Targets of attitude
March 27 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Targets of attitude | Friday, March 28, 2003

Friday, March 28, 2003

Targets of attitude

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

What sparked my thinking was the phrase "target of opportunity," used to describe the initial volley of cruise missiles and bombs on Baghdad. The phrase was soldier-speak for an enemy target too good to pass up. Military planners thought they had an opportunity to "decapitate" Iraqi leadership by killing - excuse me, by "taking out" - Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, who were thought to be huddling in a deep underground bunker.

The military lingo is an intriguing sidebar to the unhappy story of war and death unfolding in Iraq.

I couldn't help but notice that the war jargon is strikingly similar to the language of conquest many evangelicals use to describe evangelism and missions.

Let me say from the beginning that I strongly believe in both evangelism and missions. Sharing the gospel message with others is at the core of the church's identity. Any Christian, church or denomination that makes no effort to proclaim the good news is ignoring the clear demands of the great commission.

I wonder, however, if it might be helpful to examine our speech - to think about the common words we use, the unexamined attitudes they mask, and the way they are heard by others.

We have regularly described mass evangelistic efforts as "crusades," a word that recalls the ugly era when European armies waged war against Muslims under the banner of the cross.

We celebrate the size of our "missions force," which bespeaks overcoming power.

We talk about "making converts" by "winning" or "leading" someone to Christ, expressions that emphasize the evangelist's success in negotiating another's surrender to God.

We set up "platforms" as covert bases of operations in countries where the Christian gospel (or, at least, our version of it) is not welcomed.

In strategic planning, we "target" specific demographic or ethnic groups for evangelization, and send specially trained teams to "impact" the target groups.

Some of us still sing "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before."

Enough said.

Our customs of language, like traditions of worship and other church practices, have developed and grown familiar over many years. We certainly mean no harm by them. But, as insightful church leaders have challenged us to rethink the relevance of some traditions and practices in our changing world, it may also be time to rethink our vocabulary of evangelism and missions.

Billy Graham took one step in that direction shortly after the events of 9/11/01. Demonstrating a heightened sensitivity to Muslims, he stopped using the word "crusade" to describe his mass evangelism meetings.

Perhaps we should learn from Graham's example, and build on it.

Unfortunately, many of the world's people think of "American" and "Christian" as equivalent terms. Whether right or not, there is growing world opinion that Americans are bullies who want to build an empire for own purposes. When American Christians use the language of conquest to describe their mission efforts, it feeds this tragic perception, with nothing but harm on the horizon for the reputation of evangelical Christianity.

Are there more positive ways to speak of evangelism, using words of opportunity and invitation rather than of judgment and conquest?

I think there are.

Think, for a moment, about the purpose of evangelism. Christ called us to live as He lived and to love as He loved, demonstrating Jesus' presence in such a positive way that others will also want to know and to follow the Lord we serve.

Working from this mindset, we love others for their own sake, and not just as targets for evangelism. As questions and opportunities arise, we gladly share the good news of what Christ can do in and for those who follow Him, instead of beginning with the bad news of what might lie in store for those who don't.

From this perspective, we don't "win," "lead," or "convert" others, vanquishing or diminishing their pre-Christian personhood. Rather, we introduce them to Christ from the overflow of our own cup, inspiring by our example rather than imposing our beliefs.

Working from that point of view, we would naturally use different language to describe our efforts. The shift in vocabulary or perspective does not lessen the importance of evangelism or decrease our responsibility to share the gospel through our lives.

If anything, approaching evangelism from the perspective of compassion instead of conquest demands more of us - that we not only use good words, but live by them.

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3/27/2003 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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