I recently wrote something for Ethos about university ministry. Part of what was driving the article was my interest in improving our evangelism. ‘Participation’ isn’t just a good witness in its own right, it also promotes evangelism.
The four articles by Tim Keller and Michael Keller (starting here) were dealing specifically with campus evangelism but left me unsatisfied, and I want to offer a further reflection on why.
In these articles I caught a sort of wistfulness about the demise of modernistic truth claims. Despite things having gotten more complicated today, we still seem to hold out hope for rational argument and reasoned persuasion. Why can’t we just have a good old civil exchange of ideas?
There are some cultural assumptions at play here, not just about how we communicate, but about what constitutes belief, and how people come to faith. While the message might enter through the heart or emotions, it only becomes real when it hits the mind. Or to use other terminology, ‘belief’ comes first, and only then ‘belonging’ and ‘behaving’. There is probably also some expectation of a conversion experience (of what kind exactly?).
These ideas need to be interrogated, not just in terms of our current understanding of psychology and so on, but in terms of cultural anthropology. I mean, even if these assumptions once made sense, we need to check them against our current context. Cultural anthropology is something missionaries apply to themselves, not just to others — so let’s not expect people to become modernists before than can become missionaries.
What we need is a proper account of how people actually come to faith. One of our CMS state directors told me about one such account, I Once Was Lost: What postmodern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus (book plus training tools). The authors listened to the experiences of two thousand people and identified a common pattern. I’m yet to read it, but the five thresholds go something like this:
- Beginning to trust a Christian
- Becoming curious
- Becoming open to change
- Becoming ready to seeking a decision
- Becoming part of the Kingdom
Looking at this, we can begin to see how something like ‘participation‘ is conducive to campus evangelism. I am especially interested in the implications of these ‘five thresholds’ for our programming at the group level. It prompts us to ask: what kind of activities create two-way channels between Christian fellowships and the rest of the campus?
Another resource is the framework of ‘five spiritual worlds’ as seen in this video from Seedbed. It sketches out different angles we can take in responding to the different places people find themselves in spiritually. This is not about adapting our message so much as lovingly listening to who people are and identifying what will truly enable them to flourish under God.
In both approaches, listening has been a fundamental component, shaping the Christian response beyond just relational warmth and ‘vivid exposition’.
Image credit: Joshua Earle
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.