Thursday, June 05, 2014

What evangelization is...

From pages 190-2 of Christianity Rediscovered, by Vincent Donovan.

Evangelization is...a beautiful biblical idea. It is necessary first to point out what it is not. I think no one does this more incisively than the Dutch theologian J C Hoekendijk. To summarize a few of his thoughts on the point: Evangelization is not a call to restore Christendom, a kind of solid, well-integrated, cultural complex, directed and dominated by the church. It is not an activity set in motion because the church is endangered, a nervous activity to save the remnants of a time now irrevocably past. It is not a winning back of those people who have become a prey to sin in such a way that the organized church no longer reaches them.

Evangelization is not propaganda. Propaganda leaves nothing to the Spirit, but predetermines the outcome down to the last detail. Its essential character is a lack of expectant hope and an absence of due humility. Propaganda seeks to make exact copies. It attempts to make man in the image and likeness of the propagandist. Quite the opposite of propaganda is evangelization, filled with hope, which means moving forward in a world with unlimited possibilities, in which we won't be surprised if something unforeseen happens.

Evangelization is not proselytism. Proselytism is centripetal. It is a movement inward. People are invited to come to the centre where salvation is localized. In order to become a participant of salvation, they will have to join the group that mediates redemption, ie, emigrate completely from all other life relationships. Evangelization is centrifugal. It leaves Jerusalem and is on its way to the ends of the earth and the end of time. To join means here: to join the journey away from the centre - a light for the Gentiles, which goes forth toward the people, seeking them out and taking them by surprise in their darkness.

The source of evangelization and its necessity and urgency come directly from the gospel. 'All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. (Mt 28:19). 'Preach the gospel to all creation.' (Mk 16:15). 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.' (1 Cor 9:16) Today many people do not agree with this necessity or urgency. But more seriously, even for those of us who do, our reasons for so believing are often shaky, uncertain, and even contradictory.
Donovan goes on to ask innumerable questions as to whether the gospel is of value...and finally rejects most of the answers because...
Christ cannot be left out of evangelization. He is the heart of it, the subject of it, its very goal. What is at stake is the recapitulation of all things in Jesus Christ - all things, all creation, all nations with all their riches. Evangelization is a possibility only in messianic days. The aim of evangelization can be nothing less than what Israel expected the messiah to do, ie, to establish the shalom. Shalom is much more than personal salvation. It is at once peace, integrity, community, harmony, and justice.

The goal of evangelization, and the basis for its urgency, is to put all things under the dominion of Christ. The fulfilment of the human race, the destiny of the human race, of all creation, is what is at stake. Personal salvation is a secondary question. The recapitulation of all things in Christ is what is in store for the human race. God intends to bring the earth and the human race to the fulfilment of the kingdom, planned from the beginning of creation, with the Word there at the beginning - 'In the beginning was the Word' - and the recapitulation of all things, all men, all nations, all the earth, in the man Jesus, in the Word made flesh, at the end. The nations and cultures of the world, with all the riches they imply and possess, are not destined merely for salvation - to be saved and conserved. They are called to be lifted up and fulfilled and transformed in Jesus Christ.

I believe this is what lies at the heart of the urgency and necessity of missionary work and evangelization. This is what I, and others like me, are trying to do out there. Not to bring salvation and goodness and holiness and grace and God, which were there before we got there. But to bring these people the only thing they did not have before we came - hope - a hope embedded in the meaning of the life and death and resurrection of Christ. It is a cleansing and humbling though to see your whole life and work reduced to being simply a channel of hope, and yourself merely a herald of hope, for those who do not have it.
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