We have had no shortage of helpful reflections on the recent election, which seems to have cleaned the windows a bit on our national landscape that has been changing for some time – to the surprise of many who seem not to have noticed.
Among those reflections have been many perceptive observations on what persons of faith and communities of faith can offer to our national community to help us meet the challenges that we face on so many levels.
We have been encouraged to find and use our prophetic voice to speak truth to power, to call out those expressions of faith that seek to sanction causes that work against the common good.
We have been encouraged to find and use our priestly and pastoral voice to provide support and comfort to those who have been victims of the challenges and to those who have been discouraged by defeat of their particular perspectives.
These observations have also called for a new discovery of our evangelistic voice as a way of being helpful in the unique configuration of our national life.
To a divided country, with the passions that drove a contentious contest for the prize of leadership still fueling the fears and anger that get in the way of cooperation – try evangelism?
Really? Isn’t it a little superficial to suggest that the answer to our problems is getting folks “saved”? Aren’t our problems more complex than that?
After all, aren’t “evangelical Christians” those who have aligned themselves with a particular political perspective with a list of litmus tests for who has “real” faith and who doesn’t?
To an outside observer, “evangelical” might mean little more than a profile of certain religious and political beliefs intertwined with each other.
In my early memory, evangelism and the evangelists who practiced it were often an aggressive, sometimes fiery and belligerent confrontation of the “lost” with a message that was essentially, “You’re going to hell if you don’t believe and accept what I say.”
Evangelism so narrowly defined and forcefully presented has led many to dismiss it as the zeal of a bygone era. If that is what it is, they might think, then who needs it?
Original words can sometimes illuminate concepts based on them and modify understandings that build up around them.
Eu-angelion literally means “good message” (as eu-logos means “good word” – spoken at a funeral). Good news/good proclamation – as indeed we believe the gospel to be.
The church is a particular community of faith whose calling is to proclaim and bear witness to this good message.
In the gospel portraits of its incarnation, its content seems to be not so much the “saved” appealing to the “lost” to come over to the right side to avoid fiery consequences.
Rather, the good news is that there is another way to live and relate to each other and to the world than the one characterized by alienation and estrangement, where people learn to fear and exploit one another.
This good message is that life can embrace a new kind of kingdom that is different from Caesar’s – one characterized by love, hope and justice.
One would think that this kind of message would be a welcome one to those who are worried and frightened about the uncertainties of Caesar’s world, to those who have been disillusioned and disappointed by visions of a future that turned out not to be, and to those who have been given in election victory the opportunity to implement some of the values they claim to hold.
If evangelism can be the “good message” of this possibility – of reconciliation, cooperation and community – then maybe it is what our part of the family of faith can offer to our fractured world.
It will be more than the saved appealing to the lost to believe the right things in order to go to heaven.
It will be an invitation to the “lostness” in all of us to embrace a way of life that points to a different kind of world, and to reflect a hospitality that says, “Come live it with us.”
Maybe as the election season slowly moves into the Advent season, the “call” of a political contest (that was good news for some and bad news for others) can fade enough for us to hear the call of another angel who said to some frightened businessmen (shepherds) of another time: “Fear not; listen, I bring you a good message of great joy that will be for all people: today is born to you in that place of the ancient promise a healer … Go to Bethlehem and let him become a part of your lives.”
Can we move beyond the contest enough to find ways to share and promote this euangelion?
Colin Harris is professor of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.