Bulletin Banner

Return to November/December 2016 articles.

The title of this article is DECADENT AMERICA AND 21ST CENTURY EVAGELISM. The picture is of two hands holding a piece of white paper with a red dot in the center.

We live in a very unusual time. It is not unusual regarding what is taking place, because war, political upheaval, and immorality have always been a part of human existence on Earth. It is also not unusual regarding goodness, because no matter how bad things have gotten in the past, there have always been those who did the right thing and maintained a positive relationship with God. One is reminded of the ancient prophet Elijah who told God that he was the only faithful person left. God's response was, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal … ” (1 Kings 19:14 – 18). Even in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, there was Lot trying to maintain his relationship with God in a culture that seemed to have hit the moral bottom.

What is unique about the time in which we live are the tools available to God's people to meet the disintegration of our culture. When I was a new Christian, I was blessed to be brought into a congregation of God's people that had great elders who truly shepherded us as a body. Charles Hoggatt was one of those men, and one of his favorite motivational tools was to take a white sheet of paper and put a small red dot on the page. He would then hold it up and ask you what you saw. The response was usually, “I see a red dot.” He would then ask, “Why did you not see a white sheet of paper?” The point, of course, was that when you look different from what is around you, you can become “this little light” of God.

Last winter (2016) we had the opportunity to get away from Michigan's ice and snow in January and spend ten days in the Florida A drinking break for students during a spring break trip.panhandle. This is an area of white beaches and beautiful water teeming with waterfowl, porpoises, and all kinds of fish. It is a wonderful place for a family vacation. There are also twenty-five-story hotels, lavish restaurants, lots of bars, huge swimming pools, and stores such as “King Condom” that flash all kinds of invitations for immersion into sin. One of the locals told me that they were gearing up for “Sodom Week” when spring break occurs at many colleges and massive numbers of college students descend on the beach front for what can only be described as a “wide-open orgy.” It is also a financial reprieve for local merchants from the “winter crowd” that is dominated by snowbirds like us.

What response can we as Christians make to all of this? I come back to Charles Hoggatt's red dot on the white paper. One of the good experiences we had while in Panama City Beach was meeting believers who were not a part of “Sodom Week.” These folks were offering alternatives to the sin activities that dominate the commercial establishment. One couple had opened a Christian Retreat Resort which did not cater to those with money, but to those with a desire to enjoy the beauty of the area around them and spend time in prayer, devotion, and reflection. Another family had opened a very unusual miniature golf complex which did not allow liquor or profanity on the course. These were individuals offering alternatives to people in the world. While they were very quiet and not flashy, the people who live in the area knew what they were doing, and it spoke loudly for Jesus Christ.

We were especially encouraged by the fact that some Christian college students were making arrangements to open a booth to offer alternatives to “Sodom Week.” They had purchased a space in the middle of the activity center and were providing counseling personnel and free materials on matters relevant to college-age young people. These included a section on God's view of sex and marriage, what is your purpose in being alive, finding a career, dealing with depression, and dealing with homosexuality. They also offered materials in apologetics ranging from how we know God exists to which God and which holy book is true. This reminded me of the beach evangelism that took place in the 1970s when many of us spent spring break talking to college students on the beaches about Christianity and faith in God.

When I offered to help publicize their work, I was refused because they already had more than they could handle, and because Silhouettes of a multi-ethnic group of people partying on a beach.they did not want to be identified with what one young man called “stagnant, introverted Christianity.” I have spent a lot of time mulling over that phrase. On Sunday we visited a local congregation that meets in a very nice building and has elders, a full-time preacher, and about 140 in attendance. The Bible study was biblical (which is not always the case), and a good lecture was given. The sermon was biblical and was on how pain disciplines Christians. The announced topic for future classes was “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Church,” and the outline of the subject matter was about “us.”

It is so easy for me to want to be a part of looking at me — at “us.” It is so easy for me to want to hear only what I have heard before. It is so easy to want my emotional and spiritual back to be scratched by listening to topics that do not require me to think or study or apply in a practical way what God teaches. It is so easy for me to stagnate and only to look inward.

Twenty-first-century evangelism involves breaking away from that. Going to a building three times a week is not likely to be evangelistically fruitful. We need to do it because we need the fellowship, learning, and encouragement it gives, but it is not evangelism. When Paul spoke evangelistically, it was not in a church building, and his topics were not subjects designed to placate the brethren. I am persuaded that the church in Laodicea was a “stagnant, introverted” congregation, and Jesus said they made him sick (see Revelation 3:14 – 21).

It is so easy to be the “red dot” in today's world. We can be a booth at the local fair, on the beach, at the mall, in the university commons, or at the local street carnival that speaks to the relevant issues of our day. We can speak in forums and assemblies on topics people care about. A special tool available to us in the twenty-first century is the internet. The Does God Exist? ministry has hit a gold mine of opportunities on the web. In the 46 years that we have done lectureships on college and university campuses and in public town-hall meetings, having 1,000 people show up for a presentation was a really large crowd. Today on our websites the number of people we are talking with is well over 100,000 and up to a quarter of a million every week. On our Facebook page the vast majority are on mobile devices such as tablets and phones, and they are all over the world. Over half are under age 24. We urge our readers to spend some time on our websites and Facebook page. The web addresses are on the next page. We have done this with a minimum of advertising, but we have been doing it for a very long time. Our doesgodexist.org website is one of the oldest sites on the web.

Local congregations can prepare websites and Facebook page outreaches. They can develop relevant materials on their own or link to our sites or others. You may have a teenager or college student in your congregation who can handle the technical part of setting up the sites. Business cards, newspaper ads, billboards, and mass mailings can greatly increase the outreach. Be prepared to have lots of inquiries and lots of questions to answer on the web. The “fields are ripe unto harvest” but we need to use the tools God has given us and strive not be a part of “stagnant, introverted” congregations like the one at Laodicea. The red dot we represent is the blood of Christ, the one answer to the problems of a lost and a dying world.

— John N. Clayton

A picture of a diverse group of people using digital devices to make social connections.

Picture credits:
© alexandrbognat. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Rawpixel.com. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Rawpixel.com. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Rawpixel.com. Image from BigStockPhoto.com