Tim Keller penned the following words in a March 12, 2020 CHRISTIAN LIVING article entitled, “How to Reach the West (Again).” He wrote: “We are entering a new era in which there is not only no social benefit to being Christian, but an actual social cost. In many places, culture is becoming increasingly hostile toward faith, and beliefs in God, truth, sin, and the afterlife are disappearing in more and more people. Now, culture is producing people for whom Christianity is not only offensive, but incomprehensible.” Keller suggests that this new reality demands a new “missionary encounter” that connects, confronts and converts.
Here are the five elements of a new missionary encounter:
Element 1: Thinking Ourselves Clear About the Culture’s Promises
Keller calls this “Christian High Theory.” It is doing the hard work of naming the shallowness of a culture in which values are relative, relationships are transactional, identities are fragile and fulfillment is disappointing. The Christian Gospel of grace, promise-keeping, unconditional love and Christian virtue must be held up as a better way to live.
Element 2: Developing A Post-Christian Evangelistic Strategy
The old evangelistic strategy began with God, truth, sin and the afterlife. Those emphases have little relevance for a post-Christian mindset. A better approach engages people’s present answers to life’s meaning, true satisfaction, real freedom, finding our unique identity, addressing guilt, seeking justice and discovering an eternal future. All this leads to the Gospel’s bad news (we are sinners and cannot save ourselves) and good news (grace is found in Christ alone).
Element 3: Creating An Attractional Christian Community
The uniqueness of the early Christian community made it attractional including its multi-racial/ethnic blend, care for the poor and marginalized, radical forgiveness, protection of the unborn/infants, and a revolutionary sexual ethic. All these flowed out of the church’s biblical worldview. Today’s church must again example a unique Christian community.
Element 4: Returning To A Robust Instructional Model
The early church (and the church of the Reformation) had a commitment to catechesis (instruction in the faith) that helped the community confront society’s narratives. A deeply intentional training process has mostly left the church. A new instructional model must address life in the digital age and prepare believers to live Christianly in public spaces.
Element 5: Living From The Overflow of Grace
Keller points out that there is a world of difference between gospel grace and religious moralism. When we lose our grip on grace we fall into pride (we deserve this) and fear (we could lose this). The lack of grace leads to the church’s pursuit of dominance and control. Keller writes, “If the church doesn’t believe the Gospel, why should the world?”
The article ends by noting that everything is unprecedented once. For example, Keller writes, “Up until 1900, there had never been a fast-growing revival in a non-Western, pre-Christian country. Then there was the Korean revival and the East African revival.” Keller continues, “There has never been a fast-growing revival in a post-Christian, secular society. But every great new thing is unprecedented until it happens…Jesus said, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matt. 16:18). There’s no reason to believe this promise has an expiration date.”
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