The Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sponsors a fine online journal entitled “Let’s Talk,” which is a venue for Chicago-area pastors, theologians, and laity to contribute articles about issues facing the Lutheran church in the urban context (full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor).
The most recent issue has some useful articles by those whose vocations put them right in the center of the vexing question: what does effective evangelism in a (post)modern, urban, interreligious context look like?
Bishop Wayne Miller, who has often remarked that St. Francis’ supposed dictum, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words” is next to useless in a post-Christendom context, is particularly incisive in his remarks:
Everything that I say or do bears witness to someone or something. The only uncertainty is the object of that witness. Evangelism makes this uncertainty certain. The object of my witness is the love and power of Jesus. But unless my words and deeds explicitly bear witness to something else, they implicitly bear witness to me. Is the goal of a diverse, pluralistic society to have every individual bearing witness to himself or herself? It is hard to hear good news in this.
We have developed, in the ELCA, an impressive history of making the world a better place through broad-based coalition building between business interests, religious interests, political interests, and earnest individual desires for usefulness and righteousness. Everyone admires the essential goodness and masterful accomplishment of these endeavors.
But to what or to whom do they bear witness? If we are embarrassed or ashamed to allow them to bear witness to the love and power of Jesus, then they will implicitly bear witness only to the power of our love, our strength, our virtue, our ingenuity, our intrinsic goodness.
Meanwhile, those involved with parish “evangelism committees” in particular will not want to miss Benjamin Dueholm’s reflections on success and failure in evangelism, particularly his insistence that “God has not lost a taste for serendipity, which humbles the proud and programmatic.”