Allen Yeh wrote a great post on evangelism yesterday:
Despite the fact that I am a missiologist (missions = evangelism + social justice in a cross-cultural setting), I find that some of the toughest people to reach with the Gospel are right here in my own context: postmodern Western atheists. Let me offer the way that I often approach them—with the disclaimer that every person is different in terms of their resistance and personal situations, and ultimately it is God that does the work in their heart. No program or strategy will be effective unless the Holy Spirit is behind it. So, prayer is of the essence.
I find that the three biggest assumptions/obstacles that postmodern Western atheists have are universalism, relativism, and tolerance. Before anything else, you have to address these three issues otherwise they cannot move on to other thoughts.
Regarding universalism, I point out that it is an untenable position to hold that all religions are the same. There is a reason that interreligious worship services never work: they appeal to no one. No Muslim or Buddhist or Christian or Jew will say that their religion is the same as the others; if there is anything they can all agree on, it’s that each religion is not the same as, and cannot be blurred with, the others. Maybe Hinduism can say this, as they have 100 million gods, but all other religions argue for exclusivity as one of their characteristics.
As for relativism (really, universalism is just a subset of relativism), that does not hold water either, because everyone (even postmodernists!) operates on standards of absolute truths, otherwise you cannot do science or logic. We cannot even be having this conversation if there is not an assumption of absolute truth, otherwise we would not even make sense to one another, because language is predicated on mutual assent of what words mean. And the statement “All truth is relative” is in and of itself an absolute statement, so it undermines itself by its own force.
Finally, the issue of tolerance is not a bad one if it is balanced by free speech. In Western democracies, we believe in both, and they seem to go together if tolerance means “I will accept your right to believe as you wish.” However, tolerance has become twisted to mean, “Everyone should leave everyone else alone—you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t infringe on me in the least.” This is absurd thinking; a society is based on social relationships, and it is impossible for people to not be affected by anybody else. Unless one were to go into a cave and become a hermit, our ideas will affect each other—but that is for the better. We are not a totalitarian society where nobody is allowed to say anything that anybody else disagrees with. Rather, the tension is between “I have the right to try to convince you of my position,” and “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”* It is my right to tell you what I think; and it is your right to hold whatever position you think. This is how free speech and tolerance go hand in hand. Jim Wallis has a great quote: “Faith is always personal but never private.” He highlights a distinction that is often missed by many atheists and liberals. Religion has always been public and corporate. The solution is not to remove religion from the public sphere, but to respect each other’s rights to express our faith openly, so long as the ones who profess faith do not use force or undue coercion to achieve their ends (and it goes without saying that those who do not profess faith should not use force or undue coercion against those who do!). So, if you will allow me to speak my mind, and indeed to tell you that you are wrong (and to give plausible reasons why), I will also promise to listen to your side equally, and to leave you alone when you feel enough is enough.
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