There’s every chance that 2019 might just be a great year for evangelism in Australia. Every chance a wave is coming in. Every chance indeed. There are some telling signs.
I was listening last week to the always excellent This Cultural Moment podcast, and Mark Sayers was observing that while it seems that the tide has gone a long way out in recent years, we all know what happens when tides go a long way out: they tend to rush in with equal and opposite force.
And the tide’s been out for evangelistic fruit for some time, but it feels like it might be coming back in. And with some force with it, if the first tricklings are any indication.
Perhaps it’s just anecdotal. But there are some good anecdotes. 2018 was a great evangelistic year, for example, on university campuses in Australia. In spite of a much harsher public square, and the rise in temperature around the same sex marriage debate, campus workers report an encouraging time.
Students arrived on campus who genuinely had no knowledge of how Christianity fitted together. But more than that, many arrived on campus hungry for something; meaning, direction, anything. They’re seeing past the politics and the bickering and the false claims of sexual or social nirvanas. Something is missing, and they know it. The beautiful apocalypse is not working out.
And closer to home: just last week two visitors at church. Young men from university, doing creative arts and writing degrees. Unchurched. but brought along by the quiet, godly friendship of one of our church members, an artistic talent of rare note.
Both were friendly, articulate, funky looking, a few tattoos, honest in conversation, well-read, chatting about books and art and the politics of language and eager to listen. What’s not to like?!
Yet on the surface, they’re not candidates for church, in fact one of them remarked we “looked too cool to be Christian.” By that I think he meant “too normal”, given the caricatures that come along these days.
I scanned the room. The younger crowd look hip enough in the way young people tend to (especially to middle aged people such as I). The families just look like families; their kids just looked like kids; the older people just like older people. And me. Maybe he meant me?! (Please let him mean me!).
Yet one comment especially, hit me. One of these young men made this telling observation:
“I know I’m supposed to have a view that Christians are all about Bible bashing and evangelism, but my experience is a bit different. Whenever I’ve met Christians at uni or at a party or something, they just seem more purposeful and grounded than everyone else, and there’s something attractive about that.
I think that’s it. Here’s someone looking for a foundation. Something to stand upon. More to the point, something to hold him up in increasingly challenging and ground-shifting times.
And it’s interesting that when the name Jordan Peterson came up, his eyes lit up and he said, “I’ve been reading him!” Turns out the reason he is reading Peterson is not because this young man wants a patriarchy, or because he’s alt-right, or whatever casual misunderstanding of Peterson his detractors wish to pin on him, but ultimately because of this one quality Peterson has exhibited: Bravery!
Here is a young bloke who watched Peterson say “no” to the prevailing zeitgeist, and felt at that moment, bravery had gone AWOL. Someone who was willing to pay the cost of going against the grain. And this young man saw it and liked it. Liked it a lot.
Which brings us to Jesus. Because our evangelism would not be worthy a single cent if we made the good news about Jordan Peterson. Thank you JP for showing us how to communicate clearly and bravely in the face of a screeching culture, but we’ll take it from here. Or at least Jesus will.
Has there ever been a man as brave as Jesus? A man who would – and will again – cut through dividing walls, Left and Right, political cant, the cultural zeitgeist? And who did it to the point of not merely political or social crucifixion, but actual crucifixion.
It’s worth considering how attractive bravery is. Not aggressiveness. Not bluster. But clear, controlled bravery of a type that shows one’s footing is on a solid foundation. And it struck me in the midst of that conversation that now is not the time for the church to lose its bravery in terms of gospel proclamation.
Yes, the politics may turn against us. Yes it seems that an incoming government next year is replete with members just licking their lips ready to enforce a progressive agenda that could spell trouble for Christian institutions in the public square. But I reckon there’s a whole bunch of everyday Australians, silent but watching, who are waiting for someone to say something brave and meaningful, regardless of the cost.
Oh, and the two lads said they’d be back to church again some time.
I am encouraged by encounters such as this. Encounters that show that perhaps the tide, so long and so far out for so long, could sweep back in in 2019 and beyond with ever increasing force, and a great gospel harvest will ensue, proving once again that, even in the face of harsh times, – especially in the face of harsh times -, God’s gospel does God’s work.
The wave might just be coming. Are you brave enough to ride it in, whatever your setting is?