Can We Evangelize Late Modern Culture?

by Jonathan Dodson

(Editor’s note: This is the 8th in a 10-part series on how our evangelistic witness looks different than it did a generation ago.)

Jonathan Dodson, post-modern culture, evangelism in a post-Christian cultureMany Christians can identify the good in Christianity but wonder if it really has to be pushed on others. Do we have to evangelize? Is it even considerate?

Think of a non-Christian that you know. He or she probably has a job, drives a car or depends on modern transportation of some sort, puts away savings for the future, and uses a computer every day. He or she is modern. However, it’s likely that his or her job, home, perhaps spouse, or even circle of friends has changed in the last five to ten years.

His or her identity is in flux, nomadic. Things that have traditionally been seen as static—gender, sexuality, vocation, spouses, and values are now dynamic, interchangeable. This is late modern culture, a society that is physically modern, but socially liquid. The new ethic is to accept this liquidity.

How can we share the gospel with late modern people? We cannot assume a shared, sturdy traditional foundation from which to dialog. We have to be careful about assumptions. Also, people in flux want to be heard. We are shaped by a constant conversation, or information flow—the Internet and social media. This flow travels through our devices and our minds subtly reshaping our priorities, values, morals, and sense of worth.

People in flux want to talk about change, to narrate personal and social twists and turns. If we are to communicate the gospel to late modern people effectively, we must listen to them.

And here is the question people in your church are silently asking: “Is it plausible to evangelize in late modern culture?” Do we have to evangelize? Is it even considerate?

In late modernity, religious expression is curtailed. Take, for instance, the restriction of hijabs in France, or running a business with Christian values in America. A politically correct culture praises tolerance and denounces conviction, except for the conviction of tolerance. So while it may seem patently obvious that evangelism is plausible (after all, there are four gospel commissions at the end of each of the four Gospels), not all Christians are convinced by biblical mandates.

Preaching to the will, while bypassing the heart, will not cut it for late moderns. In a culture where we are encouraged to find “what’s true for you,” is it plausible to preach a message that is “true for all?”

Say you’re talking to someone with a struggle or issue. To help, you recommend he or she sees the problem in a different light. You offer a different perspective. What are you doing? In a subtle way, you are challenging his or her beliefs. Now, if your friend is particularly bad off (severe anxiety, addiction, depression), you might actually insist they heed your advice by getting help, seeing a counselor, or checking into rehab. What are you doing? You’re trying to convert him or her to your way of thinking. You’re evangelizing.

Now, why? Because you are bigoted, narrow, and uncaring? No, because you care. You love this person and want him or her to experience healing and freedom. So you see, everyone evangelizes. Conversion isn’t just a Christian activity; it’s a human activity. We all proselytize what we prefer. We talk about what we are taken with.

Everybody, at different times and places, tries to convert others to their way of thinking. So, is evangelism plausible? Absolutely. It’s innately human to convert others to what we find to be true, meaningful, entertaining, or beautiful. We do this all the time with the books, sports, movies, and experiences we love. We talk about them because we are taken with them. We try to get others to join in—to read the book, see the movie.

How much more should we talk about the sublime and suffering Savior, Jesus Christ? Once we’ve made a case for evangelism (and you’ll need to do it with your church), the next question then becomes: Is the object of conversion truly true, really meaningful, totally beautiful? Will it always satisfy? Get to that and you’ve got a gospel conversation on your hands.

 

Jonathan-Dodson-2Jonathan Dodson (@Jonathan_Dodson) founded City Life Church in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. They have three children. He is author of several books including The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing and Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. He is also the founder of GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com. More info at jonathandodson.org.