In the Great Hall at Lambeth Palace, a large, tiled room that’s not heated to protect the old books lining the walls, Justin Welby gave the annual Deo Gloria lecture, hosted by the London School of Theology. Referencing the baddie Syndrome, who nearly loses out to the superhero Mr Incredible from the children’s film because he is lured into overtalking, Welby said: “Let’s be honest. How much of our evangelism is monologuing?” he asked. “Any credible witness requires us to be in dialogue with the other.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking about how to balance evangelism with respecting people of other faiths and told the audience that Christians need to listen when they speak to people about their faith and remember that the Christian message has been intertwined with Imperialism in the past.
He started by saying becoming a Christian was for him the best decision he ever made and was through no work of his own, praising God’s grace, he said: “This good news is free, undeserved, a sure gift from God, available to all.He then explained the danger that sometimes follows: “When we make our evangelism a product in the market place or an expression of cultural superiority, then we are falling short of the message given to us, in fact we are blaspheming and denying it.”It is possible to embark upon evangelism in a way that denies, and even contradicts, the very one we proclaim.
If it is free and undeserved there is no reason for coercion, for imperialistic ambition, for bait and switch techniques that buy people into the church – those products and practices are decidedly bad news”He cited 1 Peter 3:15 about always being ready to give a reason for the hope we have, saying: “We need to be ready: ready to speak, to share. This is hope for the world! But let that witness be seasoned with gentleness and respect.”The Archbishop later acknowledged the challenges of evangelism in the context of religious diversity and said Christians can tell people about Jesus without demeaning the other person’s faith.”Have you ever been in a situation where someone has tried to persuade you of something without listening to anything you’ve said?
Not caring about your own experiences and what’s more spent most of the time belittling your views?”I’d like to suggest that one of the most effective ways for Christian to learn about ethical evangelism is for us to experience what it is like to be witnessed to be someone of another faith in ways that don’t seem to respect out integrity.””Let us never be guilty of demeaning the light that others have, just show them something of the light you know,” he said. “Let’s tell people about Jesus and witness to what he has done for us, without feeling the need to presume to tell others what is wrong with their faith.”
He also said many white British Christians need to be conscious of their colonial history and how it has impacted other faiths in Britain today: “How are British Christians heard when we talk of the claims of Christ by diaspora communities who have experienced abuse and exploitation by an empire that has seemed to hold the Christian story at the heart of its project?
“The Archbishop’s final challenge was for Christians to be ready to learn from someone of another faith: “We are not contradicting any of the claims we make about the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole of creation, our commitment to him as the source of all salvation, by recognising that other traditions offer people encouragement, community and even deep wells of spirituality.”But we may find our understanding challenged and enriched.
“He ended: “How do we express our love for others in witness so that they understand that we care for them even if they make no decision to follow Christ?