When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3 (NIV).
The evangelistic efforts of the Church in the Western world are not as effective as they once were. That’s not for lack of trying. The message of the cross and Christ continues to be proclaimed, yet the majority of churches are struggling to hold their numbers and many are losing people. Relational evangelism, while much touted in Evangelical circles, is having limited effect because the majority of people politely ignore or simply scoff at any talk, literature, or presentation that smacks of the Gospel message. So what can be done? What is the key to unlocking the heart of the Westerner? And how do we reach people who have written off the Church and its message as irrelevant?
The answer may lie in Acts 14 and 17 where we read about Paul’s evangelistic approach to the Greeks – a different approach to that used when he reached out to the Jews. When speaking to the Greeks Paul didn’t start with the message of the cross and Christ, he started with the message of creation. Before he proclaimed the Gospel of salvation he established the foundation of creation as the basis upon which the rest of the Story was told. This wasn’t necessary when Paul reached out to the Jews. The Jews already believed in God as Creator so they already knew who the true God was. Thus in reaching out to the Jews Paul could in large part bypass the first part of the Story and jump right into the second part of the Story – the promised Messiah.
With this in mind it may be true to say that Western society, while it used to be like “Jewish” society, in that its origins were understood to be based in creation and the Creator, is now more like “Greek” society; a society that doesn’t know the Creator. In large part the shift in Western society from a “Jewish” society to a “Greek” society can be traced back to the mid 1800’s with Darwin and his theory of evolution. Prior to Darwin creation was taught in the schools and universities. But post Darwin, people have increasingly accepted evolution as a belief system/worldview which in turn has provided the basis for humanistic morality and the accompanying view that you can do whatever you want because nobody owns you.
Bringing it all together: The different evangelistic approaches Paul used in reaching Greeks and Jews is brought into sharp focus in 1 Corinthians 1:23 when he says, “So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended, and the Gentiles (e.g. the Greeks) say it’s all nonsense” (NLT). Which raises an important question: Why did the Greeks say it was all nonsense? Because the Greeks didn’t believe in the Creator and therefore didn’t believe that God could or should have authority over their lives. That rings true with the Westerner of today. When we preach Christ crucified, the average Westerner says it’s all nonsense and therefore doesn’t believe that God should have authority over their lives.
It therefore stands to reason that if we’re to once again reach the Western world we have to start with the beginning of the Story, with creation and the Creator, and then build the Gospel on this foundation; like Paul did with the Greeks. I don’t say this lightly. In Psalm 11:3 the psalmist asks, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (ESV). Exactly! What can we do when our foundations (i.e. the doctrine of origins) have been undermined or destroyed? For when our foundations are undermined then every other doctrine, including the doctrine of salvation, is directly or indirectly undermined.
Wrapping it up: If the Western world is going to be redeemed we have to restore/repair/reinforce the foundations. This is consistent with the words of Christ. In John 5:46-47 Jesus says, “But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me. And since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (NLT). Christ’s words in John are reinforced in Luke 16:31 when He points out that, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead” (NLT). Both references underline the paramount importance of the writings of Moses, which, as we well know, deal with our origins. While there is much that could be unpacked in these texts it’s more than enough, at this juncture, to recognise that Jesus draws a clear link between His Story and the beginnings Story. In so doing, He, like Paul, reveals that the key to once again unlocking the hearts of Westerners to the good news of the Gospel lies in the Story of creation and the Creator …