The latest EFC survey numbers are in and they aren’t pretty. Canada is increasingly trending towards secularism. This is probably not a surprise to many. I remember reading a blog by John Stackhouse in reference to the 2011 Statistics Canada census data. He made the observation that, as piety in Canada has evaporated, Canadians have raced the Dutch for the fastest de-Christianization since the French Revolution. It’s a pan-Canadian quiet revolution as older people slowly but surely abandon Christian identity while an increasing number of younger people have never known the inside of a church and are in no hurry to see it.

To me this development signals the great need not only for evangelism, but also to re-think our evangelistic understanding. Changes in our cultural context don’t mean we should give up on evangelism. Indeed, the mission of God is evangelistic by nature, to abandon evangelism is to abandon that mission. Bosch makes the point in this way, “I have called evangelism the ‘heart’ of mission. If you cut the heart out of a body, that body becomes a corpse. With evangelism cut out, mission dies; it ceases to be mission.”[1]

The problem with our evangelism efforts – though some may argue that there has been very little effort and wouldn’t be far off the mark! – is that the evangelism we conceive of when we hear that term was shaped by the imagination of Christendom. John Bowen notes that the word “evangelism” was coined in the sixteenth century and “the first reference to it in the writings, not of a theologian, nor even an evangelist, but of Francis Bacon, one of the inventors of the scientific method. That alone should be a clue to the fact that maybe ‘evangelism’ is due for an overhaul.”[2]

Our failure to reflect well theologically upon what is arguably most important to the Mission of God, has resulted in an ever-decreasing engagement with evangelism by younger generations as the old paradigm of evangelism becomes increasingly irrelevant and disconnected from the secular world we now inhabit. It does not help that they encounter the sense that, for many in older generations, the means of evangelism have become as sacred, if not more so, than the evangel itself.

So where should we start when trying to think (or re-think) about evangelism? As with the mission, evangelism starts with God. Our God is an evangelistic God. Evangelism’s focus needs to repent from its anthropocentricity! Evangelism is not first about getting people into heaven. Getting them saved is something we can’t do in any case since saving people is exclusive to God. It is first about faithfully incarnating the evangelistic nature of God Himself. The fruit from our evangelistic faithfulness is God’s prerogative.

If God is to be known, if His glory is to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, then giving up on evangelism is not even an option. We must evangelize! But we must do it as God does it, imitating God in our means and motivated by His own evangelistic motivation.

Evangelism will look different in a post-Christendom, secularized society but Forge Canada is not giving up on evangelism. No doubt it will be harder and messier than in times past, but evangelism is non-optional. It is intrinsic to the mission to which the church has been called.

[1] Bosch, “Evangelism: Theological Currents and Cross-Currents Today,” 10.

[2] Bowen, Evangelism for Normal People, 13.

Share This