The idea of evangelism will always be a hallmark of the Church, but what does it look like in the context of a world facing suffering, poverty and injustice? It reminds me of a scene in The Lady in the Water. One character in the M. Night Shyamalan movie works out with only his right arm. The result is freakish–the guy’s right arm is rippling while the left is slender. He is obsessed with working only one set of muscles, and the imbalance makes him a bit of a kook.
Evangelicals love evangelism. We love it so much we used the word in naming our movement. The Greek word literally means “good news,” and is usually translated “gospel” because the Old English phrase “god-spell” meant “good tidings.” When we refer to evangelism we usually mean inviting someone to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. But I wonder if that comes because of our freakishly over-exercised muscle of individualism. What if the good news is broader than that? How would that affect our use and understanding of the word evangelism?
The first few times we see the word in the New Testament it is referred to as the gospel of the kingdom. That is, these good tidings have something to do with a realm—a governing reality that impacts systems, structures, economies, environments, families, clans and, yes, individuals as well. But the gospel (or evangelion) of the kingdom is not simply about inviting someone to accept Jesus into their heart. It has to do with an all-encompassing reality on earth where Christ is King. Evangelism, at least in part, is good news about a realm … an operating system. It does involve individuals and calls for a response from humans, but it must also include an engagement with structures and economies because Isaiah (and Jesus) said it would be great news to the poor.
Let’s exercise the other arm a bit. Why does the highly individualistic perspective have to dominate our use of the word? Why not evangelize governments by calling them to account for wickedness? What about corporate evangelism, where we demand mega-companies to distribute the wealth they create to those with hardly any access to wealth-creating tools? Let’s evangelize the environment so that it looks like a place where the Creator is in charge. Most of the homeless people I have met already know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. What would be really good news to them is someone willing to help them get and keep a job, reconcile with their families, free them from the bondage to alcohol, engage the medical system on their behalf, work with their mental and emotional illnesses. Now that’s evangelism with both arms.