by York Moore
(Editor’s note: This is the final in a 10-part series on how our evangelistic witness looks different than it did a generation ago.)
It is clear that we have moved into the early stages of a post-Christian culture. Everything has changed or is changing. The pace of change has increased—we can now count on outliving our own inventions and innovations.
We can count on the stock markets ups and downs and weather forecasts and explosive news headlines to be bigger, more radical, and more record-breaking than ever before. We are living in an age of transition and hyperbole.
When it comes to the impact of change on the Church, however, this isn’t all bad! In many ways, the perception for too long that America was Christianized and the missional savior for the rest of the world was not only false, but it kept the Church from being the Church. The loss of power and voice the Church has enjoyed in America can feel unsettling and scary. Here are my top five reasons why the increased secularization of America is actually good news for the Church and good news for evangelism.
- The gospel always spreads through eras of destabilization. Before the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, the church in Jerusalem was growing in power, reputation, and impact. It seemed as if the mission was succeeding. However, God used the death of Stephen in Acts 8:1 to scatter His people and begin an evangelism revolution that would propel the Church into Judea and Samaria and the rest of the world. In Acts 8:2, Luke says, “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” This phenomenon of persecution, displacement, and loss of power throughout church history has always led to a proliferation of gospel movements and so it will be in our age.
- People are more open to being influenced from messengers with nothing to lose than lots to lose. The good news of tomorrow will come from women and men who have suffered loss—loss of promotions, academic elevation, notoriety, and the affirmation of relatives and neighbors. For most of us in the West, there has been little cost to following Jesus thus far. In fact, in some places being a church-going person helps business and strengthens networks. As we begin to live into the cost of the gospel (something our sisters and brothers in the Majority World know well), we will gain a credibility and platform we have rarely had in America.
- A loss of power causes us to rely more on the power of the gospel. Paul tells his friends in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 that the gospel came to them not in word only, but also in power, with the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. When we have non-profit class protection, million-dollar jumbotrons, and multi-million-dollar buildings, there really isn’t much need to rely on the simple things of the gospel like supernatural, Spirit-filled power. Full conviction in the good news of Jesus manifests most fully, however, in women and men who are reliant on the power of God. A loss of worldly power will ween us away from evangelistic methods that depend little on the power of God and much on our own access and privilege.
- We innovate and adapt during times of challenge and persecution. For two years, the organization I work for, InterVarsity USA, was ‘de-recognized’ on America’s largest state-run university school system—Cal State. Cal State’s 21 campuses had 19 chapters of InterVarsity before our de-recognition, forcing our students and staff to operate underground—to innovate and adapt or die. The de-recognition came as a result of our insistence that leader selection be based on our theological convictions born on scripture. We held our ground, but paid the price. Not surprisingly, however, when the Cal State system reinstated InterVarsity, not only had our chapters survived, but most actually grew and several had record numbers of students coming to faith in Christ! This was without access to public space, student organization funding, and events.
- The good news is still the good news; it is now just ‘gooder’ good news than ever before. Growing up as an African-American in Detroit, I never understood why the TV show “Happy Days” was called by that name. From my perspective, the 1950s didn’t seem all that happy at all. The television show seemed to depict an America who was wealthy, white, and wonderful. I wonder what the good news has to offer people who live in a Happy Days reality? In our turbulent times, when our voice and access and perceived power are waning, the gospel has not changed; it’s just that this good news is now gooder than ever before. Difficulty makes us long for God, long for the future Kingdom of God, and work passionately in mission.
I wonder: As we transition out of a Happy Days world, what kind of idols in our churches and lives will surface? In this transition, how will our hope change, what metrics will we use to assess success, and how we will adapt? The good news of a secularized, post-Christian era is still the same; it is now just gooder good news to us as we wait, work, and hope.
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away and Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. Learn more: http://tellthestory.net