In all the reading I did a while ago about Cancel Culture, and then after that Virtue Signaling, the thing that interested me most was the shift to what one might call a New Evangelism. I mean, no one has called it that. It is only occurring to me this moment as I contemplate the readings for today but I think it is exactly the term I have been searching around for.
Abram in the Old Testament Lesson, is called by God away from his home and his family and is sent into another land where he will become “a great nation.” After many long plodding chapters and centuries, this great nation is swept up around the throne in Revelation, praising the Lord. The one nation turns out to be not the usual kind, all descended biologically from one ancestor, but rather from every “tribe, and people, and language.” Midway between the two Jesus sends out, that is commissions (it’s called The Great Commission), his friends to “make disciples of all nations.” And so for centuries, Christians have basically heeded the call, taking the good news about Jesus to every place, to every people, because Jesus himself told them to.
Of course, the message that he gives is excessively embarrassing. It is not very nice to have to explain why Jesus coming into the world is such good news (because we are so bad), and just now, it is more out of fashion than ever. Just as the message has gone into all the corners of the world, so have Christians bumbled along, sometimes preferring to argue about what the message means, and how it should be expressed, and to both feel sorry about their own failures, and the failures of others now and in the past, and often to castigate each other for making such a hash of the project. When people who don’t yet belong to this “Great Nation” stumble across some outpost of it, they don’t generally find themselves landing on the word “great,” nor “nation” for that matter. It looks mostly like a pathetic group of superstitious scolds who should really go away and try something else.
Between Jesus’ “Great Commission” and the “Great Gathering” around his throne is the Valley of the Shadow of Failure, frustration, confusion, and defeat. Which is another reason why the message doesn’t often bring in whole throngs of people wanting to get in on such a good deal.
Still, God made man and woman together in his own image, in his image and likeness created he them, and one of the things that is central to that creation is the business of telling other people things, call it “Evangelism.” We are, in some mysterious sense, hard-wired to pass on news, of one kind or another. We will do it even when we don’t want to, even when we’re not really trying, even when we think we are not doing it. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks. Whatever is lodged in there springs forth. What you love most, and believe most heartily, will be the thing that you go around telling all of your friends, even when you aren’t consciously intending to.
If you love the new X Box Series X, or wish that you could have it because you are sure that you would love it given the opportunity, that will be the thing that you mention in every single conversation with everyone. If you love your new red shoes, you will find opportunities to talk about them, even through a mask in the grocery aisle. If you love your own anger, you will find many opportunities to express it here and there with all and sundry. If you love Jesus, I suppose you will often find opportunities to mention him, no matter who you are talking to. Of course, if you are deeply embarrassed by all he represents, that will slip out as well.
The message that is most blessed in this new generation, in case you haven’t noticed, is the goodness of the individual. The Good News is that you can be who you like and no one can stop you. Once you have found yourself out, you share that lovely information with all comers, in all corners of the cosmos. The New Evangelism of the self bears many resemblances to the old one about Jesus. It is a sort of anti-baptized salvation gospel. Rather than finding help outside of yourself, you find it within. Then you remake yourself according to your discovery, and emerge new and bright into the world, like a unicorn encrusted butterfly, ready to be adored by all the world. Cleverly, it is both easy and comfortable to proclaim the good news about yourself because, on the one hand, if you aren’t sharing the good news of your own goodness, are you even good? And on the other hand, because we are so wondrously created to share good news of all kinds, we have invented sickeningly easy ways to do it, by the touch of a button, by the swipe of a finger. No longer limited to telling a passer-by on the street about all that you are, you can go into every corner of the world, gathering a great throng about you, the number of your followers gradually trending up (unless Facebook changes its algorithm again, blast them).
Indeed, the new morally good self must go out into all the world, sharing the good news (that’s the virtue-signaling part), correcting those who are wrong (that’s the canceling part), joining together into one great cacophony of self-discovery. The eschatological hope is brought into being right now. Instead of ‘already and not yet,’ it is ‘right now or nevermore.’
Which should increase, for those of us who love Jesus, the desire to keep saying the Old Good News, of repeating, though in words that people now can understand, how it is actually a relief to admit that Thou and I are both together bad, and yet Jesus gives all of his goodness to those he loves. That he has washed their robes and made them beautiful and spotless, and that, because they are clustered around him in that great throng, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Go to church! Or find one online, and join yourself to that Great Nation, and drag a friend along, for that is literally the Point. Hope to see you there!