Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Death of Modernist Evangelism (When It's Time, It's Time)

Ok, so yesterday I was down in the Fan drinking coffee at a coffee shop reading and doing some work. I ran into an old friend of mine who mentioned that there was a guy down at the Commons on VCU's campus preaching. So morbid curiousity drove me to walk down that way. I've seen these campus preachers before, some who are rather nice guys just trying to share their faith, and others are not so nice (general rule of thumb: if you want people to listen to your opinion on Grace, Mercy, Faith, and Hope, don't call them a "slut" or "whore" or "whoremonger").

Well, this guy seemed rather nice. At least he didn't call anyone names. And he looks like John Kerry, which was really funny. He had a mic on him, so you could be sure to hear him. There was a crowd of students standing around listening and a few students who were challenging him with questions. And suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. It just made me sad and frustrated and angry.

There are a few problems, I think, with this kind of "witnessing". The first is generally the crowd you draw and hold is mostly christians and then a few (quite brave) non-christians who are debating with preacherman. So the actual number of non-christian students you are even potentially engaging is kinda small. Also, it sets up a situation where christians gang up on the non-christians. There were christians engaging some of the non-christians, but it was always one poor soul against 3 or so well-meaning christians, with each christian jumping in with his/her opinion every time the brave non-christian brought up something they believed. Fundamentally, that just seems rude. Winning an argument by ganging up on someone, akin to the argumentum ad baculum fallacy, does not count. Also when you have a mic, and are engaging in a debate with someone who doesn't, you are necessarily putting yourself at an advantage and the others at a disadvantage (which is also why talk radio/tv call-in shows are, while at times entertaining, ultimately pointless and stupid and don't get us anywhere).

Secondly, I understand the need to show that christianity is right. I'm just not sure it's possible to do so by arguing or by logic in general. That mindset seems to stem from the rationalist/positivist school of thought (more on this in a second). That is, if it is true, it can be proven logically. If it can't be proven logically, it isn't true. Can I prove logically that God exists. I don't think I, or anyone else, can. What I can do is show that there are some good reasons to believe that God exists, or show that it is not illogical to believe that God exists or to believe in christian doctrine (e.g. Plantinga's Warrented Christian Belief).

Also, I don't think people generally make important faith-type decisions because of someone pointing out publically that their beliefs are logically in error and christianity is logically true, or even that christianity is more logically true than their beliefs. I think people, at least in my experience, make these decisions because of people they have met and gotten to know, because they have seen the goodness of Christ, not because of a logical debate.

This rationalist mode of evangelism perhaps worked well in the modernist culture (it was certainly popular, at least -- i really don't know how effective it was). But that's not the cultural climate we live in, especially on college campuses. Those who stay to debate preacherman were not doing so as an endeavor to Discover Truth. They were doing so because it's a mental exercise, because they don't like someone they don't know coming onto their campus out of nowhere telling them that they are wrong. Not because they want to discover truth. Those debating are generally perfectly willing to admit that their logic may be wrong. (Side Note: in a side debate, one guy was being "witnessed to" by several christians. They got him to say "of course you [christians] may be right." And they jumped on that. "Aha! You admit you may be wrong and we may be right!" "Of course," he responded. The christians took it as a victory, as getting closer to converting this man, but it wasn't. This man came into it with the idea that he may be wrong, which is how most people in this philosophical climate come at things. We are still stuck in the modernist mindset with the idea that logic will convert. It won't. Arguing with this guy over and over and over won't do it. Stop the debating, and get to know him. He said that what we are to be doing on this earth is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captive. GOOD. That's common ground. The christians should have said "yes, I agree. Let's work on that together." But they just kept debating.)

And I have to wonder, do we christians do this because we think if we can't prove to others, if we can't show others that WE ARE RIGHT (W.A.R.), our faith, Christ's Church, all that we hope for, will come crashing down? Is it a lack of faith that drives us to do this in this manner?

This mode seems, to me, to be lacking in humility. I wouldn't listen to a stranger if they kept insisting over a mic that my thoughts, my ideas, my beliefs were absolutely wrong and that they were absolutely right. I might engage a little for sport, but I wouldn't really pay them much mind.

Now, if a friend and I were discussing things and they shared why they thought I was wrong after listening to why I thought the way I did, then I would certainly think about it and wrestle with it, and be much more inclined to take it to heart.

We need some intellectual modesty in the church.


Blogger PA said...

I completely agree with you post. We need to be good news before we can preach good news in peoples lives.

10:03 PM, October 12, 2005  
Blogger metafiz said...


hospitality is a Godly value.

11:49 PM, October 12, 2005  

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