How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone to Not Proselytize?
- Monday, July 19, 2010
Thus, we must see America as a mission field. As an Episcopalian priest from South Carolina recently offered, "A couple came in to my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: ‘What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?' " But America is not just any mission field — but a very specific one. As in "think Sweden." In his book Society Without God, sociologist Phil Zuckerman chronicled his fourteen months investigating Danes' and Swedes' religion. His conclusion? Religion "wasn't really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a non-issue." His interviewees just didn't care about it. As one replied, "I really have never thought about that. ... It's been fun to get these kinds of questions that I never, never think about."
Sociologist Peter Berger once quipped, "If India is the most religious country on our planet, and Sweden is the least religious, America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes." What we must now realize is that we are increasingly becoming a land of Swedes.
I would think such a climate would provide the perfect motivational setting for evangelism: spiritual openness, coupled with spiritual desire and hunger for spiritual experience, yet divorced from Christian belief. Yet this is not what is happening; the largest evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, are not exhibiting a rise in baptisms but a steady, multiyear decline. Muslims are likely to outnumber Christians in Britain in just a few decades, and the Mormon Church now claims twelve million members, including six million in the United States. Why is it that this generation of Christians is losing such dramatic spiritual ground?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of urgency. It has to do with something that needs immediate attention because of its gravity. One of the challenges facing evangelical Christianity is that we do not seem to feel it is urgent to reach people for Christ. This despite an explicit effort from Jesus to generate such urgency:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire."
But Abraham replied, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment" (Luke 16:19-28).
When we die, we face either heaven or hell. While the great and final judgment was yet to come for both of these men, it's clear from this story that immediately upon our death, the fate of our lives is not only sealed but the verdict of that inevitable judgment is set in motion. The beggar Lazarus was by Abraham's side, which along with the concept of paradise, is mentioned in the Talmud as the home of the righteous — the place where the righteous dead go to await their future redemption and vindication. The rich man was in hell (Greek, "hades") the place where the wicked dead go to await their final judgment. And the chasm between the two cannot be crossed.
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