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Postmodern Evangelism?

Its funny how all the sudden two worlds combine.

This term I am reading, albeit slowly, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.4, the Doctrine of Creation.  In this volume Barth lays out his ethics.  It wasn’t my choice to read III.4, but I wanted to do an independent study with Dr. Burgess reading something related to Barth, and he chose III.4.  Since I haven’t taken anything but the basic intro to ethics course, I thought it might be good to read, and it has been.  While I am hoping to shift to something else next term, it has definitely been worthwhile.

All this is only a set up for my main point.  Lately I’ve been thinking about what Evangelism looks like in the Postmodern context, and on Sunday my Sunday school class talked about the issue of evangelism.  The end result of that discussion was that most people are rather uneasy with evangelism, because of the connotation that it brings with it.  And to be honest, as discouraging as that is to hear, I think I have to agree.

One of the keys that I’ve seen in the Postmodern age in which we live, especially among youth is this: “Truth is only truth that I’ve experienced”.  In other words, if a Postmodern student hasn’t lived through something, it isn’t true for them.  Now, to be honest I’m not sure how different that is from the “Modern” era, but its something I’ve noticed.  Here is where Barth’s comments are helpful.  

Barth basically says in the opening of his section on the Active Life that the primary duty of the Christian is to co-operate with the Christian community in service to God to the community.  A few quotes
“If we want to show men the kingdom of God, we must prove that we care for them just as they are, that we regard them as fellow-creatures in distress, and that we feel bound and obligated to them as such because of the kingdom which has already appeared, because of the salvation which has been declared to them, because of the fact that Jesus Christ has been born and has acted as their Brother, because of the fact that this has been done to their advantage”
“If this neighbour experiences opposition, hatred, contempt, or even indifference from this circle (Barth is referring to the circle of Christian live which connects those within the church), if he is attacked by it, if a different wind from that of genuine human freedom blows on him, how can he attend and listen to the testimony of the freedom of the Spirit, of the kingdom and grace, which is supposedly born to him?”  (CD, III.4, Pg. 503)

Basically, if Christians don’t show love to someone outside the church, if we don’t prove that love through service, which includes but is not limited to speaking, then we cannot possibly expect them to listen to the testimony of the Spirit.  So what of those Christians who are unwilling to do love men?
“They can only prove thereby that they are not too sure about this (whether or not they themselves are loved by God) themselves, and perhaps that they are not even aware of.”

Then Barth lays out a few presuppositions that must undergird this service.  This one I especially like:
“Their decisive presupposition in respect to every man can be only that Jesus Christ has died for his sin too, and for his salvation.”  (Don’t mind the lack of inclusive language, Barth wrote in an age before that was a big deal).  
So Christians must view everyone in the eyes of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ died for that person too, and Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior whether they know it or not.  

In summary: “The whole credibility of the Christian service of witness as a human act depends on whether the work of active human love precedes and follows it, accompanying and sustaining it as the commentary and illustration of an eloquent parable”.
The Christian act of service is a “symbolic action” of the Word of God (understood both as the person of Jesus Christ as well as the promises delivered in him) made real in a person’s life.  As I’ve heard many times from kids, “show me” or “prove it!”.  Barth is saying that Christians show the gospel to be true when they live it in service to the community.  

All of this leads to the conclusion that my next paper (for this class) will be the something along the lines of the follow: Service as Evangelism: Karl Barth’s theology of The Active Life as a model for Evangelism in the Postmodern Context

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 25, 2005 at 9:40 am

    I find it interesting that you posted this. Last week I was talking to some friends about evangelism in the postmodern era, and it came to me that one of the main reasons I become so hardened and so “turned-off” (for lack of a better term) to evangelism is simply because of the way it is approached. I guess that sometimes I feel that evangelism is thought of as something where we must reach some sort of quota. We’ve got to win this many people over to Christ…yada yada yada. When in reality, talking to someone about Christ, sharing Him with them, should be one of the most intimate loving things you could do for that person. In order for us to accurately portray Christ as the person He is, we can’t be impersonal; we must be genuine. I don’t think that our “goal” should really be to just “tell people about Christ” in order to win them to our “team.” Instead shouldn’t we just be loving people for the people they are, and strive to show them the love that Christ showed us? As Barth said “The whole credibility of the Christian service of witness as a human act depends on whether the work of active human love precedes and follows it.”

    Perhaps the problem is not that we (and I say we to include me…) are not necessarily as afraid of talking to people about Christ, as we are afraid to love the people around us…

  2. October 25, 2005 at 10:59 am

    “Perhaps the problem is not that we (and I say we to include me…) are not necessarily as afraid of talking to people about Christ, as we are afraid to love the people around us… ”

    Wow Seth, I think that’s a good insight that seems to come back to a very common statement: That we are afraid to love the people Jesus loves.

  3. October 25, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    I’m with Seth. I’ve been turned off to evangelism for a long time. Well…since I quit being involved with Campus Crusade in college. And I was at church Sunday for the conversation about evangelism as well. I get frustrated when i see people that preach and judge, but can’t manage to show that fundamental love for their neighbor. For instance, people that bash homosexuals or who express hatred towards women who make the “wrong choice” when an unexpected pregnancy occurs. Sometimes I feel that as Christians we convey a message that says, “If you agree with me, then I will love you.” But, somehow, I don’t think that is quite what we are called to do. Somehow, I think it is more likely that we are expected to go out of our way to show compassion to those around us. And I know I don’t do this like I should…but I wish I did. I mentioned it on my own blog awhile back, but I think this is why I am so taken by what Rose Madrid-Swetman is doing out at their church in Seattle. The focus of the church is turned outward as opposed to inward like so many churches. They are constantly involved with community outreach. They are doing it enough that they are getting a reputation for it. Now isn’t that novel?

  4. October 28, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Very interesting article. I especially liked your quote from Barth. (Consider it stollen.)

    Last month I did three posts on what I call “An Evangelism Apologetics Fusion.” The first post was:
    I think there is a misunderstanding of apologetics and a false separation between evangelism and apologetics.

    I am enjoying your blog.

  5. October 28, 2005 at 11:34 am

    I see my link got chopped. Here it is in two parts


  6. October 29, 2005 at 8:15 am

    Quoting Brian, “Perhaps the problem is not that we (and I say we to include me…) are not necessarily as afraid of talking to people about Christ, as we are afraid to love the people around us… ” I, for one, am honestly more uncomfortable talking to people about Jesus than I am loving them.

    I find it much easier to love people than to talk to them about Christ. Perhaps it’s because of a predicted stereotypical “Oh, you’re one of those ‘Christians'” responses that close doors. Perhaps it’s because I am not yet as confident in my Christian walk as I should be. I just don’t know.

    As time goes by, I become more and more enamored by understanding this world as a dream, a place of “passing-through”. The result is that everything I have known in this world becomes less significant. Love becomes easier. Differences become less important. Political and religious arguments become softer and less critical. What is left is the true reality that is bigger than this world.

    I can act more freely in love as a result. My faith in Christ, then, can more easily be expressed once the heart of the person is won over. When their heart is won over, the Word of Christ is more welcome.

    Picking up from an earlier blog quote: “As Barth said, ‘The whole credibility of the Christian service of witness as a human act depends on whether the work of active human love precedes and follows it’.”

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