by Al Mansfield
My wife Patti and I once served on a committee of about 20 people to assess evangelization in our Archdiocese. At one point each person was asked what he or she thought evangelization was. There were as many concepts as there were people – vastly different and sometimes almost contradictory!
So what really is Christian Evangelization? It is announcing the good news of Jesus Christ. It is centered on the Person and saving work of Jesus in his life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. It is the kerygma, the Basic Christian Message as found in the apostolic preaching throughout Acts.
Evangelization, at its core, is concerned with truth – the truth about our human situation. And in this case, truth is a person – the Person of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
There are two great enemies of truth: skepticism, which denies that we can ever know the truth with certainty; and relativism, which denies that there is any such thing as absolute truth. Since these are enemies of truth, it follows that they are enemies of evangelization as well.
It is probably relativism which presents the biggest obstacle to evangelization on our day. Doctrinal relativism would deny that there is only one Savior of the world. Moral relativism would deny that there are absolute, binding moral norms.
For example, it is common to hear today that “there are many different ways to heaven;” “It doesn’t matter much what you believe;” “all religions are basically the same;” and so on. However, Acts 4:12 states about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” And in 1 Timothy 2:4-5 we read: “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
Evangelization has a factual, historical content, but it also presents a moral challenge. On the day of Pentecost, once Peter told the crowd that they had crucified the Messiah, they cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). Evangelization demands the united response of faith and repentance.
True evangelization makes disciples and leads into didache, catechesis, ongoing Christian teaching. In the last verses in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples, to baptize them, and to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20).
What, then, is NOT evangelization? In the committee mentioned above, some people said evangelization had to do with going to a Catholic school. Others thought it was getting people to the sacraments. Still others emphasized that it was ministry to the poor and needy. As important as all these are, none is exactly what we mean by evangelization. It should also go without saying that just speaking vaguely about “spiritual” things is certainly not evangelization. In our contemporary secular culture, a lot of “New Agey” chatter is bandied about and passed off as somehow being “supernatural” or “otherworldly”.
St. Paul VI stated in Evangelii Nuntiandi: “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed.” St. John Paul II stated in Redemptoris Missio: “The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine, but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.”
St. Paul gives us perhaps the best insight into what evangelization really is in 1 Cor. 2:1-2: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In another place he says, “For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
Evangelization, then, is all about the truth that is in Jesus.