesus Himself taught,
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
And the Apostle Paul reiterated the same emphasis on lifestyle and relational evangelism in the epistles.
Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Philippians 2:14-15
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.6 Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:5-6 (NLT)
Real Christianity is an attractive thing when it is lived out and we as Christians need to take heed to that and begin to demonstrate it in the communities in which we live. Christian evangelism today needs to be a lot more about demonstrations of Christian love, faith, relationship and the power of God to change lives and a lot less about correctness and aggressively assaulting the other guy’s truth before you have earned the right to speak.
We need to learn from the advice of the Apostle Paul who in the first century was also operating in a culture that was antagonistic and suspicious of Christianity. David Kinnaman has pointed out and I agree that Paul’s exhortation to “live wisely among those who are not Christians’ and to ‘let your conversation be gracious and effective,” (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT) is perfect counsel to committed Christians in America today.
Let’s put away our “I’ll hit you over the head with the truth” techniques of old and begin sharing the truth clothed in Christlike love, integrity and authenticity the way Jesus did and maybe then they will listen to our truth.