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Remembering St. Patrick, the Missionary

“Evangelism”

The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever may, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present. And in that welcome and invitation, all the emotions can be, and one hopes will eventually be, fully engaged.

But how can the church announce that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil, corruption, and death itself have been defeated, and that God’s new world has begun? Doesn’t this seem laughable? Well, it would be if it wasn’t happening. But if a church is working on the issues we’ve already looked at — it it’s actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community — then suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense.

So what account can we give, within this theology of new creation, of what happens when the gospel takes root? It happens again and again, thank God: people discover, firing up within themselves, the sense that it does make sense, that they really believe it, that they find it transforming the way they are thinking and feeling about all sorts of other things, that the presence of Jesus is suddenly a reality for them, that reading the Bible becomes exciting, that they can’t get enough of Christian worship and fellowship. We use various words for this moment or this process (with some people it happens in a flash; with others it takes a long time): conversion, which means turning around to travel in the opposite direction; regeneration, which means new birth; “entering into Christ,” which means joining the family, which takes its name and its character from Jesus himself. . . . Such a person is a living, breathing little bit of “new creation” — that new creation that has already begun to happen in Jesus’s resurrection and that will be complete when God finally makes his new heavens and new earth and raises us to share in that new world.

~ from Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N. T. Wright 

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