First Things (a very fine journal by the way) writes of selling Jesus like a Chevy. He describes what evangelism has become -- a slimy, slick sales technique not unlike those who hawk things on the street corner or make infomercials that run in the midnight hours. It is worth the time to read his brief critique.
One small part of his discussion hit me square on the head as a Lutheran. That is the part where he speaks of Jesus as some disembodied idea subject to feelings of the heart or thoughts of the mind. He posits that this is why evangelism is so difficult for Christians today. I think he is on to something.
I cannot but return to the marked contrast between Lutherans today and the Lutherans which TIME magazine chronicled in a cover story dated April 7, 1958. The magazine back then was filled with ads for Mercury, Ford, and Lincoln -- they have waxed and waned but found their way back. I am not so sure for Lutherans. The news then was the amazing growth of Lutheran churches and the converts pouring into Lutheran congregations "attracted by billboards, magazine ads, TV programs, and, in the Lutheran Hour, the most widely broadcast sermon on radio." According to TIME Lutheran had grown by 2 million in less than 10 years. Those were heady days.
"What do Lutheran converts find in their new churches?" asked TIME. They find above all, two things still relatively unchanged -- liturgy and theology. (BTW I am still quoting the article). They find disciplined thinking about the nature of God and man that is anything but typical of US Protestantism. WOW, can we go back then???? Can we???
Pelikan (yes, the one who at the last sought communion in the Orthodox Church) said, "We are theologically specific and theologically concerned. We are not concerned with positive thinking, with hustle-bustle for its own sake. We are not just a chummy group. The interesting thing is that while historic differences remain, Lutherans have begun to recognize that they are closer to Roman Catholics in many ways than they are to other Protestants." Would that it were true today when it seems that even dyed in the wool Lutherans have more Joel Osteen in their heart than the historic mass.
I could go on, but the point is that these Lutherans were people who knew the answers to the questions before us, the answers were from the Scriptures, the answers were incarnate in Jesus Christ, the answers were accessible in the means of grace (Word and Sacraments), and the Church exists to bring these answers to the world.
I cannot speak for other church bodies, but I think I can speak for my own when I say we have had to adopt evangelism techniques alien to our identity because we were no longer knowledgeable about the Scriptures and Confessions, no longer sure of the answers they speak, no longer sure that our faith was in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ instead of feelings or ideas, and no longer sure that the Word and Sacraments conveyed what they promise, and that the Church was essential to life as a Christian and as a person.
Instead we believe but our faith is less the person of Jesus Christ than it is ideals exemplified in Him, less conviction rooted in Scripture and witnessed in history than unrealistic and disembodied hopes, less worship that meets God where God has attached Himself so that we might receive Him than a spiritual experience of something flowing from and for the pleasure of personal taste and desire...
Although this may not be descriptive of every Lutheran, it is what every Lutheran and every Lutheran denomination wrestles against in our uncertain world that delights in doubts more than faith, fears more than confidence, and questions more than doctrine. It may be different by degree in the different Lutheran traditions but it is not different in essence. And if we are to be as resurgent as Ford was with its automobiles in the past several years, it will require that at every level we return to our confidence in the Book of Concord that supplies answers to almost every spiritual problem the Christian soul is prone to and a vibrant worship life centered upon the dynamic of the efficacious Word and Sacraments that will redeem us from sin, death, and all our enemies.