Part of the task concerning evangelism is to recover nerve about our modes of speech in church traditions that have debased our speech, either by conservative reductionism or by liberal embarrassment. The noun “gospel,” which means “message,” is linked in the Bible to the verb “tell-the-news”…At the center of the act of evangelism is the message announced, a verbal, out-loud assertion of something decisive not known until the moment of utterance. There is no way that anyone, including the embarrassed liberal, can avoid this lean, decisive assertion, which is at the core of evangelism. The act of announcement, however, is not barren and contextless. I argue here that the announcement itself is the middle term of a three-part dramatic sequence. No reductionist conservative can faithfully treat evangelism as though it were only “naming the name.” We are required to notice that behind (prior to) the announcement is an “event” of mythic proportion to which we have no direct access. And after the proclamation comes the difficult, demanding work of reordering all of life according to the claim of the proclaimed verdict.
Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993), pp. 14-15.
There’s a good deal of truth in this brief quotation from Watler Brueggemann on the nature of the task of evangelism, which comes from a brief, excellent book on the subject.
I do like the stress on overcoming liberal embarrassment. The Church has been called and sent to share the Gospel story, and “lean, decisive assertion” against the contradictory story of Empire is central to the evangelical task today, as it is in every time and place. Brueggemann recently spoke to a gathering of diocesan clergy here in Southern Ohio and made this very point.
At the same time, I wonder how many would be “conservatives” would be shocked to find out that they are reductionists, engaged in a “barren and contextless” announcement. If we are asserting the real Gospel, in all its shocking truth, we are issuing a decisive call to conversion and comprehensive transformation of life. Not just the private sphere. But all of it. As Brueggemann says, “after the proclamation comes the difficult demanding work of reordering all of life according to the claim of the proclaimed verdict.”
I do wonder, as we struggle with questions of self-definition and adequate structures to support the Church’s mission, whether we are remembering the main thing, i.e. showing forth Christ and the Kingdom in word and deed, in such a way that we are invited to share in his holy and life-giving work. For in hearing and responding to the Good News lies our true freedom, and the hope of the world in the midst of so much suffering and death.