by MIranda Threlfall-Holmes, guest editor
The papers in this edition of Modern Believing stem from a day conference ‘Reclaiming Evangelism: Positive Liberal Theologies of Mission’, held in Liverpool in February 2019.
Liberal Christianity has something of an awkward relationship with evangelism. It’s often associated in our minds with didactic, unreflective and damaging models of Christianity, where ‘we’ have important, saving information that needs to be told to ‘them’. On the other hand, it seems to me that liberal, progressive Christianity really is good news. I’ve seen lives and faith transformed by it.
Modern Church as a society exists to promote it. And yet discussion of how we evangelise as liberal Christians is severely hampered by our inheritance of damaging, retrogressive models and experiences of evangelism from which we naturally cringe. So much of what we think of when we hear the word ‘evangelism’ has been shaped by conservative theology. The popular imagination holds a caricature of Christianity as a religion of ‘thou shalt not’, smiting and the fear of hell. I’ve been asked, quite seriously, why I would bother to do evangelism if I don’t believe that God will send people to hell otherwise.
Joining in with the Missio Dei is inherent to Christian faith, and one of the (unfair) criticisms that is often levelled at liberals is that we are not interested in this. And it is often true that embarrassment about the nature of much evangelism, and dissatisfaction about the way in which the terms and frame of reference of evangelism have been shaped by conservative theology, make many liberals uneasy about evangelism both in theory and practice.
It is critically important that both our theology and practice of evangelism are shaped by the liberal nature of the Christianity – indeed, the Christ – that we seek to share. The papers within this edition of Modern Believing seek to reflect on this, and begin to open up a conversation about what liberal evangelism might look like, and from what theological basis it proceeds.