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What Common Ground?

Rethinking How to Share the Gospel in a post-Christian culture

“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! […]  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9 16b, 22b-23 ESV).

Paul’s approach to share the Gospel changed according to his audience. In Athens, Paul is quoting philosophers and referring to their own mythology to share the Gospel. In Jerusalem he voluntarily takes the vow of the Nazarene not to be a stumbling block for the Jews. In Evangelism we try to find common ground to meet our conversation partner on familiar ground. It was also the approach of the great Greek philosopher Socrates.  

Our world is changing. Canada is changing. Canada has changed. In fact, all the changes in the Western world in the last two decades could be comparable to the continental drift. If you have a new world, you need a new map! In that regard, we need good theology but we also need good sociology (or missiology) to be able to discern how to present the Gospel in a given culture.

In certain ways, the missional trend of the last decade has tried to engage our contemporaries where they are instead of asking us to meet our buildings. Unfortunately, for many of our young adults being missional has become synonymous of “being like them.” We thought that in order for people to welcome the Gospel we had to show them that we were like them but with more: the promise of happiness or the promise of eternal life. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to change that much … you are getting happiness and eternal life out of this deal!”. If we can have hipster worship, wine and cheese soirées around religious art and go give sandwiches to homeless people then people will come to the gospel.

If I were to write a modern version of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, I would add a third character in the story. An Evangelical would be next to the Pharisee and would be praying: “God, I thank you I am not like this Pharisee. I do not fast and I do not tithe anything just to be sure not to be religious!” Interestingly, we would prefer to be identified more with the tax collector than the Pharisee but with the tax collector … before he repented!

We forgot what Paul’s own limits were to “becoming all things to all people.” Paul says, To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law” (1 Cor 9.21 ESV).

Canada has changed but so have we. Somehow our Gospel has lost its power or even its significance. The attitude toward evangelical Christians in Canada has been a complete reversal. We are seen now more than ever before as intolerant and backward people. The Canadians are branding themselves as more tolerant, more open to diversity, more open to equality and against all war and injustices. They want to protect animals; we still want to eat them as God’s provision to humans. They’re vegans, bio, feminists, against all discrimination. We’re distraught with this because we put all our chips on being cool, open and tolerant people.

Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1.18 NIV). We are distraught because we misunderstood or misinterpreted what the inclusiveness of the Gospel meant. Inclusiveness in Gospel terms is that God is calling all people to repent and not that God accepts everybody, at all times.

We need to rethink our approach; we need to revise our recipe to remove any artificial sweetener that allowed us to promote a “Low Repentance” or “Transformation Free” Gospel. We need to become again the salt of the world and not be a Christian “Low in sodium.”

This is why we created Paradigm. We do not have all the answers. We need to explore together this strange new world, this new civilization. To boldly think about what other before us didn’t need to. Paradigm is a bi-yearly conference for all the young adults in the province. Five Christian Organisations are uniting forces to provide a space to rethink not only how to share the Gospels but how to live the Gospel and how to interact with our contemporaries in a relevant and meaningful way. Power to Change, Sola, JBEQ, SEMBEQ and Parole de Vie Québec are combining their forces and brain power to tackle this urgent issue. This year, Paradigm, on the theme of “A Common Denominator” will be held in a Montreal College on March 16-17.