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Conversation Launchers

Do we need to think more critically about who we are reaching rather than how many we are reaching?

Again, Keller and Berry’s book ad- vocates for influencing just ten per- cent of any population—the rest will follow. In the 1930s, a committed Marxist named Antonio Gramsci fore- cast the eventual fall of communism. He felt that while communist thinking played well with the masses, it had not proven to be persuasive among leaders in politics, commerce, the arts, education, and the media.

Gramsci predicted the communist movement would eventually falter if it would not engage those who sit at the key crossroads of cultural leader- ship. In 1989, we witnessed the fulfill- ment of his prophecy.

Do we need to recalibrate how long it takes to “change the world” or a society?

In the postmodern world, it seems to take longer for someone to come to faith. In the 1950s and 60s, many parachurch organizations saw one in two individuals become believers when they first heard the gospel. To- day, estimates vary between one in ten and one in twenty. Furthermore, it takes six to nine months longer for someone to come to faith than it did in modern times. Do we need to reca- librate our view of evangelism as more of a process and less a point-in-time event?

Do we need to change our perception of our role in the evangelistic process?

I have recently begun to suggest that evangelists in our culture need to see themselves more as “center fielders” rather than as “pitchers” as we do in our current approach. We make a presentation—a “pitch,” if you will— and the listener responds. However, I suggest that we need more emphasis on becoming “center fielders.” Center fielders do not control the game as much as they cover a great deal of ground. Center fielders think on their feet. They anticipate well. They gain recognition by performing well, responding to questions and having a grasp of a wide range of topics (i.e., worldview). We will have to become experts on the cultural milieu around us. As Brian McLaren points out, Paul quoted the Athenian poets—not his prophets—on Mars Hill (Acts 17).

Do we need to better appreciate—and employ—those who have come before us?

I believe we can develop “world- view evangelism” in the postmodern world. Postmodern people think more broadly in terms of a process rather than a decision (or a point-in- time conversion). Outreach that can think broadly is called “worldview evangelism.” Socrates suggested that it is often better to ask a few probing questions, interacting and exploring with people, than to present a pack- age of propositions. In effect, he advocated for the art of conversation. The Apostle Paul wrote: “I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ, but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view” (I Corinthians 9,

Schaeffer was to describe the surpassing beauty and coherency of a comprehensive and cogent Christian worldview. For a believer, this means weaving an attractive narrative that leads the skeptic towards the surpassing beauty of the Christian worldview.

How much of the postmodern experience is going to influence China?

Recently, I watched a PBS special that tracked a Chinese family through five years. It seemed to me that the twenty-something son came to reject the family’s traditional (pre-modern) way of thinking and became post- modern. I believe that, in the West, the postmodern world now characterizes seventy-five percent of the population including the urban core, media, cultural elites and intellectuals. Is this true for China? Most of the missionary efforts of the last two hundred years in China assumed modernist approaches. If there are emerging, post- modern Chinese, then this “modern” evangelism will appear backward and intolerant. To use James Collins’ words, we must “confront the brutal reality” that most of our evangelistic methods are grounded in modern assumptions and techniques and are primarily effective in pre-modern societies. The higher one goes in the strata of society throughout the world, the more postmodern thought prevails (and the less effective our modern methods become). Is China moving more and more toward postmodern- ism or are these assumptions too great?

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Image credit: A friend of ChinaSource.

Michael W. Metzger

President and senior fellow of The Clapham InstituteView Full Bio