I Once Was Lost

CT has a review of a new book that describes ways of engaging in evangelism with young, post-moderns. The book is entitled, “Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus” by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp (don’t know who they are??).
A quote from the CT review: “Everts and Schaupp’s thesis is this: Postmoderns respond best to evangelists who allow for and encourage a process… The label postmodern is held loosely, meant simply to describe ‘how things are right now,’ rather than to conform to a technical definition.”
When I was doing campus ministry work among European students, particularly Germans, the one thing that distinguished the attitudes of German/European students from Americans was their insistence on truly working through and understanding the decision to become a Christian. Sometimes, a person may be in a ministry for a couple years and actively engaged, but would not describe him/herself as a Christ. That was okay with the leadership, because they knew that when the student did make a decision, it was real and would probably be life-long. They went through a process, and I think the patience with and trust of the process was very good.
It was very frustrating to many American students that come to Germany because they were used to call for and expecting decisions to “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” right then and there. Just get them to say the prayer, and everything will be okay. As anyone who has been involved in evangelism and discipleship of American college students can tell you, the spur of the moment decision to follow Jesus often means seed falling on rocky or thorny soil. They go no where, and in the end often think that their experience IS the Christ-centered life. The experience is a very deficient form of Christian religion, but little of Christian faith and the Christ centered life.
The process is good! All of life in Christ is a process that never ends – for the good. If the hard won process brings freedom, peace, beauty, joy, then bring it on! That is what makes the life in Christ so intriguing and non-boring (if we allow God to work in us and do in us what is necessary!). There is always something new, always a challenge, always a renewal of things.
This is one reason why I like the approach Anglicanism generally takes (including Anglican-Evangelicalism, but often not the American-Evangelical part of Anglicanism). There is an understanding of and allowance for process and the good that results. (Some people go to far with process, however, by never expecting or calling for decision making, often simply bringing people in the door with nothing happening thereafter.)
When we allow for process, we need to recognize that people in all parts of the process will be with us. This is messy. It doesn’t sit well with the sensibility of Americans who are so now-oriented and desirous of instant-gratification (and self-righteous perfectionism at times). People in the process who haven’t come to the point where they can honestly and with integrity commit their life to Christ, but who are seriously seeking, often don’t act or think like we believe Christians should act or think.
Some people can’t handle this – some expressions of the faith can’t handle it. Anglicans can, and I think this is why we have a lot of people in our midst who are seeking but aren’t there yet. There is an allowance for being wrong, confused, and just not sure. This is one reason, I think, that the Episcopal Church is messy and misunderstood. This is also why, I think, so many people want to look at the Episcopal Church and yell heresy or apostasy or whatever.
I well understand why this kind of messy environment makes people feel a bit insecure, uncomfortable, or fearful. I get caught in that trap, too. I think sometimes I have to defend God, as if I know full well what God thinks and have to protect His wishes against the onslaught of the Enemies of God (which are, who?). How funny. Really, how funny. Anyway, I understand why it is far easier to cast dispersions on people who can’t check off a list of criteria that “proves” their Christianhood, and thus worthy of fellowship with those who are “in,” then to be involved in the struggle, the ambiguity, and the patient seriousness of the process people must go through either on the forefront of the decision or as an after-thought. It is better for the struggle to come before the decision, than after.
I’ve seen too many people who deal with the struggles of the Christians faith afterward and end up having their faith shipwrecked. Christianity isn’t a marketing scheme. It is a transformational process that requires not buying into something (a system), but giving up everything. While we have to hear again and again how evil is the Episcopal Church, I frankly would much rather be around people who are notorious sinners but are honestly curious and desirous of God than those who smugly gloat over being one of the select, the saved, the righteous. (Isn’t that what Jesus did – which might well fall into ideas of orthopraxis.)
I’m glad I’m an Anglican!