Monday, 16 July 2012

Presenting the Gospel to the Austerity Generation

A busy couple of weeks has meant no chance to blog recently, but a lecture on faith and the Big Society at a recent event at Bristol Baptist College has got me thinking about changes which we might see (and which we’ll almost certainly need)in our approach to evangelism over the next few years.

The session in question was led by Phil Jump, Team Leader of the North West Baptist Association. Phil made a passing comment on the way the Gospel has been presented differently in different decades reflecting the zeitgeist of each period. For example, during the years of relative prosperity of the ‘noughties,’ the primary evangelism tools of UK churches have tended to be courses such as Alpha or Christianity Explored. I have more recent and firsthand experience of Alpha but I think it’s fair to say that both courses tend towards a cerebral and modernist approach to Christianity. That’s an opinion that seems reasonable in light of the subjects addressed.

The topics covered by Alpha, for example, are:
  1.  Is there more to life than this?
  2.  Who is Jesus?
  3.  Why did Jesus die?
  4. How can we have faith?
  5. Why and how do I pray?
  6. Why and how should I read the Bible?
  7. How does God guide us?
  8. Who is the Holy Spirit?
  9. What does the Holy Spirit?
  10.  How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?
  11. How can I resist evil?
  12. Why and how should I tell others?
  13.  Does God heal today?
  14. What about the church?
  15. How can I make the most of the rest of my life? 

Compare and contrast, if you wish, to the hot topics covered by Christianity Explored:
  1. Good News
  2. Identity
  3. Sin
  4. The Cross
  5. Resurrection
  6. Grace
  7. Come and Die

So the question arises... who would be interested in thinking through these sorts of issues? During the 1990s and 2000s it may well be that for lots of people in comfortable, middle-class jobs, wondering if there was more to life than two cars, a semi-detached home and foreign holidays, these courses had an appeal. Memories come to mind of watching Nicky Gumbel on video at HTB, putting across his case with compelling logic, week by week, to lots of beautiful people who presumably stopped off at Alpha on their way home from high-powered jobs in the City.

But in the years to come, are these topics going to pack the same punch of relevance? For many of us, the questions we’re asking are different. We’re no longer concerned with the emptiness of our comfortable, if mediocre, existences. We’re anxious about the state of our economy, angry at the bankers and governments who’ve brought us to the edge of the austerity abyss, fearful that we may not be able to retire in comfort. And if we feel less apprehension for ourselves, we certainly ought to concerned about the plight of our children. The old social contract of ‘work hard, play by the rules and you’ll get a good job’ has been torn up.

So does this mean there’s another kind of course waiting to be written, which poses a different type of question? Why is the world so unfair and does God care any way? What will my life amount to? Can we really make a difference about injustice? Are there any alternative visions for society and the world, which offer something more than our current economic and political models? 

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