Our First Evangelistic Task: Make Christianity Comprehensible – The Gospel Coalition

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How to Help Our Neighbors Meet Jesus” is a series that asks notable thinkers and theologians to answer this question: “What is the most important thing the church must do right now to help our neighbors trust Jesus for their salvation?”
“For many people today, to set aside their own path in order to conform to some external authority just doesn’t seem comprehensible as a form of spiritual life,” writes Charles Taylor in A Secular Age. This statement gets at the heart of the biggest challenge for the contemporary church.
To help our neighbors trust Jesus for their salvation, we must make the Christian gospel comprehensible.

Comprehensibility is not the same thing as making the gospel palatable or comfortable. Rather, the gospel needs to be imaginable for people who can no longer conceive of the true faith as a possible vision of reality in a secular age.
The beauty and goodness of the good news needs to be made clear, in all its complexity and simplicity. We must demonstrate a reality exists outside our minds and our experiences and that the gospel demands conformity to that external reality. This requires disrupting materialist conceptions of the Christian faith through contemplation of the gospel, teaching a robust biblical sexual ethic, and challenging the belief that we belong to ourselves.

Contemplate the Transcendent

Many of our neighbors will struggle to conceive of God as a transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who desires to know and love us as his children.
As modern people, we imagine ourselves to be “buffered,” in Taylor’s language. To be buffered means we feel we can dictate the terms by which we engage the world. This requires us to live in the immanent frame, which is to envision reality in primarily materialist terms. We’re cut off from the world beyond our own experience and interpretation.
Even for Christians, it’s difficult to imagine something like a rainbow as a sign from God. We experience it merely as a material phenomenon. Part of making the gospel comprehensible involves helping people see and experience the Christian faith as more than a lifestyle option, disrupting their conception of God by asserting his reality, identifying and challenging the immanent frame, and engaging in practices like the Lord’s Supper.
Breaking through our materialist assumptions is hard because we’ve all been sucked into the hum and buzz of a technological age, an age that demands more and more of our time and militates against contemplation and reflection. The gospel is cognitively taxing. It upsets our very understanding of ourselves.

The gospel is cognitively taxing. It upsets our very understanding of ourselves.

The gospel is cognitively taxing. It upsets our very understanding of ourselves.
Breaking free from the immanent noise of technology to think deeply about the gospel requires contemplation. Ultimately, the results of any gospel presentation depend on the work of the Holy Spirit. But we must be aware that the material situation of our neighbors’ distraction actively works against the kind of thinking that allows awareness of our sin nature and our need for a redeemer.
Reaching our neighbors requires us to come up with practices that pull people away from the technology of distraction and invite them to contemplate the transcendent wonder of the gospel.

Get Sexual Ethics Right

Because we’re living through a second sexual revolution, we need to be able to communicate the beauty of a biblical sexual ethic. We must clear up confusion about what Christians believe in general (as a post-Christian culture grows), but especially in the areas of sexuality and gender.
We must be able to explain the essential relationship between marriage, our bodies, sex, and procreation. Marriage needs to be presented not merely as a license for sex or a legal bond but as a covenant grounded in the act of creation and a living metaphor for Christ’s love for his church.
Our bodies should be understood as belonging not to ourselves but to God and in some limited ways to our spouses and children. We must teach that the purpose of sex involves both the pleasure and intimacy of the couple and an openness to children. Although not all will be capable of having children, procreation should be seen as part of the nature of marriage itself. These ideas will be challenging to our secular neighbors—and to those in the church who’ve been taught that their bodies are their own and children are merely a lifestyle option.
The communication of this sexual ethic must take place off platforms that require sound bites. Social media isn’t conducive to discussions about our faith. Social media is especially hostile to explaining a robust biblical sexual ethic. Instead, the local church needs to be an example of the beauty of Christian sexual ethics. Moreover, Christian leaders need to offer lengthy and nuanced accounts of why the Bible’s sexual ethics is beautiful.
The world will grow weary of autonomy and sex positivity. The church has an opportunity to offer something true and freeing.

Remember We Are Not Our Own

To get at the root of these cultural obstacles, we need to holistically challenge the belief that we are our own and belong to ourselves.
The concept of self-ownership makes it hard for modern people to accept an external authority as a source of spiritual life. We can understand searching within for an authentic spirituality, but not outside ourselves. We imagine ourselves to be autonomous. And we’ve been taught this autonomy is our greatest liberty.
Whether it’s from the mouths of midcentury existentialists or advertisers or Instagram celebrities, we’re told we’re radically free to create our reality because we are our own. However, this ideology isn’t freeing. It’s a slow form of death, and the evidence is all around us.
Our neighbors (and many in the church) publicly rejoice in their radical autonomy. Meanwhile, they’re miserable, frail, insecure, and despairing. The French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg has persuasively argued in The Weariness of the Self that there’s a direct relationship between the modern conception of the self-created and self-sustaining person and modern expressions of depression and anxiety.
The burden of self-belonging overwhelms us. When our neighbors can see that autonomy isn’t life-giving but a form of imprisonment, the alternative—belonging to God—becomes more conceivable.

Resist Culture’s Pressures

It’s not that these three emphases define the core of the gospel or that they’re unique to Christianity. Rather, contemplating the transcendent, exhibiting biblical sexual ethics, and maintaining awareness of God’s ownership of our lives each reflects an effort to push back at three significant pressure points of our culture. None of them is the gospel, but each of them effectively displays the implications of the gospel in a way that’s distinct from the world around us.

Our neighbors (and many in the church) publicly rejoice in their radical autonomy. Meanwhile, they’re miserable.

Our neighbors (and many in the church) publicly rejoice in their radical autonomy. Meanwhile, they’re miserable.
While the church in the West faces unprecedented shifts, there are opportunities for us to offer a true counternarrative. That requires us to make Christianity comprehensible.
The gospel will always be offensive, but it hasn’t always been broadly incomprehensible as it is in a secular age. Our task is to probe and find points of tension where we can upset misconceptions, offer a beautiful alternative, challenge the prevailing social myths, and proclaim the good news.
The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics helps Christians share the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel as the only hope that fulfills our deepest longings. We want to train Christians—everyone from pastors to parents to professors—to boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that clearly communicates to this secular age.
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Alan Noble, PhD, is author of Disruptive Witness, You Are Not Your Own, and On Getting Out of Bed and is associate professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University.


Written by: Christianity Today

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