Our world is changing. And the evangelistic approaches that worked yesterday, don’t work as well today. We all feel that. But what do we do about it?

Some have given up. Maybe people are just not open to the gospel today.

Some have given in. Maybe we should downplay things like sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Some have been given away. Maybe it’s time for me to let go of my own faith.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ warning about what it will be like in the last days: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:12-13, NIV).”

Have you given up? Have you given in? Have you given it away? Or are you standing firm, but wondering how we can ever reach an increasingly secular age like ours?

Like many of us, Daren Overstreet, our new co-evangelist in Tampa, has wrestled deeply with this question over the last few years. His love for God’s people and deep dive into this question has moved him to write a book about it, called Wildfire, available through the DT Media Store.

He’s also been speaking about it to church leaders and members since then. Recently, he was invited to speak on it at our Fall Florida Church Leaders meeting, and I’d like to share with you what he said. Of course, any thoughtful analysis of the challenges the church faces today, where those challenges come from, and how to best move forward evangelistically in the new missional era is going to be one perspective among many. So, please receive this offering in the spirit of humility and love that it is being given – in the hopes that it will lead to more conversation from other perspectives as well. These dialogues should be conversation starters, not conversation enders.

So, with that, here are the observations and insights Daren presented at that church leaders’ meeting (presented here in collaboration with Daren and with his permission) …

Daren suggested we find ourselves in a “New Missional Era,” a phrase that comes from a book by Patrick Keifert called We Are Here Now. It’s an era with both new opportunities and new challenges. The opportunities lie in a greater willingness for people to challenge the accepted norms of our past and give fresh thought to old ways of doing things. But the challenge is that we now live in a post-Christian society, which means life, reality, and identity are no longer assumed to be defined by an involved, intimate God. We can no longer fall back on religion for determining our steps, or how to relate to one another in society. Those ideas are now seen as naïve and simplistic for a majority of people.

So, what are the practical implications of this for our evangelistic efforts today? 

Here’s some quotes Daren presented that he has heard from different demographics in the ICOC:

From church leaders: “It is getting harder to preach these days without having to apologize for offending somebody, or having to choose my words extremely carefully. I find myself staying away from the hot topics of society, even though most want to discuss them. It also seems like people are not only reading the Bible less, but differently.”

From campus ministers: “There seems to be something different these days with Christian college students. They think differently, rarely seem to default to scripture for identity, and are increasingly afraid to act in any way that may get them accused of passing judgment. Some are very afraid to disagree with others, especially on issues related to morality.”

From church members: “I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like my church is changing. People are much more sensitive, but also more opinionated. It also seems like political ideologies are taking center stage. I wish someone would clearly explain what we believe and how we are navigating our current times.”

From non-Christians: “I am just not sure the Christian faith is relevant for me anymore, nor do I feel the scriptures are reliable. They are old and outdated. We need a new and improved idea of what it means to be good, as well as to deconstruct all our notions about what it means to be a church.”

These comments were powerful to hear – since most of us have heard similar comments or made them ourselves.

Daren went on to describe a new brand of Christianity that is spreading through our churches like wildfire – without most of us even realizing it. And it’s as dangerous as a wildfire as well.

It’s the influence of an approach to the scriptures and to church life that seeks to make the hard truths of Christianity more palatable to the world – but in the process, waters down some of the most essential truths of Christianity – thus diluting our faith and weakening it.

In Daren’s book, he labels this increasingly popular influence that is encroaching on our churches, “progressive theology.” Simply put, one source defines “progressive theology” as “a rewriting of essential and important elements of biblical Christianity to fit Western secular values” (Renew.org).

Here’s how Daren went on to explain where he believes this theological approach comes from.

There are three dynamics, all coalescing to form a brand of Christianity that feels relevant but is extremely dangerous:

  1. Postmodern thought: This is not new to us. Postmodern thinking has been around for a long time. It is characterized by affirming all ideas of truth, no matter who presents it. Truth is a result of experience, feelings, and desire. In our society, a source of objective truth like the Bible is seen as outdated. Postmodern thought has also led to erasing anything that looks or feels like a judgment, validating all paths to identity, rejecting authority, and essentially blurring the lines of morality, making it very hard to draw any lines of righteousness in the sand. Above all, it is causing extreme confusion to the younger generation. What makes postmodern thought extra concerning today is that it is baked into so many new ideas and concepts, and if you disagree with them, you are labeled as narrow-minded.
  2. Critical theory: Essentially, this is a way of organizing reality that was developed a long time ago as a way of explaining economic imbalance. It now looks at many power imbalances in society and seeks to explain why they exist. It simplifies things by labeling some as oppressors and others as oppressed and offering political ideas about how to fix the imbalances. As this thinking slowly makes its way into the church, mainly through discussions around the hot and divisive topics of society, it subtly undermines gospel theology by pitting different groups of people against each other and reducing all of life to a quest for power. While sinful humans have always mistreated each other, critical theory suggests retaliation, while Christianity teaches the way of forgiveness and equity based on the fact that all humans are created in the image of God, and thus equally valuable. The cross levels humanity’s sinful imbalances by drawing people into a relationship with Jesus, which causes us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; while critical theory levels sinful imbalances by using social, economic, and political power to force its agenda. No wonder it promotes division, not unity, in the body of Christ.
  3. An ancient and ambiguous view of the Bible: Essentially, scripture is revered and respected in progressive Christianity, but the Bible is subtly adapted in order to be more relevant to today’s postmodern audience. Since it is an ancient book being applied to a postmodern society, it needs updating in order to reveal what the Holy Spirit is up to today. Since it is ambiguous and hard to understand, much of it is assigned to a place of metaphor, allegory, or simply wisdom – but not too much that resembles certainty or objective truth. It assumes there can be no real missional or hermeneutical creativity today without changing scripture to make it more relevant to Western secular ideas.

Taken together, these concepts are creating a toxic atmosphere in some of our churches that requires addressing; something we in Tampa are committed to. 

Consider how this scripture addresses what’s happening in our churches today:

“ Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is, first of all, pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere .” – James 3:13-18

James offers a clear contrast between two different types of wisdom: the wisdom of the world (full of human ambition, envy, and agendas), and the wisdom of God (unifying, peace-loving, pure, and fruit-bearing). How different are these two types of “wisdom”? One “comes down from heaven,” and the other “is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (vs. 15). That’s a huge difference!

We’ve simply got to address this encroachment of worldly thinking in the church if we are to keep ourselves faithful, our children faithful, and our fellowship faithful to God.

The irony in all of this is that research shows “progressive churches,” who adopt a low view of scripture in order to not offend modern sensibilities, are actually dying, not growing. Instead of an onramp to Christianity, they are proving to be an offramp to secularism (Wildfire, pg. 103).

So, how do we evangelize successfully in the new missional era? Daren suggests:

  • we relate to our culture without giving in to it
  • we understand our culture without agreeing with it
  • we acknowledge society’s ills without adopting humanistic solutions to them

And there’s more. Daren offers 10 practical suggestions for individuals, and 16 practical suggestions for churches in the last chapter of Wildfire entitled “Intentionally Moving Forward.”

But for the purposes of this article, I hope you’ve heard enough to consider where the obstacles we are facing in our evangelism may be coming from, and the convictions we need to overcome them in order to evangelize successfully in our world today.

Let me reiterate that any thoughtful analysis of the challenges the church faces today, where those challenges come from, and how to best move forward evangelistically in the new missional era is going to be one perspective among many. So, please receive this offering in the spirit of humility and love that it is being given – in the hopes that it will lead to more conversation from other perspectives as well. These dialogues should be conversation starters, not conversation enders.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not shrink back in the face of the challenges of a post-Christian world.

To those who have given up evangelism because they don’t think people are open today – I say Jesus’ words ring just as true today as they did in the first century, when he told his disciples, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest (John 4:35).”

To those who have given in to watering down God’s Word on sin, righteousness, and judgement – I say, who are you or I to do such a thing? “ In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).”

And to those who are in danger of giving away their own faith and giving up completely – I urge you to hang on! Listen to the words of our Risen Lord in Revelation 3:11-13, “ I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 

Let’s hold on. Let’s not give up on our faith – or on our evangelism.

Yes, times are changing, and it’s a new missional era. But the timeless gospel is still just as powerful today as it’s always been.

May we stand together and proclaim boldly with the Apostle Paul: “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… (Romans 1:16) .”

Editor’s note: Jeff Chacon serves on the leadership team of the Anchor Point Church in Tampa, Florida, as well as the Florida Regional Operations, Planning, and Strategy Team, and is one of the designated Florida Regional Peacemakers. He has served as an evangelist in many different churches around the US over the last 36 years and is best known for his and his wife’s marriage and parenting workshops as well as his book, Dare to Dream Again.