Do you have any thoughts on successful social justice work done in a Christian spirit, but without the neg. side of proselytiz/evangeliz?
Leaving aside your characterization of evangelism as negative (my feelings on this are ridiculously complicated, but I see the issue more in shades of gray), I’ll just try to focus on the first part of your question.
I think Christians can do social justice work without proselytizing. The most successful models I’ve seen/heard of are ones where the help being offered is not at all contingent on whether the recipient accepts Christianity as well. Obviously a lot of Christians are going to be in foreign countries or doing social justice because of their Christian beliefs, but that doesn’t necessarily have to imply anything ethically shady.
Did that answer your question?
Much of the soterian approach to evangelism today fastens on Jesus as (personal) Savior and dodges Jesus as Messiah and Lord. If there is any pervasive heresy today, it’s right here. Anyone who can preach the gospel and not make Jesus’ exalted lordship the focal point simply isn’t preaching the apostolic gospel.
Christianity *did not* grow because of miracle working in the marketplaces (although there may have been much of that going on), or because Constantine said it should, or even because the martyrs gave it such credibility. It grew because Christians constituted an intense community, able to generate the “invincible obstinacy” that so offended the younger Pliny but yielded immense religious rewards. And the primary means of it growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives and neighbors to share the “good news.
The salvation that we are charged to go and shout out brings true reconciliation with God and between individuals and among peoples. Ironically, the stone of stumbling is the solid rock on which every culture and people can stand. If we do not summon others to stand there with us, we shall all sink into the abyss of our own self-interest. Women and men, rich and poor, gay and straight, first world and third, red and yellow, black and brown and white - we all have our one hope in the singular certainty that we are precious in God’s sight.
The Christian tradition is nothing if not the evangel of this eschatological peace offered in the present moment, as the true form of difference and the style of its transmission: the evangel, that is, of the crucified as the Lord of history, in the perpetual power of the Spirit.
As much as the evangelistic motive may explain jazz band or rock’n’roll inspired Christian music, it does not account for the inability of born-again Protestants to see the inconsistency of standing for religious values that transcend time and place while packaging those truths in forms that are singularly disposable.
If the Good News is the presence of the kingdom of God, then ‘evangelism’ is much more than ‘saving souls.’ Evangelism means sharing and showing to the world how to realistically, faithfully, and creatively respond to the real needs of the world laboring under ongoing rebellion. Evangelism means living according to the ways of the kingdom of God and inviting others to join us on the way. Evangelism is not selling Jesus, but showing Jesus; evangelism is not mere telling about Christ, but about being Christ.
The reason we want our church members to try to drag their pals to worship is because we don’t have enough presence in the community for anyone to notice us unless we say “Hey, you! Please come to our building at our pre-set time and do our things with us in our way so that you can see the all-encompassing love of God that fills every place and meets every person right where they are!” Or maybe we want church members, most of whom believe in Jesus because their parents raised them in the faith, to try to share their testimony in a way to leads neighbors to intellectually assent to the idea that there is a God and Jesus is his son. Both of those propositions are almost completely self-defeating. It might work for a short time in a particular place, but not well and not for long. Yet we keep trying it again and again and again.
There are a few reasons that we can’t move past the failed model of personal evangelism. One is that the American approach to faith is usually highly individualistic, and so we fall easily into thinking about faith propagation as something that individuals work out with other individuals. (With the goal, of course, of getting someone to accept Jesus as “their personal savior,” a phrase so far removed from scripture as to almost be heretical.) Another reason is that although most people won’t tell their friends about Jesus, there’s always that one guy in the church or in town or that we heard speak that one time who has brought 89 different people to faith all by himself and if he can do it, so can we, just like all of us know we can be great theologians because N.T. Wright exists, or we can all be superstar preachers because Fred Craddock has shown us the way.