Book Review: The Evangelicals You Don’t Know (part 2)

This is part two if my review of The Evangelicals You Don’t Know by Tom Krattenmaker (read part 1 here).

Chapter Three

In chapter three, Tom introduces us to Jim Henderson.   Jim is known best as the guy who “bought the soul” of Hemant Mehta on eBay (click here for more on that).

Henderson’s passion was “chasing souls and starting churches”.   This led to evangelism.  Over time, however, Henderson was “hearing a grating dissonance between the gospel he deeply believed and the way his behavior was representing it” (37).   “He was manipulating conversations to set up a pitch.”  So he stopped.

Now Henderson describes himself as “an ex-Christian trying to find Jesus” and “an evangelical on a mission to rescue Jesus from religion and take him public.” (41)

Grating dissonance

Krattenmaker explains that the dissonance between the gospel and Henderson’s evangelism is caused by the post-modern shift.  The location and transmission of authority shifted.  Authority used to be centralized, institutionalized and limited.  Due to the internet, information – and thus authority – has been set free.  Today, people are not limited to pastors, teachers, politicians and limited media outlets for their information.  They can go straight to multiple sources and they can disseminate their own ideas freely.   This, according to Krattenmaker, changed everything.  James Davison Hunter says, “We know more and as a consequence we no longer trust the authority of traditional institutions who used to be the carriers of moral ideals.” (38)    Today, truth is “negotiated, discerned, defined and changed” within networks.  (38)

Therefore, “religious truth assertions, and the usual manner of making them, simply do not connect the way they once did.” This is why Henderson’s old way of evangelizing turned to grating dissonance.   Krattenmaker writes, “Old methods seem to be answering questions that society is not asking, in language fewer people understand, and ignoring the questions that are burning in people’s consciences.” (39)

Jonathan Merritt says,

Americans ask themselves many questions.  They wonder how they can build a strong family and nurture a healthy marriage in a world where both seem to be in increasingly short supply.  As society fills with airbrushed fakes and facades, they want to know how to live a life of authenticity.  Many desire to know how to make an imprint on the world that can outlive them.  And they are looking for vibrant, personal spiritual encounter with God – perhaps without the baggage of institutional religion.  But many efforts to evangelize don’t address such things.  Could it be that the decline in Christian conversion is due, in part, to misguided evangelism efforts? (40)

 

All Bait, No Switch

What has to go?  An “Im right, your wrong” starting point.   “Why would anyone want to enter a ‘conversation’ when it was established from the start that one party was in the light and the other in the dark?” (42)

What else has to go?  “…well meaning condescension, a la speaking of the unconverted as ‘lost’, is a poor advertisement for Jesus and a surefire turn-off for would-be listeners.” (42)

Anything else? Yes!  Don’t treat “atheists, agnostics, non-evangelical Christians, or followers of other faiths as ‘projects’!”

Henderson recommends that faith promotors check in with God and check themselves with this question:

Does my continued contact and eventual friendship with my conversation partner rest on their eventual conversion?  Am I willing to stay in relationship with a person even if it is clearly not leading to her or his becoming a Christian?

A Verdict that Demands Evidence

How does Henderson approach “doable evangelism”?  He borrows language from Shane Claiborne: Christians need to do fascinating things.  He speaks of Jesus using words like “scandalous” and “intoxicating”.  He asks questions, like this one from Krattenmaker, “…what if Christians came to be known as the people who were radically helpful?” (46)  Henderson says things like…

  • Be unusually interested in others
  • Stay in the room with difference
  • Refuse to compare “my best with your worst”
  • Ignore conservative/liberal labels
  • Identify with groups reviled and marginalized by American culture

According to Paul Metzger, the assertion that ” ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a verdict that demands evidence in our lives.” (46)  Without such evidence, why would anyone give the verdict a first hearing, let along a second or third or fourth?

Where’s the Switch (i.e the conversion)?

Krattenmaker asks the million dollar question: “Does Henderson’s model even qualify as ‘evangelical’?” (47)

But here’s a better one: What will make Jesus known? Henderson claims that marketing methods work.  If we can connect Jesus as the answer to the questions people are asking Jesus will be made known. Krattenmaker sums up Henderson by saying, “The needless tragedy in all this is that Jesus can be an answer, if the evangelist can figure out the question.” (48)

Still, does the result of Henderson’s approach result in anything resembling conversion?    Mehta (the atheist who sold his soul) says, “It’s not that we think the progressive Christians are right about God – they’re still wrong – but their beliefs are relatively benign.  They are not the type of dogmatic, delusional-thinking people that we’re so used to associating with Christians.” (49)

Krattenmaker concludes that Henderson’s approach does include a “switch” after all.   That switch is this…

It’s the switch that gradually happens in the hearts and minds of the unconverted and unconvinced as they get a better idea about Christians and Christianity and a better notion of what becomes possible when they join forces with these people to accomplish good.

NT Wright Saves the Day

Krattenmaker saves the day with this….

As N.T. Wright asks, doesn’t it seem ‘laughable’ that Christians would proclaim the audacious news ‘that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil, corruption, and death itself have been defeated, and that God’s new world has begun?’  Indeed it is laughable, Wright concludes – unless, that is, these things are already happening.  ‘If a church is…actively involved in seeking justice in the world,’ he writes, ‘ if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community, then suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense.’

N.T. Wright always makes things sound better, doesn’t he?

Question

Krattenmaker does a good job of exploring Henderson’s doable evangelism, the reasons behind it, the cultural forces that make it necessary and the possible deficiencies of the approach.

The question:  Is the switch that Krattenmaker identifies really a proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God?

Is the point of proclamation simply a rebranding strategy for Christians who have gotten a bad wrap?   Or is it what Wright is getting at: a lived expression of the reality of the Kingdom of God in our midst?

The later I can get behind.  The former leaves me cold.

What do you think?

 

 

 

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