The modern mind cannot be evangelized

The Gospel is the “good news” of the saving death of Jesus Christ: but it is totally unintelligible to people who have neither heard nor intuit the “bad news” of sin and the Fall. Such an intuition came more easily to earlier generations whose minds were unencumbered by blank-slate nonsense and whose understanding of the poverty of their spiritual condition was made possible by the poverty of their material condition; to the ears of the modern public-schooled 32-year-old bachelor with a state-financed bachelor’s degree in communications, it sounds like irrelevant fantasy.

How do you evangelize under these circumstances? I don’t know, and I suspect you simply don’t. The modern cannot be evangelized; he is incapable of such a thing, at least incapable under his own power. If and only if he repents of his errors, if God gives him the grace to repent of his errors, can he be evangelized — but then he will, by definition, no longer be a modern.

48 thoughts on “The modern mind cannot be evangelized

  1. So then, are the moderns to be consigned to the role of the bourgeoisie in the Marxist mythology? Are the objectionable thought patterns to be eliminated by inserting an ounce and a half of lead into the organ supporting them?

    The answer is the same is it has always been. Your canonization will be the most effective means of their evangelization.

    • Your linked blog post about prosperity is very good. A serious issue these days is that too many modern Christians neglect the leading role consumerism has played in the modern predicament. We can blame feminism, the state, multiculturalism or Catholic Immigrants all we want but as the last 30 years have clearly demonstrated the acidic effect of consumer capitalism on traditional cultural.
      I should also note Bruce Charlton’s comment on the earlier blog post where he references the Mormons and prosperity. From what I gather from this and his other comments his thesis is that Mormons have apparently managed to maintain a traditional way of life better than any other group under the liberal regime, hence their superiority. But isn’t precisely that because Mormonism holds American bourgeois WASP “family values” as an ideal makes it no real alternative? I think something more radical is needed.

  2. Well, this is what F Schaeffer noted a good 50 years ago (his theology trilogy — the God who is there, he is there and he is not silent, and True Spirituality). You have to start by dismantling the modernist — whose feet are truly not attached to the ground — and the post-moderneist — who does not consider there is a ground, but instead that the ground is an oppressive narrative.

    This is done with one telling observation No one can live like this. We are wired to commit. to seek patterns, to disover narural laws. We are glorious, and completely fallen. Once you get the idea that our ideologies are orthogonal to the way we live (and that applying them in real life is a great, honking disaster), then you can talk about the law, from that spiritual poverty — from that salvation.

    Solved problem. Just treat the West as another primitive tribe with irrational beliefs.

  3. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote some interesting things about this in The Nature and Destiny of Man. After noting that “Christianity . . . issues inevitably in the religious expression of an uneasy conscience,” he explains that this makes Christianity irrelevant to most moderns. As Niebuhr put it, “the idea that man is sinful at the very center of his personality, that is in his will, is universally rejected,” with the consequence that “modern man has an essentially easy conscience.“ Instead, so far as modern man is concerned, the sources of moral evil lie outside of men, as social rather than spiritual corruptions, that can be remedied by education and political reform. Thus “modern man’s uneasiness about his society and complacency about himself.”

    • The modern focus on “social rather that spiritual corruptions” … a perpetual dichotomy. The issue is one of power and control: modernists cannot exert influence at the individual level as well as they can at the social level with their propaganda and constructs. They reject religion precisely because they recognize its basis in attraction to the individual, a great power they jealously seek to trump by false individualism under state authority.

  4. Conservative evangelical protestants are still winning Western converts in pretty large numbers – these types of churches growing about one or two percent per year on average, which soon mounts-up.

    Albeit, the Christianity to which they are converted is rather simple and I think incomplete as a basis for the rest of life.

    (Hence the main thing that evangelical converts do is make more evangelical converts – the best learn their Bibles as well via study groups – but there isn’t much effort put into theosis/ sanctification.)

    And some of these evangelical converts are lax members of other denominations being born again and made more devout.

    Anyway, there is a kind of ‘science’ of evangelicalism among such churches (and also, even more so, among Mormons – which you can see described in Rodney Stark’s book on The Rise of Mormonism), which broadly seems effective (and I am indeed partially a product of this) – but it is quite strategic and long-termist and an organized group activity: churches need to be ‘set-up’ as evangelical, or else it just doesn’t work.

    • You are describing, of course, the Great Commission. I don’t know how other churches go about fulfilling it, but the end goal of Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) missionary activity is for indigenous (i.e., foreign-country) churches to become independent of the mission-sending church, to develop to the point where they (the indigenous churches) can not only sustain themselves, producing their own deacons, elders, and pastors, but also to take up the Great Commission themselves. For example, the OPC no longer sends missionaries to South Korea because the Koreans have met those goals.

      The first Protestant missionary to Korea arrived in 1865; the OPC ended its work there in 2010. Long-term indeed.

    • Conservative white Protestants in the US have been consolidating in conservative denominations. The growth has stopped.

      I don’t think there’s been any growth among conservative Protestants in the UK and that too may be immigrant driven.

      Proph is right, there is no effective evangelism of moderns. At best you get a rearranging of the denominational chairs among already anti-modern (relatively speaking) people.

  5. You have to first reel their beliefs before evangelizing. They don’t believe because biblical people were technologically and scientifically at lower level than us, thus they see Bible as a fairy tale book, a book of ignorant and gullible people compared to us.

    I have used the following succesfully:

    1. I say that, yes they were technologically and scientifically at lower level, but archeologically Bible have been proven to be right again and again historically. Approximately that kind of book is the result when people at their level face God, including human errors.

    2. Atheists cannot deny the possibility of superintelligent being ~ God. Atheists often envision some kind of future superintelligence to men, development to superintelligence level. I then say that God is the highest superintelligence that has deloveloped in all the universes and during all the time that has existed; the quantity of both are enormous if the multiverse theory is true. I say that superintelligent being is a simplification of God, but I use it with atheists to describe God. The Bible says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” I comment on it: “Obviously this does not mean that God is the same kind of flesh and bone being like we. It could mean that God has the same kind of evolutionary origin as we. But I don’t say anything absolute about the origin of God. His origin can be something which we cannot deduce from our material starting point, no matter how intelligent we are.” However the newest astrological studies haven’t found anomalies in the even distributions of galaxies in our universe. Anomalies in the distribution would indicate gravity’s effects from other universes, from the multiverse universes. So it is highly likely that our universe is the only one. Our universe’s several factors have been so superaccurately fine-tuned to be suitable to life, that it can only have been done by superintelligent being:

    http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/designun.html

    http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/quotes.html

    http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/cosmoconstant.html

    If on the other hand atheist believes in more exotic possibilities, that e.g. our universe is a holographic supercomputer generated supersimulation of life (perhaps it calculates and remembers, say only ten seconds of existence; now, and a little bit of history and future), it requires automatically superintelligent and supercapable designer.

    Thus whatever scientific theories atheist believes, the likelihood of God arises inexorable from those theories. It must be noted that it is strange that exactly at the moment the unholy alliance of secularism, liberalism and science (the first two being the wholly unholy parts, and the last partly) seemed to surpass Bible, God made scientists’ and atheist scientists’ own hands produce results which proclaim the existence of God, proclaim the God’s undisputable signature in the universe.

    If this kind of debate is done well, atheist convert at least to agnosticism, from which point it is much easier to convert them to Christianity.

  6. Also, on the lighter side, you could sow here and there modern emotional contact surfaces to atheists, something which they can relate to, and which implies Christianity:

  7. Addition,

    atheists often believe that many metaphorical Bible stories are literal and thus false. Scientific exact interpretations cannot be applied to Bible. E.g. Adam and Eve tells about transition from hunter gatherer existence to civilized life, not about exact events. This should be pointed to them.

    • Yes, absolutely, it is important to point out that Bible stories, like all great literature, are multilayered, that they often have literal and historical content, but at the same time, figurative and allegorical elements.

      The Bible, as the single most-studied book in history, had been examined again and again for inaccuracies. Far from finding any, what has been found is that the Bible supports archaeological evidence, and that contemporaneous accounts are largely, if not perfectly, in accord with what the Bible says. Anti-theists are prone to twisting this to serve their agenda, but that is a deficiency in them, not the Bible.

      There are also linguistic factors to consider: for example, Biblical Hebrew did not have a word for “age” or “eon,” so when the Bible talks about the creation being accomplished in six days, it is not necessarily the case that it was done in six 24-hour periods.

      When it comes to Adam and Eve, though, the Bible tells us that the sin of one man, i.e., Adam, was passed on to his progeny—us. This is how the sacrifice of one (Jesus) can be substitutionary atonement for us all. It’s a nice bit of parallelism.

      Having said that, I don’t see how Genesis 1–3 supports the notion that the creation of Adam and Eve is an allegory for the transition from a hunter-gather existence to civilized life.

      • Valkea,

        That sounds like the Rousseauian notion of the noble savage imposed upon the story of the garden of Eden and the apple of knowledge.

        Not Rousseau, but Hobbes: without civilization, life is “poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Pace Rousseau, modern-day primitive peoples often have violent interactions with their neighbors; have their lives shortened by injury and disease; and bereft of the fruits of industry, literature, and even basic security.

        Civilization is not ideal, but it sure beats the alternatives.

        Adam and Eve did not live an idyllic existence because they were civilization-less hunter-gatherers; they lived in peace because they did not know sin.

  8. 1. The problem is not outright atheism.
    2. The problem is not deliberate, well thought out unbelief; it’s spontaneous, intuitive indifference.

    • The problem is not deliberate, well thought out unbelief; it’s spontaneous, intuitive indifference.

      Agreed, although I think that leaves the OP’s general thesis largely unchanged. Modern man’s spiritual torpor reminds me of the psychological condition literally called “la belle indifference” – a pathological indifference to one’s state of poor health. These people present to their physicians with important symptoms, and yet are impressively (and often creepily) indifferent to the fact that they have these symptoms.

      And this is the state of modern man with regard to spirituality. “Why won’t you get it?” But modern man just will not get it, as if there’s a force-field cast over his soul. He seems to be, as the OP argues, more or less un-evangelizeable.

    • The problem is not deliberate, well thought out unbelief; it’s spontaneous, intuitive indifference.

      Indeed, as Samson points out, this is my point. Since the problem isn’t well-thought-out atheism, it cannot be argued with. Even what we call well-thought-out atheism cannot usually be argued with it since it really isn’t that well-thought-out. Modern man simply doesn’t have the spiritual vocabulary to mentally apprehend Christianity, its message, or its urgency.

  9. In addition to prosperity and stability, modern people are conditioned to think of things in a mechanistic way, and I’m not talking about deliberate propaganda. It’s things like dividing up time into little segments using a clock, or living in an almost entirely human built environment.

    • living in an almost entirely human built environment

      Our sanitized culture dulls the desire for any kind of transcendence. When liberalism lost its faith in universal rationality, it turned primary to therapeutic methods for achieving liberal ends.

    • It’s things like dividing up time into little segments using a clock, or living in an almost entirely human built environment.

      Do you have further reading to suggest on this topic? For a long time it has bothered me that, for example, so many people are content to live in cities, unconnected to anything natural, and I’d be interested to develop a connection between this and the loss of religious faith.

      • @samsonsjawbone,

        I know your query was directed to The Man Who Was but one author I would highly recommend is Fr. Vincent McNabb, who was a contemporary and friend of Chesterton and Belloc. In many of his works he explicitly addresses the proper relationship between city and country and how urbanism contributes to moral corruption.

  10. The Man Who Was …,

    it is not spontaneous, it is well instilled by the system. Also, many atheists act like preachers, at least in Finland, and they have significant influence on the indifferent, who are often weak atheists, or ethereal agnostics. It is important to weaken the resolve of preaching atheists and their congregations.

    You (the people in Orthosphere in general) should first know how the liberal system works, because it is the environment you are operating in. Without this knowledge you are too inefficient in your endeavours, and the system has too much power over you and others.

  11. One thing to note though is that secularism hasn’t just increased at the expense of Christianity, but of all religions. So, I’m not sure a lack of a sense of sin is the real problem here, though that may be part of it.

  12. This a bit off-topic, but I think there is not a post that is relevant to this topic, so it might as well be here.

    Here is information about the liberal system I would give to the people here in Orthosphere. This information explains the *frameworks* of the liberal system. This information is necessary to study, so that you know in which kind of environment you are operating, and what is necessary to do to increase your success. The *details of functions* of the liberal system require different information sources, generally scientifically oriented books, e.g. books in the Oxford Handbook of Political Science series. Save these links and take your time to study them.

    WordPress has a negative habit of embedding videos automatically, so I removed http://www from all the You Tube videos. Just copy that beginning and add it to You Tube links and you are ready to go.

    The Rise of Financial Empire; Damon Vrabel is Harvard educated ex-Wall Street insider:

    .youtube.com/watch?v=96c2wXcNA7A

    Narcodollars; Catherine Austin Fitts is former Wall Street insider and assistant secretary of housing under first Bush administration:

    http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/narcoDollars.html

    Petrodollars, parts 3 and 4 contain the most important information about petrodollar cycle:

    .youtube.com/watch?v=GO6n4F358mM

    .youtube.com/watch?v=jT046LlZMcE

    .youtube.com/watch?v=C0hAxoc3-f4

    .youtube.com/watch?v=4bX12sj-Yw0

    Money Masters, documentary about the history of Central Banking system (including the current Federal Reserve), and other related issues:

    .youtube.com/watch?v=iDtBSiI13fE

    These following links contain a gold mine of information about the liberal system, but you must filter off socialist (in all it’s forms) and occasional atheist bias in your mind. They have tried to gather all relevant information in one place, so conspiracy theorist are also included. There generally are no conspiracies, there are just everyday normal secrets, lies, lies by omissions, distortions, manipulations, etc. of bureaucracies. There generally are no small cliques conspiring in secret, there are whole bureaucracies working normally, half of them working transparently, and the other half opaquely. That said, conspiracies can exist, exist and have existed, but they are much less important, less powerful, smaller, less relevant and more rare than normal everyday operations of the liberal system. Notice also that these leftists know that in reality they are not in power, that the leftist in positions of power serve others higher in the power hierarchy, e.g:

    “More than fifty years ago the [J.P.] Morgan firm decided to infiltrate the Left-wing political movements in the United States. This was relatively easy to do, since these groups were starved for funds and eager for a voice to reach the people. Wall Street supplied both. The purpose was not to destroy … or take over but was really threefold: (1) to keep informed about the thinking of Left-wing or liberal groups; (2) to provide them with a mouthpiece so that they could “blow off steam,” and (3) to have a final veto on their publicity and possibly on their actions, if they ever went “radical”. – Dr. Carrol Quigley in his book Tragedy and Hope –

    http://realworldorder.net/

    http://howtheworldreallyworks.info/

  13. You don’t reach him in the hopelessness of his sin (of which he may not be aware), but in the hopelessness of his unrequited desires (of which he is all too aware in this hedonistic age).

    Remember those movies from the early aughts, Pirates of the Caribbean? Remember the curse that was on the pirates: their appetite could never be satisfied, their thirst never slaked, and their eros never stilled? You couldn’t talk to those pirates about their sin. But the protagonist had their attention when he promised them relief from their haunted desires. It’s what they had been seeking all along, and it was the very reason they were doing all that pillaging, looting and raping (a.k.a sin) in the first place!

    Yes, we can and are under the highest calling of Our Lord to evangelize the modern. We just have to take the time first to get to know and love his heart as Jesus would.

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  15. The problem of evangelizing the “modern mind” is probably much smaller than it appears at first sight. Essentially it boils down to evangelizing the educated elite – which might, of course, be impossible. But if opinion leaders in Western societies could, as it were, be re-Christianized, the masses would follow suit. (Ortega y Gasset gives reasons for believing this.)

    Evangelists in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches should be addressing themselves almost exclusively to the intellectual supervisors of the secular world. The bishops are not doing this. They’ve caved into the Spirit of the Age and made themselves at home in the enemy camp.

    • The Orthosphere is clearly written by and for an educated elite, albeit an elite group that is out of power. Historically Europe was converted from the top down, and evangelizing today’s opinion leaders makes sense. There are at least two problems with this approach. First, many of today’s government and opinion leaders are at least nominal Catholics, e.g. Justice Kennedy, Vice-President Biden, and the governors of New York and California, to name just a few prominent Americans in government, and they seem to be very comfortable with their current opinions. Second, I doubt the opinions expressed on this website would be persuasive to the target audience. No doubt there are conversion stories, but at the top, those seem to be few in number.

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  17. ‘The problem of evangelizing the “modern mind” is probably much smaller than it appears at first sight.’

    I agree with this statement but for totally different reasons (Western elites are playing for the Other Team and they know this full well).

    To evangelise the secular mind simply explain/reveal the fruits of a secular life.
    Show where the ‘freedom’ leads.
    Show what the worship of money gains.
    Show what worship of the self leads to
    Show what……well, you see what I mean.

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  19. @Valkea

    I am glad that you saw success with your science based arguments, but those were likely isolated cases. Remember that most people are cognitive misers, and are not making their faith (or perhaps we should call it faithless) decision based on an attempt at logical reasoning. The average person believes (or at least pays lip service) to what the people around them believe, with an eye to fitting in. Our culture has all these foolish anti-Christian memes (God ‘vs. science, etc…), and people believe that since that is what they were told…all while thinking themselves free thinking wise men…lol!

    You win a culture by evangelizing the elites – and the rest follow.

    Most people are just not going to respond to logical and scientific arguments of any type – the arguments you put forth, good as they may be, have been repeated to the atheists thousands of times, to minimal affect except to a specific minority of honest truth-seekers for which that material was the stumbling block. For most people – it’s the whole brainless, foolish, mechanistic, consumerist edifice of the modern world that is their stumbling block.

  20. As a follow-up, recall that it is God who saves – men cannot. (I recall a Biblical verse paralleling this concept in the Gospels. Does someone know what I am talking about and know the reference?)

    You cannot argue someone into the Kingdom. Man is a Spiritual creature, and if his spirit is in rebellion against his Creator than no amount of reason will bring him back.

    Man’s reason will turn into rationalization of his own fallen desires.

    Valkea is making the assumption that lack of faith is simply a matter of not being informed of certain information required to accept certain logical propositions as opposed to others.

    But it’s deeper than that.

    I for one seriously doubt the value of apologetic as a whole, beyond the basic notion that all things should be made captive to Christ, including science and logic.

    But as an evangelistic tool…nah.

    Change the culture – the Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia made more Christians than any apologist ever could where he given a thousand years.

    • You are correct: only God determines who is saved and who is not. But we must have the opportunity to know Him.

      “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
      —John 14:6

      So we are doing God’s work when we tell others about Christ.

      This is the Great Commission:

      “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen”
      —Matthew 28:16-20

      Evangelism is fulfilling Christ’s command.

      Not all are called to be missionaries, but everyone can evangelize in his own way.

      • True, but maybe it’s just cause I’m really tired right now but I don’t see how this addresses my argument in either agreement or refutation. 🙂

      • What I’m saying is that evangelism and all its tools, including apologetics, are never futile. We must continue to go and “make disciples of all the nations,” because now that we have the Good News, no one will be held blameless in ignorance. The whole world must know the Gospel, so that the elect may choose to believe.

        We never know when the seed we have planted in another’s heart will grow. We never know how our witness will affect those who see us.

        Case in point: in his final months, many readers wrote to Lawrence Auster to tell him that he had brought them to God. He was concerned with many issues, but one thread that ran throughout his writing was the importance, and truth, of Christian faith and belief.

        We cannot know if the ground we scatter our seeds on is rocky or fertile. We just have to broadcast them anyway, and pray that sinners will hear, repent, and believe.

      • @wm

        Not sure where your response is coming from – I never said all evangelism is futile just that certain types and certain targets for evangelism nearly always is futile or at least is far less effective than other types and targets.

        I think the evidence has borne out my position fairly strongly.

      • Namely that evangelism should focus on the cultural leadership and that apologetics is of limited use since few people employ logic at any point in their lives.

        There are other approaches to evangelism besides (useless) apologetics.

    • Just read it this morning, as a matter of fact! This also happens to be the first time in months that I have visited here. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways:

      John 6:44

      No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.

      John 6:65

      Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come to me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

      Gardener

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