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Hope For Evangelism In A Secular Age

by Akos Balogh

             Christians are often seen as “moral outlaws” in 2019 Australia. We’re now being pressured to leave our ‘bigoted’ views behind, at least out of the public square. And the temptation for Christians is to panic and become alarmist, as if God has forfeited His divine rule over the West.

             So how do we live as Christians in this brave new world? How do we evangelise in this increasingly alien context?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Nexus Conference in Sydney, co-hosted by The Gospel Coalition Australia. Pastor Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington D.C. was one of the speakers (among several fine Aussie speakers). Dever – who lives in one of the most secular corners of the USA – made many important observations about evangelising in this post-Christian world.

1) Remember That Churches Exist To Work For Supernatural Change

We’re preaching the gospel to the graveyard.

While culture has shifted away from Judeo-Christian worldview that undergirded the western world, one thing has not changed: Human beings are just as spiritually dead now as they have ever been.

Non-Christians are no more spiritually dead now in this post-Christian age, than they were in Calvin’s Geneva, or 1950’s Australia. Spiritual death is the natural condition of human beings since Genesis 3, and so it’s no harder now to raise dead people, than it was in Jerusalem as Peter preached to the masses (Acts 2). We’re proclaiming the gospel to a graveyard: we always have been, and until the return of the Lord Jesus, we always will be.

In that crucial sense, evangelism has not changed one bit, despite the massive cultural shifts we’re experiencing.

2) Persecution is Normal for Christians

Jesus promised his followers they would be persecuted by the world

Back in high school, the worst pressure I experienced was being called a few names (e.g. ‘Bible Basher’). Not exactly pleasant for a sensitive teenage soul, but I survived. Then I joined the army, and the pressure got a little more intense, but again it was little more than words. I think my experience as a Christian in the secular culture of that day was typical.

Fast forward to 2019 Australia, and our fear of persecution has skyrocketed. We’re more attuned to it now than ever before. And yet, persecution was the promise Jesus gave to his followers (John 15).  We westerners have simply had a long reprieve for the last few hundred years.

And so, we need to shift our expectations, and be ready for persecution in whatever form it comes.

But is ‘persecution’ too strong a word for what we’re experiencing (and likely to experience)? Isn’t persecution the violent, physical opposition that many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing in, say, the Middle East or North Korea? 

As Dever pointed out, 1 Peter speaks about Christians who ‘share Christ’s sufferings’ (i.e. are persecuted) in 1 Peter 4:12. But the sort of persecution the readers of 1 Peter were experiencing was being ‘insulted’ for the name of Christ. In other words, insults for being a Christian are a form of persecution.

But why are Christians persecuted?

Dever made the interesting point that it’s often secondary issues that elicit persecution. We don’t feel pressured today because of our belief in justification by faith alone, or because we confess Christ as the only Lord and Saviour. We experience opposition because of secondary issues, such as our convictions around human sexuality.

Yet through it all, the Bible never encourages Christians to play the victim card. While it’s tempting to do so, we need to remember that persecution is often used by God to spread the gospel. For example, the Philippian church was started because Paul and Silas had spent time there in jail. Jesus promised his disciples that persecution – in particular government persecution – would lead to opportunities for gospel witness (Lk 21:10-19). And the gospel spread out from Jerusalem because persecution forced the Christians to scatter further afield (Acts 8).

(Part 2 next week)