"If you died tonight and found yourself at the gate of heaven and Jesus asked you 'Why should I let you into my heaven?'what would your answer be?"
If you've been aroud the Church for a while then you've probably heard this question or one like it before. While it is difficult to nail down the exact differences between modernity and postmodernity in this major cultural shift that is taking place in our culture, this question does a pretty good job of summing up the modern approach to evangelism in particular and Christianity in general. It is designed to encourage someone to think about their eternal destination and thereby lead them to a decision for Jesus. It represents a form of Christianity in which the central question is "How do I get to heaven?"
I attended a workshop here at General Assembly today entitled "Postmodern and Wesleyan?" in which the presenters discussed what Christianity in our Wesleyan heritage as Nazarenes might look like in a postmodern age. I found the most insightful part of this workshop to be when the presenters offered postmodern alternatives to the opening question above. A question like:
"If you were to live for another 40 years, what kind of legacy would you want to leave behind?"
or even better...
"If you believed in a God who was working and active in our world, wouldn't you want to be a part of that redepmtive work?"
These questions represent a Christianity that is not solely focused on heaven or hell but what God is doing now, in this life. As a result, they resonate much more closely with a postmodern generation and, in my opinion are much closer to Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God come to earth. Its not that heaven isn't important. It's just that Christianity shouldn't be boiled down to a ticket to heaven. We believe in a lot more that that. Our hope runs much deeper and wider than that.
In fact, thinking about the way that God works in our world (i.e. inhabiting our flesh through Jesus and continuing to inhabit our lives through the Holy Spirit) should remind us that while certain evangelism techniques might help us present the gospel more concisely, those techniques should never be about a gimmicky, used-car-salesman, kind of offer designed to get someone to agree with our cognitive beliefs about Jesus despite their better judgment. As the Church, we've got to stop looking for short cuts, easy answers, and magic bullets. We've got to stop trying to find the formula that will automatically turn everyone we meet into a Christian and start actually speanding time with people, loving people, building long-lasting relationships, and showing others what it means to be a community centered around the crucified and risen Lord and shaped by his Spirit. After all, that's the example that Jesus himself gave us.