Evangelical Catholicism and New Evangelism

salesmanI’m someone who likes to use words well, and being a translator, I have developed a sense for using language accurately and rationally. Words sometimes conventionally have emotional meanings that can seriously mislead – but are a part of our human condition.

One such word is the Anglicised version of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον meaning good news as is news brought by a messenger ἄγγελος, an angel. The Greek word is rendered into St Jerome’s Latin as evangelium or bona annuntiatio. Old English gave us gōdspel and Middle English gave us gospel as we still use in our modern English. The good news of the mysteries of Jesus Christ were named gospels, but that word is only analogically applied to information of proven truth rather than simply good news. The word is already corrupted from meaning goodness to meaning absolute truth.

Evangelisation has come to signify the means of propagating the Gospel and the Christian religion among those who have no prior knowledge of it or who have become lapsed Christians or have for some other reason rejected their traditional faith. This is the mission of the Church, the great commission to announce the Gospel and administer the Sacrament of Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity. We read a considerable amount about the importance of the mission in the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospels themselves and the writings of St Paul. Missiology is a discipline within the genus of theological studies. There is a theory of evangelisation as well as the actual “marketing” techniques used in the different eras of church history.

St Paul succeeded through his use of Hellenistic philosophy even though he hailed from the Jewish tradition. This combination was highly successful in the Mediterranean basin. This discipline therefore involves knowledge of cultures, anthropology, history and methods of communication. During other periods, men took the easy way – invading and colonising a country, giving a few notions of Christianity, baptising by force and persecuting relapsi as heretics! The latter method was favoured by those who lusted for political power, but it has nothing to do with the Gospel.

Nowadays, the primary requisite is to respect freedom, whilst offering a Gospel that is attractive and convincing by the merit of its intrinsic truth. To do this, like any marketing technique, the “market” has to be targeted and researched. It is the same in business – you either research a need for a product or service and you fill that need by being in the right time and place. The difference with Christian mission is you are not (or should not be) doing it for money, but altruistically for the good of those you are sent to evangelise.

Last week, I received at least three telephone calls from an insurance company peddling its wares. We get this all the time in France and doubtlessly in other countries too. I deeply object to marketing by telephone. They force a person to take notice of them by stopping us in our tracks and react favourably or unfavourably to their offer. The first time, I simply told them I was satisfied with my present insurance policies for my healthcare, home and car and that I was not interested in their offer. I thanked the person and then put the phone down. They called a second and third time. The second time, I suggested that the person could give me their personal phone number so that I could give it to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The third time, I threatened (bluffed) doing a trace on their call and resorting to legal action (which would need more proof of harassing that I would be able to provide). With some telephone salesmen, I react like a bureaucracy and put them on hold, and play them nice music until they get bored and give up. Truly, telephone marketing is a dirty business. Now, if Christian evangelism is conducted in anything like this way, it is too horrible to contemplate.

I am opposed to aggressive marketing, just as with with the crude attempts of internet trolls. It is in its essence little different from the methods of the King or Queen of Spain in the fourteenth century and the dreaded Inquisition! It violates freedom and privacy, or even our own intimate relationship with God in all the ways He manifests his existence and love.

Evangelicalism is a “buzz” word with an emotional meaning, usually denoting the characteristic of Christian denominations competing for customers, and therefore bases of power and wealth – who puts the most cash into the collection plate! The word is often opposed to other characteristics such as contemplative or liturgical – dare I say it – Americanism on steroids! I get the impression the Roman Catholics in South America are aping the Protestants because they fear bankruptcy for not keeping pace with the market of people who like mass hysteria and “feel good” services.

I think the real point has been missed. Christianity is trying to appeal to the wrong cultural instincts rather than searching from aspirations to “spirituality” and the transcendent, through the sense of beauty and contemplation some people seek by climbing mountains or getting into a boat and going to sea. These aspects seem to be seriously neglected in the usual evangelical paradigm.

We need to understand our words accurately and rationally, and once and for all decide what Christianity is all about. What it is not about are politics and business!

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4 Responses to Evangelical Catholicism and New Evangelism

  1. ed pacht says:

    I’m afraid I can be rather rude to salespeople, especially to telemarketers. If I don’t just hang up abruptly, I am liable to start scolding: “You have invaded my home without permission. You have stolen something precious and irreplaceable – my time. What is different from burglary?” I have had “Jehovah’s Witnesses” come knocking at my door only to tell them that I’m so glad they came to me to hear the real truth. They tend to flee in terror. In my days as a Pentecostal preacher I was told by one of the leading pastors ( a salesman in his ‘day job’) that the ministry was very much like his occupation. I let him know that I thought that was a horrible thought – perhaps I should then give up the ministry in order to be more Christian. We have nothing to sell, but a free gift to offer.

  2. jordanstfrancis says:

    Nothing terrifies me more about the future of Catholicism than George Wiegel’s ruminations about the so called up-and-coming “evangelical Catholicism”. I would gladly suffer through sentimental folksy masses the rest of my life if it at least meant a Catholic practice embedded in some kind of shared, broad reaching culture that didn’t demand total evident internal consent on the part of all involved, a “behind the enemy lines” attitude, and a hyper enthusiasm for “saving souls”. The Catholic community of my youth was rather sappy in most respects, but at least it didn’t give off the stench of desperation. When a Witness comes to the door one can, in the end, only part with them with a kind of “oh, you poor soul” under the breath, because nothing is clear if not the fact that they are misguided and find relief only by walling themselves up in the most narrow of spaces.

    St. Paul preached with a fervour because he could see he held the embryo of an idea from which a very great thing could grow. He didn’t mind being a fool, because he held the seed of a new world. He could see the great oak hidden inside it. Not able to see it yet in its fully expanded details, I think he and the early Christians could nonetheless sense the historical moment at whose feet they stood. I’m not so certain any such thing can be said of evangelicalism today.

  3. Dale says:

    Although I rather dislike telephone sales, I remain invariable polite. Mostly, these are simply people trying to make ends meet the best they can; and I have known, personally, people down on their luck who ended up with such jobs, which they hated. Personally, I have more respect for individuals who will take any respectable job (and compared to others, telephone selling is respectable) than those who use the system and live off welfare or bogus disabilities (and I know such people as well).

    Jordanstfrancis, your phrase: “The Catholic community of my youth was rather sappy in most respects, but at least it didn’t give off the stench of desperation” is one of the best lines I have read in a very long time! Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Evangelical Catholicism Revisited | As the Sun in its Orb & New Goliards

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