Making disciples of all nations - baptising and teaching - requires every ounce of skill, insight and ability that the Lord blesses his people with. That’s the case whether the context is one in which the gospel is being proclaimed for the first time, is deeply evangelised but nominal, or is post-Christian, as our own culture is.
However, there is a particular shape to the challenge of gospel mission in a post-Christian context.
And that’s because they think they know what we’re saying!
For example, our late-modern, post-Christian world is massively moralistic. Witness the specifically moral outrage when criminals are publicly outed, the constant complaints about government action - and inaction - on asylum seekers, tax policy, climate change etc. And that significantly effects gospel preaching. When we talk about Jesus Christ, so many people simply hear us calling for them to be moral; to live the kind of life that God desires, so that we can be safely accepted in ‘heaven’. And since morality is fiercely guarded as private and individual, the issue comes down to ‘who are you to tell me how to live. I don’t need religion to be a good person’.
And of course, there are many other ways in which the gospel is resisted in our culture.
The first challenge, then, is what is called contextualisation. Understanding the misunderstandings - as well as the convictions, narratives and assumptions - that are constantly in the back of people’s minds (and rarely in the front of them), surfacing those world-view elements, and showing how Jesus Christ both confronts and completes them. Or in other words, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we seek to persuade others … tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 5.11, 10.5).
In particular, unless we explain with crystal clarity how the gospel differs from moralism, we will only be heard as just another voice in the marketplace of self-help gurus. Which leads us to the question of the idols of the heart, next post.