One of the pleasures of travel is that, one hopes, it broadens the mind; we begin to see a world through a different lens as we encounter cultures and situations very different from those we call ‘normal’. The same is, of course, true when we delve (as I love to do) into the world of the past. There, too, we experience the strange and the ‘alien’.
In recent months I have experienced the ‘different’ through my interest in the history of the second generation of the Great Awakening and, especially, in countries formerly part of the Soviet Union or its empire. This juxtaposition of ‘different’ pasts and presents has brought afresh to the surface a question that had been in my semi-consciousness for a number of years.
The question arises from the perception that eighteenth-century evangelism (and much that followed) was centred in the belief that, first, one thundered the law so that men and women were aware of their sinful standing before a holy God. Then one proclaimed the balm of Christ to meet that need among those convicted by the former. It was, clearly, an effective strategy owned by God. It is also biblically and theologically axiomatic (to me, at least) that Christ died for sinners in order to free us from the wrath of God. However, I have often been troubled by the fact that neither Jesus nor his disciples used (at least invariably) this methodology.
Visits to central and eastern Europe have brought me face-to-face with the myriad human tragedies associated with occupation and repression. It has also raised questions as to those cowed to the point of failing to 'fight for the right', of collaboration with the occupier, of fulfilling one's own hate-filled agenda under the guise of occupier... and of subsequent generations scarred by the unspeakable terrors experienced by many (still living) in our own continent in the twentieth century... not least by a sense of (possibly collective) guilt. And I am uncomfortably aware that my own 'western' culture, in disposing God to the 'primitive' past, struggles under a weight that, yes, can also be named as 'guilt'.
The Gospel has not changed, but I simply wonder whether in our current environments in Europe an evangelistic approach that starts with the (often) mostly hidden but almost pervasive sense of guilt might prompt us to explore ways to help address that need and bring men and women into the glorious truth that:
Guilty, vile, and helpless, we,
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement—can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
Dr Stephen P. Dray