The late Margaret Thatcher who was the Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 – 1990 was attributed with saying the following:
“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”
Recently I was watching an interview where former Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speaks with academic and author Niall Ferguson and Ferguson quotes his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom in a speech said:
“We no longer live in a democracy but an emocracy, where emotions trump facts”.
Ferguson cited his wife in the context of speaking about how the ‘old’ rules of engaging in discourse and debate no longer apply. An argument had to be supported by facts, but in today’s culture this no longer applies;
“What you try to do [when arguing/debating in our western culture] is to try to destroy the reputation of the person on the other side. You simply attack their good faith and it does not matter what facts they may bring to the table”.
He wrote an article about Emocracy which you can read on his website.
So given the cultural penchant for aggrandising emotions and feelings at the expense of facts, how is the Christian to evangelise in such a culture? Actually, another question that I think is germane in this piece is:
How are Christians to contextualise the gospel in such an emocratic culture?
The example of the Apostle Paul is very helpful in this regard. Acts 17 is very worth looking at for in this chapter we see two different principles that the Apostle incorporates into his evangelism.
By the way, when it comes to the book of Acts it is very important to remember what sort of book Acts is. It is primarily a descriptive, not prescriptive, it is primarily not a ‘how to do book’, because Luke is chronicling a very unique time, the birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowering the church and the Apostles. But having said that, there is still much here that we can apply to our lives.
Firstly in Acts 17, we see that Paul reasoned with Jews from the Scriptures. His starting point was what they knew, he started where they were at. Yet in Paul went to Athens, he does not use the Scriptures at all as his starting point but quotes Greek poets whom they knew.
Paul is a wonderful model for us to emulate because it is evident from his practice that he can proclaim the gospel to a variety of people from different grounds, in ways that are culturally appropriate. He can proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to Jews who would have known the OT really well; to God Fearing Greeks, so who probably knew some of the Bible, but would have come from pagan backgrounds. And the people in the market-place would have believed in all sort of things, there would have been rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, tourists, students, tradies, people who worked in the stalls. Paul was very good at adapting the content of the gospel to the different contexts in which he proclaimed it. In other words, he was mindful of his audience. It is a good thing to adopt Paul’s practice or be willing to learn it so that we can adapt the gospel to those whom we are sharing it with (not the content, but the presentation).
So again, back to the question (slightly rephrased):
How are we to adapt the gospel to a culture that appears to becoming more emocratic?
Are we to make our churches, pulpits/lecterns places where safe spaces exist to protect unbelievers feelings? Are preachers to provide trigger warnings before every sermon to ensure that unbelievers are not #Iamsooffendedrightnow?
I don’t think so.
But it is a tough question. Something I am wrestling with.
My initial thoughts are:
- Emotions are not always reliable indicators. For example, someone hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response seems to be positive and yet they don’t come to faith. Yet someone else hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response is hostile, they are offended and they repent and believe.
- God’s people are to discern their culture through the lens of Scripture and not the other way around. Thus there are some aspects of culture that the Christian has the liberty to accommodate and even embrace, and there are other aspects of culture that the Christian must reject, and sometimes there are aspects that appear to be not so black and white require God’s wisdom. So as far as our emocracy is concerned, I don’t think it is wise for Christians to acquiesce and be hijacked by the subjective whims of emocracy which seem to change constantly.
I know that I am missing something, and that others have said more on this and said it better.
So over to you dear reader. How would you answer this question, (whilst being cognisant of the following)?
- Remember the Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)- the Gospel is God’s power to save. Thus the Gospel does not need dressing up or garnished with a pitch to emotions. The Apostle Paul contextualised the Gospel and he proclaimed the Gospel, unapologetically.
- Remember the Primacy of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Apostle Paul did not speak about himself, but about the Lord Jesus. Evangelism is not easy, and it is important to build bridges, starting where people are at, but we have to get to Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. We have to cross the bridge as Paul did.
- Remember the battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-12) – in observing our culture, and the “culture wars” that exist in the West, it is easy to be bogged down in cultural analysis and forget that the core battle we are facing in regards to evangelism and unbelief is spiritual, even though it is often played out in flesh and blood.
- Remember the importance of truth (2 Corinthians 4:1-2) We are to preach the truth, even if our culture tries to deny it with emotions. When the Apostles preached, there was often emotional responses. But it did not stop them from proclaiming the truth.
- Remember some will be offended (2 Corinthians 2:16) No matter how clear we are, how well we build bridges, how well we contextualise the gospel, someone will be offended. But something that our culture seems to have forgotten, nothing bad ever happens to someone because they are offended. It is not as if someone hears you tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, why they need to believe in Him, and they get offended; the next morning they wake up and discover to their horror that they have leprosy.
- Remember Paul was offended (Acts 8:1-3) and look how he turned out!
- Remember the true human condition (Ephesians 2:1) – the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The heart problem is that all humans are spiritually dead in sin, not almost dead, not spiritually sick, or spiritually drowsy, but stone cold dead! The problem is their sin, not their feelings, nor their emotions.
When I look at our culture, it does seem that Western culture has the emotional resilience of a snowflake. We are #offended by everything and anything, including the truth but emotions change all the time. They are subject to the whims of fads, foods and flavours, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not, for the Gospel is God’s Gospel and the Gospel never changes.
So don’t be ashamed of it, it is God’s power to save, point people to Christ and not yourself, praying always remembering that the battle is spiritual. Remember that the Gospel will offend, so let it be only the Gospel that offends and not you.