I’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!