D. James Kennedy, Post-Christian America, and Evangelism

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D. James Kennedy went home to be with Jesus this week. Arguably his lasting impact on American Evangelicalism will be represented through Evangelism Explosion. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Evangelism Explosion (yes you 100 people who hit this site by searching for UNLV each week, I’m talking to you), it was a strategy for sharing the gospel centered around two direct questions that went something like this:

If you were to die today (sometimes “on a scale of 1-10 is added here), how sure would you be that you would go to heaven?

and

If God asked you why he should let you into his heaven, what would you say?

Now, apparently this approach has led many people to Christ since its inception. Its effectiveness isn’t what it used to be, and for a myriad of reasons. To name a few:

– More people believe in a higher power, but not necessarily a personal one

– People are less trusting of strangers (note: this strategy was most prominent in “initiative evangelism” in which the evangelizer approaches someone they don’t know in a public place in order to share the gospel with them)

– People have less of a Christian background than before (this means background work needs to be done before one hits an unbeliever with the “God/Sin/Jesus/Faith” presentation”)

– Christians have polarized themselves from the status quo, causing the need to convert not only to Christ, but to the Christian culture

These are only a few examples of what Missiologists are calling a Post-Christian America. What this means is that we must do evangelism differently. I tried for about a year to do Evangelism Explosion type evangelism in Seattle, and came away convinced that a different method had to be developed. My reasoning for finding a different method to replace the Evangelism Explosion model is methodological (which I would consider a biblical methodology, but then again, don’t we all?) and experiential (now don’t consider this an invalid point, it is probably the most valid).I think that if we want to be faithful to God’s mission to make disciples of all nations (I would includes cultures within the scope of Christ’s intention in that statement), then we cannot hold onto methods that were created to reach a culture different than ours.

That being said, in honor of the great work of our brother D. James Kennedy, I wanted to share one of my favorite moments using the Evangelism Explosion method:

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When I was 20 years old I was on a Summer Project with Campus Crusade for Christ. Held up in the Denver Airport for over three hours my buddy and I decided to do what all good Campus Crusaders do on Summer Project, share the gospel with unsuspecting people (Actually unsuspecting isn’t true at all. Everyone is quite suspicious when two young men approach them asking spiritual questions, especially when they both of their first names are Elder). Anyways, for three hours we had some of the greatest experiences I have ever had sharing the gospel. In the case of one lady who was probably in her late 20’s, the Evangelism Explosion method was quite fruitful. We approached Mary saying who we were and what we were talking to people about. Mary said she had been Catholic her whole life, and truly tried to follow God’s rules as best she knew how, and that she would love to talk but only had 15 minutes until she had to catch her flight. For some reason I asked her something like, “If your plane were to crash tonight, how sure would you be that you are going to heaven?” (I know, I know. I had even less tact then than I do now.) Despite my bluntness she responded, “Gosh, I don’t know. What a great question? Can anyone say for sure? What they would you say?” I replied, I could, and if I could have the rest of her fifteen minutes, I bet she could as well (okay, there’s no way I said it that eloquently when I was 20).

For the next ten minutes I shared the gospel with her. I shared how we were created in God’s image, and how we had sinned against him. I shared that our sin against God is what keeps us away from him and out of heaven. I shared how Jesus’ death on the cross covers our penalty for sin, and that we either get to heaven by trusting in what we do, or what he has done. Mary decided that night that she wanted to trust in what Jesus had done, and not her own efforts any longer. The joy she expressed as she hugged us and left for her flight will never leave me, and I am excited to see her once again when we meet in glory.

So today I thank God for D. James Kennedy and his willingness to seek God and be open to finding a way to connect so many people with God. I thank God for him and for all the people who have responded to his questions by saying something like:

“Gosh, I don’t know. What a great question? Can anyone say for sure? What they would you say?”

Matt

—————-
Now playing: The Bravery – Fearless
via FoxyTunes

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3 Responses

  1. Evangelism Explosion!? Always loved the name of that. And to be honest I did not knot that stuff started with Kennedy. I guess I had assumed that Crusade had invented it. When I think of Kennedy I just remember I a guy I used to occasionally listen to on the radio, and see on tv. He always had the coolest robes, and pulpit. Plus if I was ever looking for a narrator I would have either chosen him or Swindoll.

  2. Nicely written, Matt. I remember when that Denver airport thing happened and how much God used that to encourage you toward a life of ministry. Good stuff.

  3. Matt,

    This is a great post, thanks for sharing this. I never heard that story of the airport conversion.

    You brought up some interesting points about the ineffectiveness of doing evangelism explosion-type evangelism because of the current post-Christian culture we live in; my question to you would be: What works now? If those questions don’t reach the younger generation which ones do?

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