Thursday, 8 November 2018

Evangelism isn't just for Evangelicals

It's one of those times when words can be not just unhelpful, but positively misleading.

If you're 'exvangelical', as so many people in my current church are, it can be a real issue.  Before you've even got to the end of the word, a negative emotional reaction has been evoked by the 'evangel' prefix. Your body has tensed, a fight or flight reaction has begun, and you might feel the need to leave the room or shut down the conversation in instinctive self-protection.

It can be hard to understand this if you yourself identify as evangelical, or have generally positive associations with the word; or if, like me, you became a Christian later in life without any real sense of churchmanship, so these labels are an interesting talking point rather than having huge emotional weight attached to them. Books like Vicky Beeching's 'Undivided' are beginning to communicate to the rest of us just why some exvangelicals have such a strong response to these words.

I blogged about what I called the 'Natural Grammar of Evangelism' back in 2016. As I said then, I think that sharing good news is something that we very naturally do as humans - when we discover something new that we enjoy or find helpful, we naturally want to tell our family and friends about it. But for some reason we find this embarrasing when it comes to church - and I suggested that was often because it isn't 'new' enough for us. If we've been Christians all our lives, we haven't recently discovered it, and so it is odd and feels forced in our culture to share it. This, I think, is why Bob Jackson's research found that churches that were growing tend to be those that have made a change - any change. That gives us something to share with people!

Since then I've had many conversations about evangelism with people, and found that the same Frequently Asked Questions keep coming up. For example:
  • Why do evangelism if we don't believe people will go to hell?

  • Does it matter whether people are Christian or not?

  • What about other faiths?

  • How do we evangelise in a culture that is inherently suspicious of truth claims?

  • Is Christianity a 'toxic brand'?

  • What is the 'good news' for liberals?

To help us think through some of these questions, I and my colleague Mark Waters are organising a day conference in February, 'Reclaiming Evangelism: Postive Liberal Theologies of Mission'. You can read more about it on the Eventbrite booking site, and you can book tickets there or via the link at the top right corner of this page.

Please come along and join in the conversation. Because - like the word or not - evangelism is too important to be left to evangelicals alone.


  1. Would you be willing to have an evangelical attend and enter into dialogue towards the end of the day? Something along the lines of, where do we agree and disagree? Are such (dis)agreements mere tribalism or more deeply theological in nature? What are the narratives we draw upon underlying these (dis)agreements?

  2. Thank you so much for the detailed article.Thanks again.