From Anthony Woollard and others
Sir, - Canon Chris Russell in his article (Comment, 6
June) acknowledges that there may be understandable reasons why
"people in the Church come out in a rash" at the mention of
evangelism. Unfortunately, he does not tell us what these reasons
are, let alone show any fuller understanding of them; and he
thereby adds to the potential guilt and confusion in our churches
around the current pressure from the Archbishops towards
Most Christians, liberal as well as conservative, would agree
that we have "good news" to share with those around us. They might
well differ somewhat about how that good news is to be seen and
presented today, in a world-view very different from that of the
New Testament - and about how it might be appropriated by people of
almost infinitely diverse backgrounds and personalities. Many of
them would be deeply concerned if it were to be reduced to the
formulaic presentation appropriate to a new Microsoft product.
Some would argue, from experience, that unintentional evangelism
is at least as powerful as the intentional kind (and arguably has
fewer potentially undesirable side-effects). Equally, some would
pick up, not so much on St Paul's "Woe is me if I preach not the
gospel," as on the injunction "always [to] have an answer for the
hope that is in you" - in other words, reactive rather than
All would agree that the Church should preach the gospel, first
through the quality of its common life - and if it was not St
Francis who suggested that we should concentrate on "walking the
talk", then it ought to have been. All would agree, too, that ways
should be found, appropriate to the situation, of telling the
Christian story as an explanation for that common life, which may
well at times challenge the hearers. But some of us would argue
that this is not the same as having a "product" to "sell", an
approach that has characterised too much "intentional evangelism".
A little more humility and listening would be appropriate on the
part of the Church in these times.
Anthony Woollard, Clare Nicholson, Jeyan Anketell, Tim Stead
(Trustees of Modern Church), Jonathan Clatworthy (Editor,
c/o 9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE
From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke
Sir, - This year, a Muslim university invited me to give a
series of lectures on Christianity for an online degree course. I
was given complete freedom to share what Christians believe and I
acknowledged the disagreements between the two faiths. To have used
the lectures to "evangelise" would have been to betray the trust
the university had put in me.
Those who in the 19th century founded the great Christian
colleges in India recognised that for many to whom the world-view
of Christianity was alien, a long period of preparation for the
gospel was necessary. William Miller, Principal of Madras Christian
College, compared the work to "digging a canal through which in
time great ships would be able to pass".
I think that we are sometimes in a similar situation today as we
try to communicate with those who are "spiritual but not
religious". Often they have been alienated from the Church by an
emphasis on human sinfulness which undermined their self-worth, or
by narrow dogmatism, or the activism of some churches, which
provided little opportunity for spiritual growth.
It takes time and patient listening to develop a respectful
friendship before a sharing of one's own Christian beliefs is not
heard as threatening or judgemental.
I wonder how readers would answer the trick question I was once
asked: "When you pray for the Dalai Lama, what do you pray?"
17 Courtiers Green
Abingdon OX14 3EN
From the Revd Alan Race
Sir, - Like all trumpeting calls for more evangelism, Canon
Chris Russell's article "Why evangelism is always non-negotiable"
falls at the first theological hurdle. There is no mention of how
the gospel is always contextual - that is, requiring
interpretation. We are not in the first century. The issue is not
finding the right words or the right medium for the same old
message: it is finding the right words for the good news in our
Calls for evangelism always assume that the message is clear and
obvious and already known. But this is not the case. The message
can be known only as it is interpreted afresh for every generation.
Calls for evangelism seldom analyse the culture, its anxieties, or
its challenges to outmoded forms. If we want the gospel to be
effective, we must do better than talk of what God "has done" for
us. This is precisely what alienates the majority of our
God, we might better say, invites us into relationship, and if
that is the case, it can surely happen in a multitude of ways -
through the arts, the pursuit of knowledge, human loves and losses,
the pursuit of justice and peace, people of different faiths, and
so on, as well as the preacher's proclamation.
We are a culture of bottom-up truths, not top-down
non-negotiable rallying cries. It may even be the case that calls
for more evangelism constitute evidence of a Church uncertain about
what its message should be.
St Margaret's Rectory
London SE13 5EA