I am in favour of talking about faith in Jesus. I especially like to do so with those who do not hold to that faith. Some call that “evangelism” and use it as a dirty word. We all know great abuses have occurred doing evangelism. Still, I am in favour of it. I even want to talk about conversion.
Actually, I prefer evangelization to evangelism. (Nit-picking over words. Insert eye-rolling here.) Most words that end in “-ism” are an ideology, an exclusive idea seen as superior to other understandings. A word that ends in “-ation” is a process of bringing forth an increase in the root word. Think of militarism and militarization, urbanism and urbanization, or capitalism and capitalization.
My faith is a product of the simplest of evangelistic practices: Being “born again” by praying the “sinner’s prayer” in the back of the little yellow “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet popularized a few decades ago. Fortunately, I soon learned that to “give my life to Jesus” would be an ongoing process, born anew each day I committed myself to God.
The theme of the Mennonite Church Canada gathering, to be held in Edmonton in July, is “We declare.” At first glance, that seems to focus on verbally proclaiming. “Declaring” sounds like one-way speaking. But people are multifaceted beings. None are simply ears attached to minds.
The word “evangel” began as “the good news,” transforming from the Greek through Latin into English. to mean “proclaim well the good news.” So evangelism is an ideology of proclamation of the good news, while evangelization is a process of proclaiming it. “Process” implies something that is ongoing and still needing to be completed.
The good news—what is the news that is supposedly good?—needs to be heard and watched, felt, and experienced by whole beings in their bodies, souls, minds and social relations. Any process of evangelization is to act out the gospel in the entirety of human lives—the social, economic, psychological, ecological and spiritual facets.
Mennonites have sought to show the gospel through charitable and other works. We must somehow also explain the reason for our doing. That means using words, but I hope dialogue will be the most active principle of evangelization.
Conversion means to change from one thing to another, like a plain cargo van converted to something for family camping. Becoming more like Jesus takes time. Conversion is a process. Also, there are many types of conversion.
In the most important Christian document on the environment ever written, Pope Francis refers to “ecological conversion.” He writes in “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” that the result of hearing “the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth” would be an “‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of [Christians’] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
Mennonites who wrote the “7 Calls for Climate Action” are doing evangelization with ecological conversion at its core. As one person said, it means more than “Hey Mennos: ‘Eat more lentils!’ ” Creation’s dire situation summons all of us associated with Mennonite Church Canada to be good news for the poor and for the earth.
Evangelization remains important also because there are many competing ideologies or worldviews with different visions for society. None are pure, and neither are Christian worldviews, but Jesus-followers should keep trying. We evangelize ourselves, as we seek to be transformed like Jesus.
Randolph Haluza-DeLay lives in Toronto.