The new “EE” will not be like the old one. The quotations yesterday are from an emerging leader indeed, but he died long ago: his name is Walter Rauschenbusch. I want to contend that the emerging form of evangelism is presently following the path of Rauschenbusch (that is, strive for the kingdom of God in the here and now), and he is largely responsible for the creation of the so-called social gospel. Now some will say this is the kiss of death for emerging evangelism. I say, “Hold on a minute.”
Rauschenbusch contended in a multitude of writings that the gospel is more than personal salvation, more than individualistic redemption, and more than soul-salvation. Reared in a German pietist
Lutheran Baptist family in New York State, Rauschenbusch was an independent thinker who was called to a Baptist church in NYC in a neighborhood called “Hell’s Kitchen.” There he came to the strong conviction that the gospel had better make an impact on the systemic injustices and systemic issues or it was nearly useless. So, he began a life of analyzing the Bible, thinking big thoughts, and constructing a gospel that addressed not only spiritual but also social issues.
Did he succeed? Depends on how you look at his life. More importantly for our day is this question: Will the emerging movement follow Rauschenbusch down the social-only gospel or will it take up his vision and actually bring about a full gospel? Will it reconstruct a kingdom gospel and then let a new kind of evangelism flow from its framing of the gospel?
Rauschenbusch’s quotations from yesterday are from his famous article in 1904 called “The New Evangelism,” which was published in The Independent 56 (Jan-June, 1904), 1054-1059, and which is now available in Walter Rauschenbusch: Selected Writings, ed. W.S. Hudson (NY: Paulist, 1984), 136-144.
The question comes down to this: If the emerging movement is dissatisfied with the content and method of evangelism in the evangelical and liberal movements of the Church, will it be able to develop a “purple” evangelism, one that frames a holistic gospel for a new generation but does so in such a way that non-followers of Jesus will learn to walk in the way of Jesus in a new era? Or, will it (1) give up evangelism all together, (2) re-frame evangelism into nothing but peace and justice issues, or (3) return to the evangelistic strategies and content of present-day evangelism by doing little more than adapting the old to new terms and new strategies?
When I first began investing the emerging movement, a friend e-mailed me and said point-blank that the emerging movement doesn’t evangelize and he accused it of being nothing more than a cover-up for liberalism (at least on that issue). Others contend that evangelism is being done, but (1) the emerging movement will not use the term “evangelism” for its efforts since that term provokes too much anger and cannot express the fullness of its vision of the gospel and (2) evangelism is too narrow and the term needs to be “missional.”
Its critics are asking this question: Are folks becoming followers of Jesus or not?
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at how some see the emerging movement’s practice of evangelism. Then next Monday I’ll offer reasons why we emerging types have problems with current practices of evangelism. Then we’ll turn to some missional evangelism, the New EE (Emerging Evangelism).