The Gospel and Pluralism Today, edited by Scott W. Sunquist and Amos Yong is worth reading for the chapter by Carrie Boren Headington entitled Evangelism in a Pluralistic Society. She describes sharing her faith in the dining hall of an Oxford college during a university mission and then applies the insights of Lesslie Newbigin’s groundbreaking work The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. Newbigin grapples with the challenge of evangelism in our modern Western culture where there are competing and often clashing worldviews. He identifies the problem as presenting Christianity as being reasonable and logical to gain some credibility with a scientific worldview. This leads to the dilution of Christianity because it deals only with propositional truths of an intellectual ideology that does not permeate the whole of life.
Headington remembers a message by Antoine Rutayisire, the dean of the Anglican Cathedral of Kigali, Rwanda at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. He posed the question regarding his country, “How is it that a country whose population was cited as 90 percent Christian could collapse into genocide?” He rooted the problem in how Christianity was initially presented and then taught in Africa by many Western missionaries. The difficulty originated with the evangelistic message itself. He said that because the gospel was presented as a set of propositional truths, the fullness of the gospel was not grasped. The Rwandans were given Christian information but neither the message nor the tools for transformation. As a result, when it came to facing tribal battles, the Rwandans resorted to their traditional tribal way of thinking and handling conflict. The Rwandans were given a gospel in narrow, modernistic, propositional terms that did not incorporate the whole of life. The way we evangelize is not only a matter of eternal life; it is a matter of life and death, here and now.
She goes on to claim that when truth is made a private and personal matter only, a question of making a commitment that concerns only the benefits for the believer, it causes relational and communal havoc. Christianity then has no application to life in the public world but is confined to personal values. Jesus is presented as filling an inner void to give us a better life, a fulfilled spirituality, and, in some circles, even financial success.
In contrast the Bible story climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus as a public figure and an historical fact is a call to a new way of life. It is a call to conversion. The local church and its members are the bearers of this story through their lives. The church is God’s embassy and its members are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor.5:20). Training the ambassadors for evangelism should be the heart of the entire life of the church.
Headington shares how churches in the Dallas area are implementing this vision. She has established the Good News Initiative and may be contacted through www.carrieheadington.com.