Ed Stetzer on How Secularism and Pluralism Adds New Challenges to Evangelism

Image: Pixabay/meineresterampe

I recently came back on a flight from Orange County. Before departing from California, the pilot announced that we would be arriving in Chicago about 40 minutes early due to some powerful tailwinds.

That sounds like great news.

However, amazing as those tailwinds are, all they mean in the Chicago airports is that you sit on the runway for an extra 40 minutes instead of being in the air. The plan goes to the penalty box—the place where they put planes that get there early before the gate is open.

It’s like punishment for promptness.

Headwinds and tailwinds

But despite the penalty box, it did remind me that there are both headwinds and tailwinds to be addressed in this moment when we talk about evangelism. Now, I’ve mentioned before (and many have observed) that we are on a low ebb of evangelistic intent.

We’re in a season where many hear about evangelism in a context of criticism—often, people poke fun at the way another individual or group shares the gospel rather than actually doing it themselves. That’s a pretty significant transition in our culture

Part of this reality, I believe, is a transition in a cultural moment. We’re still trying to figure out what the future should ultimately look like as we continue to share the gospel.

In this cultural moment, there are both tailwinds (cultural realities that help our evangelistic task) and headwinds (cultural realities that make that evangelistic task more difficult).

Let me talk about some of the headwinds we’re facing.

From nominalism to pluralism

We’ve moved from a nominally Christian to a more pluralistic and secular society — and that’s a very important shift. In a sense, we’ve lost our home field advantage.

That creates a significant headwind for evangelicals who desire to share their faith.

Numerically, evangelicals have remained relatively steady. As Ryan Burge described in a recent Christianity Today article about new General Social Survey data:

That’s mostly what the 2018 GSS results show us. Evangelicals—grouped in this survey by church affiliation—continue to make up around 22.5 percent of the population as they have for much of the past decade, while the nones, now up to 23.1 percent themselves, keep growing. (For comparison, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey put evangelicals at 25.4 percent and the religious nones at 22.8 percent.)

Mainline protestants are in significant decline. Roman Catholics are a bit steadier than mainline protestants, though on a slow decline.

However, the nones are the growing segment—those that have no religious identity, are often secular (with a smaller portion being atheists) but often see many different approaches and paths to spirituality.

I think some can become confused with the classification of nones, as some might interpret “nones” to mean these people are atheists. However, most nones are not atheists. The people who classified themselves as “nones” simply were saying they don’t have a specific identity.

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Source: Christianity Today