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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

EDITORS’ NOTE: Alvin Reid, who holds the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the writer of this week’s first-person column on evangelism. John Avant’s column will return next week.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–“But now the world is changing once again. A new hour comes. Isildur’s Bane is found. Battle is at hand. The Sword shall be reforged.” (Aragorn) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

In my lifetime change has been a norm. I entered childhood in the turbulent ‘60s, a time where change meant protesting anything that smacked of the “establishment,” whether it was in politics, morality or the church. I watched music styles change — from the emergence of rock and roll to ‘70s disco all the way to rap, punk, alternative and even adult contemporary. Television changed from being a rare commodity to the dominant force in our culture, and now that is changing as the Internet influences my children the way television influenced me.

I even see change as a constant in the church where my family is a member. Only 15 years old with many hundreds in attendance, it seems that to be a member you must be saved, baptized, have gone through a new members class and be able to move chairs weekly!

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In contrast to a day when most Americans lived on farms and saw little change other than the fluctuations in weather and the normal growth by aging, change today has become a dominant feature of our culture. And you can see that in the Southern Baptist Convention as well.

My generation, those baby boomers, have moved into leadership in the convention in many places. Most of our seminary presidents now hail from my generation, including my own president, Danny Akin. And one of my best buds on earth, John Avant, has just moved into the critical position of leading evangelism at the North American Mission Board.

This change is hardly noteworthy in itself, but look deeper. There is a new spirit blowing. I see it when I sit in the office of Danny Akin, venting (as I tend to do) about our failure to reach the culture, but then I am encouraged to see that he not only understands the need to change, but that he is moving to make such changes.

I see it in the willingness of John Avant and leaders at NAMB to do whatever it takes to look long term at the kind of institutional changes and changes of perspective needed to reach America. We have talked and talked about reaching more with the Gospel with the implied message that the only thing we need to do is work a little harder at it.

But God is stirring many with the notion that a “little better effort” is somewhat like changing the curtains in a house that has foundation problems. You may have nice curtains in the short run, but in the long run they won’t look too good on collapsed walls.

Without being negative or forsaking the past, this is a time of serious evaluation. We would be in far worse shape had there not been a conservative resurgence, for example. But we must build on the best of our recent history, not just keep on walking.

In a day when so many want to attack our heritage, especially recently, it is time to focus on what could happen — and then go with God into that future together!
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