In the first chapter of Will Willimon’s book The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized, Willimon makes the case that too much of our preaching has not relied on the power of the Gospel to not just hear and agree with what is being said but to be converted by the message. The reason people have a hard time hearing is because they are so caught up in the powers and cultures of this world that the Gospel becomes foreign to their ears. It is not that the message is complicated and hard to understand but because the message is counter-cultural. He believes we have taught more to get people to agree with the truth of the message more than we have preached to actually convert people out of the world and into new life through Christ. Now that is something to chew on for a while. Do you agree?
Now this ties into Christianity and the culture wars really well. Much of the ruckus we have made over social issues like gay marriage and abortion has been to get the other side to agree with our stance but comes short of actually intending to convert people. We have isolated evangelism from the whole discussion and seen gay marriage, abortion, etc as separate issues that have little to nothing to do with conversion. We believe the world needs to agree with our stance but we don’t see this as an opportunity to move beyond agreement toward conversion. We have thought if people will just get it right on these things that everything and everyone will be okay. We have been taught to believe that Christian faith is agreement with certain truths over and above the tenants laid out by other religious or even non-religious groups. That is just not the case! That is part of it but not all of it. There is a huge difference between agreement with Christian truths and actual conversion and disciple making. Jesus didn’t say “Go and make the world agree with everything I have commanded” He did say go and make disciples, teaching them to actually obey the commands of Jesus and live in submission to him starting off with baptism. Jesus was talking about converting the world, not changing their minds on a few issues. True conversion goes further than intellectual ascent and requires a change of identity.