Evangelisation

It’s quite a mouthful of a word. I found the postings by Deborah Gyapong – Fr Ray Blake writes on evangelization and the article she describes – He asks some important questions about whether people are really serious about evangelizing.

There are some interesting questions. The first is whether Christianity is just about saving people from a prospect of eternal hell when they die or introducing them to a different philosophy of life that can transfigure their entire being. Usually, western Christianity is perceived as a set of oppressive regulations and directives like the ones that come from Brussels about health and safety and building the zero-risk world. How boring! Indeed, at the eve of the French Revolution, the Aristocracy had ceased to believe in Christianity, but promoted religion because it held the people in check. In those days, the Church was the ultimate Big Brother!

Now, if Christianity can be seen to be something soul-transforming, beautiful, mystical, other-worldly, then it will have the power to attract those who are spiritually open. If it is something not very different from the political ideologies screaming out of any number of loudspeakers, and the evangelisation message has nothing concrete to offer (a real Christian community that will bring the experience of beauty and the sacred), then it is little more than a cruel mockery.

I have been into this subject before. Who are we trying to evangelise? Invariably, the efforts of some go out to a particular cultural reference – that of materialism and popular culture. Conservatives are going to be very insistent on the exclusive claims of Christian churches, bringing in the element of constraint and moral blackmail. Join us or perish! Is that not the message that frequently comes through, blaring out of the megaphones? How about some muscular “masculine” (extreme right-wing, uh-hum) stuff! Religion for rugby players? What about religion for artists, musicians and poets? That’s an embarrassing question.

While “evangelism” is tied to conservative political ideology and treads on man’s quest for freedom and and spirit, many of us will be alienated. If Christianity has freedom and beauty as a part of its message, it will also attract the more sensitive of us. I and many others are not interested in the apologetics and exclusive claims, but we would be interested in the beauty of the liturgy and a more profound vision of Christ’s Romanticism and Cynicism.

Let us make Christianity more than an anti-hell insurance policy or some other materialistic tripe! Jesus was not interested in reformations and moralising, but in our love and innocence re-found, in our aspiration for a higher life than legalism and formalism. We need to appeal to the heart, the aspiration to true freedom and the sense of sacredness.

If we begin to live it, then others might begin to feel it.

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7 Responses to Evangelisation

  1. Stephen K says:

    Father, it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that what Fr Blake and others and their fans conceive of as “evangelisation” is what I call “preaching by decibel”. They clearly are frustrated by the fact that more people are not clamouring for the old liturgy, insisting on arcane and exotic dogmas and generally being a right royal pain in the ______.

    Well, I have news for them. Telling me that unless I believe (or, proclaim my belief) in every jot and tittle that the Popes and my childhood penny catechism stated, I am a sinner and will probably go to Hell, in whatever form, cuts no mustard with me, nor with the millions who have little to do with their brand of religion. Their talk of “church” overwhelms and drowns out their talk of Jesus as a real person, whether human or divine. My understanding of Christianity, that is, the movement gradually taking shape, first in the ragged band of apostles clustering around Jesus and then in the groups they gathered around them, is that it was about the internal transformation that Jesus drew our attention to. No question of “church” enters into the equation except by second-order consideration of the people who wanted to be transformed. Unfortunately, to Fr Blake and others, no doubt sincere and certain of their perspective, the health of the transformation is discernible only by what they define as the “health” of the Church.

    What is that “health”? See my comment above: certain cultural forms, modes and behavioural patterns – numbers on pews. Nothing to do with acts of kindness or mercy, per se. Universalism is the bête noir here, taking the place of relativism or any of the other fashionable bogeymen. The supreme virtue is public conforming membership, not spiritual substance or desire.

    I am a universalist, in several senses. For example, I am quite well open to the idea that Fr Blake, and others and I are all of the same stuff and destined to the same place, and this universalism is a powerful reminder to me that I should, and can, love them.

    Ευ-- the ‘good message’. What message could possibly be good if it is just more of the same: ‘do this or else!’. I thought it meant: ‘God loved you so much that he became Man and showed us the Way – his death was an act of love and example – to die to self – He lives and we must provide a home for Him in our hearts’. Or something like that.

    I am evangelised…….by those whom I encounter who show mercy and service. I am scandalised……by those who posture from their pulpits.

  2. Francis says:

    Cf, Blake, esp. “The Divine Image”.

    Personally I am a (Neo-Platonist) monist for whom the apocatastasis is a pious wish, a hope. I long to see a state of Christianity where the service of God in the Liturgy and the service of man in the streets, hospices, schools, wherever, are seen as the complementary moments of the same Act. The big problem in the West is, indeed, truly an organisational one whereby the organisation is everything and face-saving paramount. In such an environment, evangelisation is a matter of rhetoric, when it should be a matter of dialectic (not in the Hegelian way, I’m thinking more along the lines of the distinction in the Protagoras). Big, powerful organisations are almost always full of sophists, and sophists know how to lure enquirers, seekers.

    The material community of believers, partaking of the formal character of the Church, will have to steer a course between claims to totality on the one hand, and licence for atomistic individualism on the other.

  3. Who are we trying to evangelise?

    Good question. In the US, you can walk one mile in any direction and stumble into a church. Often two, across the street from each other.

    You realize that Muslims come to the US and Europe to be good Muslims? You can try evangelizing them. Or the Buddhists. Or the Sikhs. Let me know what they tell you.

    We need to appeal to the heart, the aspiration to true freedom and the sense of sacredness.

    More or less, that’s pretty much what everybody says. Buddhists fast and pray. Hindus support traditional family. What are you offering that they are not?

    • You have a really good point. I would prefer to see someone remain a good Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, etc. than become a bad legalistic and materialistic Christian. We have nothing to offer than what they (the other religions) offer. Christianity does not offer but asks.

      All too often “evangelising” is just “marketing” to get paying customers to your church / business. The problem with Christianity is that it is designed to escape most people – and to appeal to a totally different way of seeing the world from that of the average materialist or political ideologue looking for a “spiritual Big Brother” to support the ideology.

      It’s all inside each one of us… We are children of the bond woman or the free woman.

  4. Being, as I am, a bear of very little brain, I like to say things as simply as I can. I’m afraid that I find big words like ‘evangelization’ to be more than a bit of a bother, so I break them down into simpler words.

    What you call ‘evangelization’, I call, ‘sharing the Good News’. Just what good news is it that we are sharing here? If it is, ‘go to this big church like a warehouse so that you can feel good about yourselves’, or ‘Let’s have Solemn High Tea’, or ‘let’s all pray in a tongue that none of us really know all that well’, then please forgive me if I give it all a pass.

    For me, the Good News is this: ‘Look, guys, the lot of us human folk are so arranged that the best we can get in this life is to do work we don’t like in order to live for a far shorter time than we would like, and then to die. And that’s that. But what if we might ally ourselves with God, so that we might live and learn and love and grow, and go on after our bodies die? And what if the way that we do this is to be kind and good and honest with other people while we are on our way? And what if our prayer along the way is good and strong and beautiful?’

    That’s why I stick around at this website. I see glimmerings of a priest who ‘gets it’: that we were made to live together, to love, to do beautiful things, and to go on. And to help other people along the way to do the same.

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