I’m about as Emergent as a dead caterpillar in a sun-dried cocoon, but I appreciated this little bit from Heather Kirk-Davidoff in her contribution to An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). It has to do with the “old school” way of evangelism.
“Even if your theology is great, even if your church is wonderful, even if your community is the best group of people on earth, as soon as you approach someone with the intention of recruiting them into your theology or church or community, you become a marketer and the other person is the target of your marketing. While GenXers have had a wide range of experience with religion or church or community, we share the experience of being targets of marketing from our earliest days of watching cartoons with product tie-ins. We can spot a sales pitch from a mile away, and we never confuse that with an offer of genuine relationship.”
“The 1999 movie The Big Kahuna made this point brilliantly. Addressing a colleague who turned a sales convention into an opportunity to witness to his Christian faith, one of the characters says, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate with No Money Down.’ …Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep” (p. 37).
Granted, the rest of this essay is much less helpful, almost making relationship a sacrament. Yet she’s dead-on in her critique of how we usually “do” evangelism. That kind may not work anymore in a nation of spoiled consumers. The Kirby will clean your carpets, Jesus will fix your marriage, and this house-alarm will keep the bad guys out. This is what Barth (and Willimon following him) means by domesticating the gospel.
Side note: I liked Mike Horton’s contribution to The Church in an Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (to name one of a few such books).