By Ron Hay
Two hundred years after the coming of Christianity to these shores we face a huge missional challenge: how to re-evangelize our nation, how to reach New Zealand afresh. There’s no question that we live in one of the most secular nations in the world. Even one of our leading literary figures, a self-declared atheist, comments that “Our society is abnormally secular – and passes this off as common sense.”
What is needed to reach our nation afresh? I’d like to suggest three key factors.
The eyes of Jesus for lost people
Jesus saw the crowds in his day as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” and that’s the reality for people in every age without Christ. People today are harassed by many things – job insecurity, relationship breakdowns, health concerns. They are helpless before so many forces beyond their control, not least the passage of time and human mortality. And they’re often looking for inspiring leaders of integrity and too seldom finding them amongst our public figures.
As Jesus looked at the crowds, he didn’t judge them or condemn them. He didn’t say, “What a Godless lot!” Instead, he had compassion on them because of their harassed and helpless state.
Mission begins in the heart of God – and it ignites in local communities when we have the eyes and the compassion of Jesus for lost people.
Enthusiasm for the Gospel
In recent months I’ve re-read my way through Paul’s letters. One of the things that struck me afresh was how intoxicated, how enraptured Paul is with the person of Jesus and how excited he is by what he calls “the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ and his Gospel, Paul has found a treasure beyond compare, a treasure he can’t possibly keep to himself.
Think for a moment – what is the alternative to the Christian Gospel in a secular society? The alternative is what is called naturalism or materialism, the belief that there’s no supernatural, nothing but molecules and matter, nothing beyond impersonal physical and material processes. The leading public advocate of this gospel is Richard Dawkins who tells us we live in a universe where there is “no design and no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” That’s a pretty dispiriting worldview to live with, but that’s the honest assessment of where secularism leads us.
In huge contrast, the Christian Gospel tells us that we’re not alone in an impersonal universe, that we’re not at the mercy of blind, indifferent processes. There is a God who is the “father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” This God is not remote and far away, but came into our world in the person of Jesus and lived our life, died our death, and rose again that we might be delivered from the fear of death and the power of evil. Secular Kiwis desperately need to know the joy and liberation of this Gospel.
Equipped for mission
Having the heart of Christ for lost people and enthusiasm for the Gospel is important, but it’s actually not enough. We need to be equipped to engage in mission. In writing Finding the Forgotten God, I wanted to help resource Christians in mission in two ways. The first was to help prepare them for conversations and interaction with non-Christian friends. Often we encounter searching questions and objections to faith that are hard to answer. A major part of the book seeks to address those questions. Recently I received an email from a young woman who said that, as a result of reading the book, she now felt “able to have a more logical and confident conversation with a non-believer.”
Secondly, the book can be a resource to give away to non-Christian friends and family. Everyone, I think, needs to hear a reasoned case for faith. In Acts 18 we’re told how Paul in Corinth “reasoned in the Synagogue” each week “trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks.” Presenting a reasoned case for faith is something Nicky Gumble does superbly well with Alpha, and I’ve tried to do that too in Finding the Forgotten God, starting a little further back than Nicky does by asking questions like “Is this world all there is?” and “What evidence is there for the existence of God?”
Getting a friend to come to church or Alpha to hear a reasoned case for faith is not always easy. But there is nothing threatening about being offered a book which you can read at your own leisure. Many people have said how much they have appreciated having a book which comes out of our Kiwi context and which uses Kiwi illustrations and examples in attempting to reach secular people in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Ron Hay is the author of Finding the Forgotten God: Credible Faith for a Secular Age. With Christmas around the corner, this book could be the perfect gift for friends who don’t yet understand the reason for the season. For more details see www.findinggod.co.nz
What other alternative ‘gospels’ exist in our world? How does the true Gospel challenge, subvert or fulfil those gospels?
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.