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  • Evangelizing Pagans?

    This is perhaps the most important question we could ask today. In the “Christian” West believers are back to square one. In many ways, we are out of gas, and going nowhere. Our old methods do not seem to be working, and no valid new ones are on the horizon.

    At the beginning the Christian Jewish Church was faced with the same question. Deep theological rethinking, firm conviction and great courage was required to take the Gospel to the next step—into the dark and threatening centers of Gentiles/pagan power. Nothing less than the raising up of Paul as “the apostle to the Pagans” [Romans 11:13] and the inspiring of his full–scale answer to pagan apostasy was the divine solution to a real impasse for the Early Church [see Romans 10:21]. If evangelizing pagans, in God’s providence, produced Paul and Paul’s epistles, there surely is hope for us. Though greatly threatening for the modern church, the challenge of paganism could well be the needed light at the end of our tunnel vision.

    Evangelism, the great task of the Church militant, is in crisis, for three reasons:

    1. Our old methods no longer work in many cases: Some months ago in Barnes and Noble I opened up the glossy magazine, Gnosis. Inside there was an entire page filled with two parallel lists, one with all the basic beliefs of paganism (the “esoteric” or “going with” form of spirituality), which was “good,” the other with all the “exoteric” (going outside) beliefs of Christianity, which was “bad.” So to the question, “Why should God let you into his heavens?,” the pagans answer, “I am in heaven now.” In the popular culture, when we tell people “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” we must now remember that, for many raised on Star Wars, God is “the Force…an energy field created by all living things…that is all–powerful [and] controls everything.”

    2. We are over–evangelized: Vast numbers of red–blooded North Americans, including many in prominent positions such as Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, President Bill Clinton and Vice–President Al Gore, all claim a past “born again” Christian experience, but are now deep into Deepak Chopra, goddess spirituality, and the promotion of abortion, homosexuality and religious syncretism [all religions lead to God]. How can we speak meaningfully of the Gospel to a culture which still claims to be Christian, even “born again,” that thinks it knows the Gospel, but is, in practice, more and more apostate and pagan?

    3. Paganism is writing the rules: Through the influence of syncretism and “tolerance,” evangelism is more and more considered “un–American.” While the pagans have the floor in the public square, the Christian voice is shut out. But the “private sector” is being squeezed. Recently, six members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to the Southern Baptists, questioning their “right” to evangelize Hindus. “We do not take issue with your right to pray…However, [your evangelism] goes beyond the bounds of decorum, tact, respect and understanding…We cannot understand how men and women, raised and educated in the world’s bastion of religious freedom and tolerance…can characterize another religion as spiritually dark and false.” How far has this bastion moved from the Bible!?

    Now, more than ever, the classic theological understanding of the Antithesis should inform all our evangelistic efforts. Those who understand this need to help the Church at large to an appreciation of “worldview evangelism.” Appeals to “liver–quiver” spirituality or to the methods of the past will leave the pagans untouched and unfazed. Only the comparison of paganism’s religious worldview with the worldview of the Bible, in all its life–giving splendor, can hope to be good news for so many in our time, fooled into thinking that the pagan lie is really Gospel truth.