Evangelism as a Stumbling Block

How do you reach the “unchurched” or “postmoderns,” those skeptical of religion, or having had bad experiences, or who don’t find religious categories meaningful?

Rod Dreher links to Amy Welborn who links to Dawn Eden to join in skewering “emerging church” practices and uplifting liturgical church approaches.

If we are going to evangelize those people who really need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ today, will this work–or might this be appropriate?

In fact, this isn’t an “emerging church” vs. “liturgical church” dispute. “Liturgical churches” have also been doing the same kind of outreach–but instead of it taking place on a Sunday morning, it’s taken place on weeknights. Consider the Catholic program “Theology on Tap,” or young adult programs like that I developed in Houston, “Cafe Catholica.”

These folks are complaining about using a bed as a prop–well, we did that in Cafe Catholica 2000. The theme was “Let’s Get Intimate,” and the speakers were Joe and Cinda DeVet and Fr. Sean Horrigan. The young adults from St. Laurence Church in Sugar Land decided to go with a “breakfast in bed” theme for the food that night, and they dressed in pajamas and bathrobes and served breakfast foods, and brought in a bed to serve as a prop for the stage.

The critics have an insular version of church, it seems to me. Doing church, for them, is keeping the tradition and the ritual and the lingo that has been passed down. It is comforting. But it can be narcissistic. Where is the sense of mission? Where is the sense of having a message to take to the world? Where is the urgency of saving lost souls?

Some Catholics and mainline Protestants do have that. That’s why programs have been developed to reach out to young adults and postmoderns. These evangelical and “emerging” churches are doing no different. This has a Biblical basis in Paul’s determination that he would become all things to all people in hopes of saving some. Isaac Hecker got it in the 19th century. Why do some people have such a hard time with it …?

One thought on “Evangelism as a Stumbling Block

  1. This is an interesting debate. I read part of the debate on Dawn Eden’s blog. The alternative, outreaches that you mention being used by Catholics had the purpose of drawing people to the liturgical celebration of Eucharist, the source and summit, within the Catholic Church. If a priest introduced a bed as a prop during the celebration of Mass it would raise an eyebrow if not a few questions. Eden also contrasted the attitude taken by the pastor who used the bed as a prop and the “Theology of the body” of JPII. Informality in worship is something that concerns a lot of people. I believe that there would be less desire for the “extraordinary form” if there was reverence or formality in the ordinary form but thats another story. I am just a dyed in the wool Catholic. I am all for outreaches but I believe that it should draw people into the community where they worship God as a body. I never liked the idea of “youth masses” with or without drum kits. World Youth Days and National Catholic Youth Conferences are short events that offer catechesis but prepare participants to return to their parishes.

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