Spirit of the Age: Some Cringe-Free Evangelism
Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
IT JUST goes to show how wrong you can be. Bring a square of cloth, 2ft by 2ft, cut from an old sheet, perhaps. And two felt- tipped pens. That's what the invitation said.
I have been to a conference organised by the Church of England to mark the end of its Decade of Evangelism. I have not just been reporting; I have been participating. Come and tell us what we have been doing wrong, they said, and then inside the conference agenda was the request for the old sheet. How could anyone ask what they were doing wrong in communicating with the people of the Nineties - and then ask you to bring an old sheet, I wondered. I noted with relief that there was to be a session entitled "Cringe-Free Evangelism".
There must be somewhere in the lexicon of British grammar a term for a word which produces an effect exactly the opposite of the one the speaker intends. If so I am sure that "evangelism" will feature in the examples. To most people it conjures up images of aggressive TV money-grubbers, ardent student leafleteers or barmy High-Street puritans with placards warning that "The End of the World is Nigh". So it was something of a relief to find that there was not a tambourine to be seen at the conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, this week. True, there was a bit of hand-waving during the hymns (something else which charismatic evangelicals never seem to understand actually puts other people off). But there was in the air a sense that something big had to change - which Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, captured with his opening joke about the ad in the Church Times which said: "For sale: Vicar wants to sell parrot whose doctrinal position he no longer shares". But if the Church of England has to ditch prejudices, perhaps the rest of us do too. If the bit of old sheet sounded like a relic from the Church's Blue Peter days, the commentary which went with it hit the nail on the head. The radical message of Olive and John Drane, who run the centre for Christianity and Contemporary Society at the University of Stirling, was that to be taken seriously, modern-day Christians had to listen before they spoke. They had to find where God was already at work in the secular world before charging in, brandishing endless lists of scriptural quotations before them. Instead of trying to drag people into church, the need was to drag the Church to where people are. Of course, it may be, George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told the assembly, that however much the Church changes, people would still not want to hear what it has to say. Prophetic statements against the oppressive abundance of our "two-car, two-holiday, two- video society" might not be well-received. Even so, evangelism which was cringe-free would stand a better chance of success. …