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Evangelism after Christendom

J.C. Hoekendijk has numerous penetrating things to say about evangelism in a post-Christendom context. Not one to soften anything he says, this quote, like so many others of his has a bit of a strong edge to it:

Traditional method of evangelism generally presupposed the existence of  Christendom, of the corpus Christianum. Wichern, the father of the Home Mission movement in Germany, provided the classic formulation of this idea: the task of evangelisation is the winning back of the masses in Christendom that have fallen under the power of sin, and are no longer reached by the ordinary methods of the Church’s working. The presupposition that we are working in the Christian world has given its character to all our idea of evangelistic work. It was a work of winning people back. Its aim was to bring back to people’s memory something that they already knew.

There is a fundamental similarity between the methodology that Hoekendijk describes here and the entire tradition of American Protestantism, which, historically is based in the tradition of revivalism. Both the first and second Great Awakenings were predicated on this notion. In both cases there was something there, immanent within the cultural complex that could be awakened and revived.

Hoekendijk goes on, in talking about evangelism in a post-Christendom context, however:

Since Christendom in that sense no longer exists, such a method of working no longer has any significance. In many parts of the world, we find ourselves in that which is in effect a non-Christian society. Here new experiments have to be tried, and in these the mission field can give much guidance. Many of the new evangelistic experiments which have been made in this No-Man’s-Land shew remarkable similarity of structure. The pattern of work of these new methods may be summarised as follows: to make clear the meaning of the word of proclamation (kerygma) by means of a life lived in fellowship (koinonia) and finding its expression in simple service (diakonia).

This strikes at the heart of so much of what Hoekendijk has to say about the nature of the church and/as mission in the modern world. What is central for any theology of the the church’s missionality is this notion of comprehensive shalom, which finds expression in the threefold pattern of kerygma, koinonia, and diakonia. Most of Hoekendijk’s work centered on exploring different methods of instantiating and embodying these ecclsio-missional qualities, in fact for him, they server as the very definition of the church as the sign of God’s kingdom.

3 Comments

  1. No. No. No. Initially (at least) revivalism sought to reawaken the Church. Then, the church could be at work to evangelize and improve the world. Christians needed to be called to faithfulness so that they could fulfill their missions of evangelism and social action. An un-revived & cold & unfaithful church was no witness.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink
  2. Bill McReynolds wrote:

    I fail to understand Craig’s point. Reawakening the Church is the same as reawakening Christendom up to the middle of the 20th century. Hoekendijk’s point, as I understand it, is that God’s mission is for the church to evangelize exactly through kerygma, koinonia and diakonia. The church (since society no longer even pretends to being Christian) is now, or very shortly will be, comprised of only those who actually claim the Christian faith for themselves, since even in the U.S. Bible belt there is no longer any social cache to church attendance. Until we reach that point, where every congregation is a fellowship of believers, we have little hope of gaining ground through evangelism (since we do not honestly live our faith). Very soon the church will be past the point of revival and will instead need resurrection.

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  3. Marvin wrote:

    A couple of thoughts. First, there is still something “immanent within the cultural complex that could be awakened and revived” here in the southeastern U.S., perhaps more so than in the Pacific Northwest, so the revivalist project in some form might yet have legs around here.

    Second, the Church is forever playing catch-up in the task of bringing her lifestyle in line with her proclamation. No doubt that if the distance between what she practices and what she preaches were closed, this would be a boon to evangelism.

    But on what basis? Why would the unchurched appreciate a Church that practices what it preaches more than, say, a Gang that practices what it preaches? There must be some shared set of norms between the Church and the world in order for the “Evangelism as Church hypocrisy reduction project” to succeed. What are those shared norms?

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

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