Post-Congregational Evangelism in a Multi-Religious World

groundedWithout a class to teach this term, I’ve let this blog lie dormant for longer than I intended. I’ll work on getting it rolling again, because lots of good things have been happening in my work with students and in my work with Presbytery of the James congregations and pastors.

For today, though, I want to build on a stimulating week of public lectures here at Union Presbyterian Seminary. I had nothing to do with them, but two lectures this week dealt with topics that I will explore in my next two evangelism courses.

On Monday Peter Ochs delivered a fascinating presentation on his approach to ending religion-related conflicts and violence. He noted that the US government has failed in peacemaking efforts in these conflicts because diplomats do not take religion into account when working toward solutions. Ochs suggested that his Scriptural Reasoning method could provide a way for warring peoples from different religions to open up possibilities for flexibility and peacemaking. Ochs and Jerry White have created the Global Covenant of Religions to explore putting these strategies into practice in on-the-ground situations of conflict. (You can watch a video of the lecture here.)

I’d like to incorporate Scriptural Reasoning and Ochs work with religion-related conflict in the class I will be teaching in Fall 2016 called “Evangelism in a Multi-Religious World.” Here is the course description:

What does it mean to bear witness to the gospel in a pluralistic and multi-religious society? Does evangelism require Christians to insist that all other religions are false? Does God expect us to convert non-Christians? What does interreligious dialogue and partnership look like in today’s world? What are the ethical and political implications of public discourse about religion? To address these questions, our study of classic and contemporary theological texts will be supplemented by interactions with people from a variety of religious and nonreligious traditions.

On Wednesday, Diana Butler Bass presented her new book Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution. In very personal terms drawn from her own spiritual life, Bass describes what the spiritual awakening she talked about in Christianity After Religion actually looks like. (You can watch a video of the lecture here.)

Grounded is one of the books we’ll read in my upcoming May term class, “Post-Congregational Evangelism.” Here is the course description:

Are congregations based on anachronistic social capital models? Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman suggest that “networked individualism” is the “new social operating system” of the 21st century. Instead of focusing exclusively on attractional or program-based approaches to ministry that will have limited results in a post-Christendom cultural matrix that we cannot realistically hope to change, the church must also invest in the religious and spiritual lives that people are actively cultivating beyond congregations. This course will explore this new cultural reality and the practical implications of thinking about church as a social network. If people are no longer interested in going to church, the church must find ways of going to the people.

I’m excited about both of these upcoming courses and I’m grateful that they are intersecting with other experiences at the seminary.

John W. Vest is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

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