I grew up in the late 80s, an era that boasted great music, big hair, and the end of the Cold War. During the same years, the church celebrated evangelism. Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict dominated the scene. These evidential approach bore fruit in a modern society, and this made it tempting for Christian leaders to assume that if we could share the facts and declare the full gospel, our rational arguments would easily bring the lost to Christ.
But just as U2 and Cyndi Lauper gave way to new musical artists, older methods of evangelism were replaced with the changing times. This isn’t bad. It’s a beautiful reality. Shifts from modern to post-modern and even post-Christian ways of thinking in our culture require methods of sharing the gospel to change. But even as methods shift, the Bible gives us confidence to believe that Jesus remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. His good news that was relevant for Martin Luther in Wittenberg and the punk rocker in the 80s is also relevant for those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” today.
As the 90s and 2000s overtook the 80s, crimped hair and objective truth were both on the way out. Postmodernity took center stage. Instead of spiritual laws, people talked about truths that might “work for you, but not for me.” Evidence that once seemed to demand affirmation was now seen as relative.
Our methods of sharing the gospel must change with the times, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Postmodernism’s seismic shifts initially resulted in fear among church leaders, but ultimately, we discovered that the dangers of postmodernism were accompanied by opportunities. As the aftershocks of postmodernism’s de-emphasis on truth claims were felt by popular culture, the church’s approach to evangelism shifted. The focus of evangelism moved from the theological proclamations to conversations about the grand story of Scripture, and believers learned new ways of engaging people’s emotions and not merely their factual beliefs.
We discovered that feelings, stories, and dialogue all fit well with the good news. After all, God is the Creator of emotions, desires, community, and conversations. He is the divine Author of the greatest story ever told: the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for all who will follow him.
Just as the church’s evangelistic methods finally began to catch up to our postmodern context, in 2020 and 2021 the world around us shifted yet again. A pandemic, intense political polarity, and divisive racial realities have catapulted the church into churning cultural waters. There are new challenges to sharing the gospel, like hyperindividualism, remix religion, and cancel culture. Addressing these challenges will require additional shifts in our evangelistic methods.
One woman in our church has a lifelong non-Christian friend that she’s steadily cared for, prayed for, and shared the gospel with since middle school. But hasn’t been apologetic conversations that have reached her friend. Rather, through experiencing faithful friendship and hospitality, this woman is beginning to see the hopeless cycle of cancel culture in light of the gospel. She’s beginning to see that love is different because of Jesus.
Two leaders in our church have been meeting with a young man who is a self-proclaimed “spiritual but not religious” skeptic. This man was post-Christian and biblically illiterate, so we didn’t begin by inviting him to a talk where he’d hear the full gospel metanarrative. Evangelism has meant slow, whole-life discipleship. After many conversations about the Bible, he’s beginning to see that the loneliness he feels points to a deep longing to belong to God’s family.
A third friend was intrigued by Jesus, but his secular upbringing and individualistic outlook kept him distant. No prepared gospel presentations won him. It wasn’t until he was betrayed by his wife and he encountered the winsome boldness of friends and family that he saw his need for God and community and experienced the power of God’s forgiveness.
Gospel Hope Remains Steadfast
Though evangelistic methods may change from decade to decade, our hope for the lost remains sure. We have the rock-solid truth that Jesus will build his church and hell’s gates will not prevail (Matt. 16:18). We have the promise that what’s impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27). We’re brought back to the unshakable foundation that though we plant and water, he causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). As we pray to the Father, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us, and he is at work to convict the world of sin (Rom. 8:26, John 16:8). The newest challenges to evangelism will be like chaff blown in the wind because the Spirit blows where he wills (John 3:8) to bring new life.
The newest challenges to evangelism will be like chaff blown in the wind because the Spirit blows where he wills to bring new life.
In Acts 26, Paul tells King Agrippa about his conversion. Two words appear in verse 14 that we can easily miss. Paul says, “We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (NIV). The fact that Jesus’s words are spoken in Aramaic is significant because this was the language Saul grew up speaking and hearing. Immigrants who have lived for decades in a new country still light up when they hear someone speaking their native tongue. Though the cultural language that’s spoken may change, the same Jesus still speaks, meeting people in their unique places and times.
When Christ speaks, he condescends to every nation, tribe, and tongue. He speaks intelligibly in the language of the elect! The same God who broke through to a Hebrew of Hebrews will speak through cancel culture, infidelity, and shallow spirituality. This same Jesus who has opened eyes in every age will open eyes anew today and tomorrow.