Evangelism in a Postmodern World, Part 1: The Significance of Evangelism

This is part 1 in a three-part series.

About this series: Evangelism in our increasingly postmodern world is a complex and multifaceted endeavor, as members of churches and Christian outreach ministries strive to proclaim the message of salvation and newness of life in Christ in relevant and effective ways. Becoming familiar with reasons evangelism is significant, approaches to evangelism, and arenas in which it occurs can greatly enhance the effectiveness of outreach and evangelism ministries.


Near the end of his life, Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, arrived at this conclusion:

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.”1 This quote underscores that without God, humanistic answers to the questions of earthly existence are ultimately reduced to naïve platitudes.

Perspective

The Scriptures paint a sobering and realistic portrait of the human condition. People delude themselves with short-term aspirations and pleasures, but a brutally honest analysis of life on this side of the grave without hope on the other side would lead to despair. If death ends all, then human life is a mere incident in an indifferent universe, a meaningless blip in cosmic time.

In his “Speech to the Graduates,”2 Woody Allen confronted this dilemma with ironic humor:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of human existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism.

Woody Allen’s statement is simultaneously humorous and tragic, depicting as it does the corporate and individual human condition without a transcendent and timeless foundation for meaning.

Contrast Woody Allen’s comments with Ecclesiastes 3:11, which tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts. Since this is so, people have deeply embedded desires for meaning and fulfillment that no natural happiness will satisfy. In “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis observed:

Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

Henry David Thoreau once noted that while people in our culture are reading The New York Times, we should instead be reading the eternities. The more we develop a biblical perspective, the clearer we see the true emptiness and hopelessness of people without Christ.

Purpose

Those whom Jesus has found know that life has a purpose. But even believers tend to forget the important because of the clamor of the urgent. Like the Israelites who disbelieved God at Kadesh Barnea and wandered in the wilderness as the years raced by (Numbers 32:7–9; Deuteronomy 2:14), our lives can become wildernesses of routine and crowded schedules. While the urgent tasks call for immediate attention, we can overlook the important things, since they can always be deferred. We rationalize our postponement of the important by letting the good become the enemy of the best.

We need a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12); if we blind ourselves to reality, our whole value system will be distorted. The eternal is what gives meaning to the temporal. It is when we live in light of our true destiny that we see our calling and purpose from a biblical perspective. Instead of asking, “What will I leave behind me?” it is better to ask, “What am I going to send ahead?” As ambassadors of Christ, we have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16–21) in a lost and dying world.


“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” —Henry David Thoreau3


The Lord Jesus summarized the purpose of His earthly life in these impassioned statements:

  • “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
  • “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

When we resonate with our Lord’s purpose, we lay hold of an enduring legacy. To that end, the purposes of our earthly sojourn as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) is spiritual growth and reproduction. We are called to growing conformity with Christ, and the trials and obstacles of this life are designed to produce in us a Christ-like character, as we learn to depend more and more on him. We are also called to the sublime privilege of reproducing the life of Christ in others.

God has seen fit to use ordinary people like us to accomplish his extraordinary work of creating eternal life where formerly there was darkness and death. To communicate the Word of life directly to those whom he foreknew would have been easy for him, but he entrusted us instead with the priceless message of the Good News. What greater calling can we have than to be used by the living God as spiritual obstetricians and pediatricians?

God has seen fit to use ordinary people like us to accomplish his extraordinary work of creating eternal life where formerly there was darkness and death. —Ken Boa

Priority

Human works quickly erode and evaporate, but the works we invite the eternal God to do in and through us abide forever. Scripture urges us to invest in eternity by making God’s purposes our highest priority. In his parting words to his disciples, Jesus strongly stressed the priority of spiritual multiplication (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). Seeking the lost was central to our Lord’s own teaching and ministry (Luke 15), and he wanted this to be a central thrust in the lives of his followers.

This desire to reach the lost was also the heartbeat of the apostle Paul’s teaching and example (1 Corinthians 9:19–27; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21). At the end of his life, Paul told Timothy that he had fought the good fight and finished the course (2 Timothy 4:7–8). Like Jesus, he set about his Father’s business by making a priority of seeing others enter the kingdom. He even went so far as to say that he could be willing to be accursed if it would mean the salvation of his Jewish kinsmen (Romans 9:1–3). Many believers are not willing to go across the street for their unsaved friends. Unless evangelism is a priority in our lives, it is unlikely that it will even be a part of our lives.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. —2 Timothy 4:7–8

Series NavigationEvangelism in a Postmodern World, Part 2: Approaches >>

Footnotes

  1. Quoted in Richard Carlson, What About the Big Stuff?: Finding Strength and Moving Forward When the Stakes Are High (New York, 2002), 293, Hachette Books.
  2. Woody Allen, ‘My Speech To the Graduates’ (New York, August 10, 1979), The New York Times. Accessed November 2, 2017 at http://www.nytimes.com/1979/08/10/archives/my-speech-to-the-graduates.html.
  3. From Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).