Self-silencing Christians

Why don’t mainline Protestant denominations do a better job at evangelism? The Christian Century (its own drowsiness a reflection of mainline decline) touches on this question in reviews of two new books on the topic.

Lillian Daniel, senior minister of First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, makes this excellent point in her review of Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese:

It has long struck me that the same mainline church members who pass resolutions on gay marriage and propose solutions to conflict in the Middle East suddenly shrink in silence on the subject of their faith, and they do this—here’s the irony—so they won’t offend anyone. For too long, our noble impulses toward tolerance and inclusivity have turned us into spiritual illiterates who, being out of practice, have forgotten how to speak the words of our faith.

William Willimon, a Methodist bishop, praises Bryan Stone, author of Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness for “an incisive critique of what passes for evangelism in most of our churches.”

… Stone notes notes that we’ve tried to evangelize via two main paths, which he calls “Christendom lite”: establishment of the intellectual respectability of the gospel in essentially secular terms that are allegedly broader or more plausible than traditional theological phrasings (as in James R. Adams’s So You Can’t Stand Evangelism), and assertion of the practical value of Christianity for individuals, where value has been determined by a market economy (as in Walt Kallestad’s Entertainment Evangelism). Against such desiccated, overly rationalized, market-driven approaches, Stone says that the most evangelistic thing we can do today is to be a vibrant corporate embodiment of the kingdom of God.

On the one hand, who can defend “desiccated, overly rationalized, market-driven approaches” to anything. On the other hand, one gets the feeling from talking to many evangelism experts that they imagine that if Christians would just “do church” the right way people will magically find out about it and start knocking the doors down.

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