Bishop Michael Curry, who will be installed as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the United States next month, has been making people nervous by talking about evangelism.

Many Anglicans view evangelism with suspicion. It feels like one group of “enlightened” people telling another group of “lost” people what they must believe in order to be “found.” It seems to demand that those who are wandering in darkness come to join us in the light by agreeing with our version of “the truth.”

But Bishop Curry has a gentler more appealing take on the much maligned practice of evangelism. He defines evangelism as

helping people find their way to be in relationship with their God and with each other.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/religion/article37751331.html

The Bishop’s definition begins with “helping people.” Evangelism for Curry has nothing to do with anyone imposing anything on anyone. It does not mean you must agree with my view of the world, or sign on the dotted line of my particular understanding of the nature of God and life.

Bishop Curry cautions that evangelism in his view

is not about us converting anybody… that’s God’s job not ours.

Evangelism is not about doing something to anyone. It is not about imposing strange foreign ideas. We do not evangelize in order to homogenize.

Curry’s vision of evangelism wants to help people find “their way.” He wants all people to discover the way that works for them, that feels authentic and genuine to their life experience. And, the God Curry wants to help people be in relationship with does not come with a prescribed doctrine or dogma to which all the “faithful” must subscribe. Curry wants to encourage people to be in relationship with “their God.” This is not about ownership. Bishop Curry wants to help people discover a vision of God that feels congruent with their deepest understanding of reality.

This vision of evangelism is rooted in Bishop Curry’s understanding that the heart of the Christian Gospel, is not getting our theology right. It is not even primarily about getting my moral life tidied up. The core of the Gospel is love. Curry says,

The most significant challenge facing Christianity in America and to some extent in the western world is how to invite men, women and children into the kind of relationship with Jesus of Nazareth that is defined and characterized totally and completely by love. And that is a way of Being Christian that can actually make a difference in the world.

I really do believe that the way of Jesus matters. I’m talking about the way of love. I’m not talking about anybody’s religion. I’m talking about the way of love that Jesus taught us. That is the way of life.

If we could only get the love right, perhaps evangelism would take care of itself.

Our ability to invite people “into the kind of relationship with Jesus of Nazareth that is defined and characterized totally and completely by love” would certainly be enhanced if we were willing to heed the instructions of the New Testament and

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31,32)

Bishop Curry seems intent on calling Christians back to the way of Jesus. Who knows what impact the church may have if we answer that call with willing hearts. As Curry suggests,

That is the message that will bring people back. And the more we embody it … as a church, I suspect that there are people who will actually take note.

Perhaps we have been asking the wrong question. We  may not be well-served by asking: How can I get you to agree with me? A better question might be: What would it look like for me to live a truly Christian life? (see tomorrow’s post: “A Biblical Vision of the Christian Life”)
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