Consider what has been our political voice — or at least, what has been perceived to be our voice. An editorial in Christianity Today titled "Hating Hillary" chronicled the depth of rancor and animosity among Christians toward Hillary Clinton, particularly during her run for the presidency. While her political stances have been polarizing, instead of civil discourse there was an avalanche of animosity expressed in everything from T-shirts, bumper stickers, voodoo dolls and "No Way In Hellary" barbecue aprons. At the 2004 Republican convention, a spokesman for the Family Research Council passed out fortune cookies with the message: "#1 reason to ban human cloning: Hillary Clinton."

In anticipation of her historic run, which would have made her the first female president in U.S. history, the late Jerry Falwell announced at a 2006 Values Voter Summit, "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. Because nothing would energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't." So much for the "aroma of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:15). And it is easy to smell. It reminds me of a story told by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran bishop who was called on to negotiate with Adolf Hitler during World War II in the attempt to save the church of Germany from being closed down by the Nazi dictator. Toward the end of his life Niemoller had a recurring dream in which he saw Hitler standing before Jesus on Judgment Day. Jesus got off his throne, put his arm around Hitler and asked, "Adolf! Why did you do the ugly, evil things you did? Why were you so cruel?" Hitler, with his head bent low, simply answered, "Because nobody ever told me how much You loved me." At this point, Niemoller would wake up from his dream in a cold sweat, remembering the countless meetings he had with Hitler — face to face — and he never once said, "By the way, Führer, Jesus loves you! He loves you more than you'll ever know. He loved you so much that He died for you. Do you know that?" For Niemoller, this was a nightmare. For us, it is the heart of our challenge.

The End for the Means

But even among those who are neither passive nor hostile, the evangelistic mandate can still be muted if not silenced — largely through such an emphasis on connecting with the non-Christian that there is little vision for the relationship beyond the connection. It is as if the emphasis is on the temporal, not the eternal, in terms of focus and intent.

I spoke at the inaugural gathering of an annual event, simply titled "Q," that brings together the leading figures among emerging generations, all considered on the cutting edge of infiltrating and shaping culture for Christ. I have great respect for this event, its intent and its founders, and what follows is not meant to disparage "Q" in any way. But it was an interesting visit. I had arrived early enough to listen to preceding addresses and to capture some of the hallway conversations. There was much talk of reaching culture, impacting culture, shaping culture — and then it hit me. No one was talking about reaching the people who were making that culture. There was talk of justice and art, but not redemption.

In some quarters it is as if we are focusing on the means to the end, only to forget the end. I have noticed this with many new churches planted to "reach the world" and "connect with culture." After sitting through countless such services, the pattern seems the same: enormous effort to connect culturally, great explanations of the practical wisdom and ethic of the Bible, but seldom is given the invitation to actually cross the line of faith in Christ.

When my turn came to speak, I went off script. I didn't plan on it — it was just one of those moments where as I was speaking the Holy Spirit planted a thought in my mind that I followed. I made a passing comment that we must not forget the most critical cultural engagement of all remains personal evangelism. In fact, I quipped that in many of the more advanced and "hip" conversations about cultural engagement, evangelism was conspicuous by its absence. I wasn't sure it was what I needed to say, but then I was besieged by large numbers afterward who seemed to be quite taken — if not shaken — by my offhand remark.