We live in a Christ-haunted world. We know this because our culture expresses a longing for an everlasting afterlife through its obsession of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Our culture celebrates these things in popular books, movies, and television shows. Each year on Halloween we dress up our children in costumes glorifying and commemorating that which lives forever, no matter how ghoulish those things may be. These things are signs that we recognize life as good and death as bad. The ghoulishness expressed in the undead, symbolizes the sin that leads to our unfortunate death, but it forgets and neglects the hope we have as Christians in an everlasting, beautiful, and joyful life through Christ’s death and resurrection.
- Why Does This Matter?
As Christian ministers, we have a duty to evangelize and share the Good News of Christ’s glorious triumph over death which leads to everlasting joy and life with Him. And, when we evangelize, we must do so through a culture that is familiar to those to whom we are evangelizing. We cannot begin our evangelization with, as Bishop Robert Barron says, “a finger wagging no.” By taking away the culture of those to whom we are evangelizing, we take away the foundation they have built their life upon. This will only lead others to become defensive and fearful of what we have to say. When evangelizing we must first build a trusting relationship by praising what is good and filling the existing void, the longing for Christ, with God’s goodness.
- What Does Scripture Say?
Consider The Parable of Weeds Among Wheat in Matthew’s Gospel:
… The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sew good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from? He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
(Mt. 13:24-30, NRSV)
In this parable Jesus warns us to not destroy the evil right away. We learn through the descriptive aspects of the parable that evil is akin to a parasite which lives off a healthy body. Evil lives off good and as a result, it is difficult for anyone to remove evil without also destroying that which is good. While there are evils that must be addressed right away, sometimes, as this parable shows us, it is better to leave them alone for a while, and in the meantime, harvest the good until it is strong enough to withstand the removal of the evil.
This is what we need to do when evangelizing the culture today. We need to first harvest what is good—the unknowing longing for Christ in the culture and the everlasting life he offers us. But what does this look like? How do we go about evangelizing a culture that we have many disagreements with?
- Find Common Ground
We must begin by finding a ground for agreement and remember who we are talking to.Everyone we encounter is a child of God who has goodness in them. Everyone needs to be given love, dignity, respect, and compassion. Constantly pointing out a person’s wrongs and flaws puts them on the defensive. It makes them feel attacked and feel as if we do not value them or their viewpoints. When we begin our evangelization by finding a foundation on which we can agree, and validating the good within them, we are affirming that person’s human dignity. When a person feels respected, they are more open minded to what we want to say. The grounds of agreement can be through anything. It does not have to be a theological agreement. (Though theological agreements are great beginnings!) It can be that we both like a book, movie, or sport. Once we find something that we both believe is good, true, and beautiful, we can then find a way to relate that good thing to Christ. Perhaps the book or movie has biblical, Christ-like themes of forgiveness and redemption. Perhaps we can relate the teamwork within the favored sport to how the body of Christ works. Whatever the agreement is, we should begin there. We should validate the good, true, and beautiful. Once we have built a solid foundation of mutual respect and love and once, we have introduced what is good, true, and beautiful, then we can present the things we disagree upon.
Ministers of the Gospel have an obligation to speak within the culture they preach, just as Christ incarnate speaks to us wherever we are.