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Reaching an Untouched Generation - Dr. Donald A. Carson

Source: Dr. Donald A. Carson
Comment: These quotes were taken from the 1997 Toronto missions conference lectures.

Reaching an Untouched Generation by Dr. Donald A. Carson

Lecture 1 - Postmodernism and Biblical Illiteracy

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Just about everything that, shall we say, worked 25 years ago in evangelism in the western world, is now dead in the water today. And if we rely merely on methods, the methods are changing. If on the other hand we say, I don’t believe in methods, I just believe in theology, and try to act as if we don’t need to understand the surrounding culture, we discover that our churches begin to wither and die on the vine too, whether we like it or not. (Lecture 1, 0:23)

It’s not a shared worldview anymore in which you present a little bit about Christ. What is at stake now is a whole confrontation of one worldview with another worldview. (Lecture 1, 9:10)

…the changes now going on in Western culture…are as epochal, they are as significant as the changes which went on at the dawning of the renaissance…These are not things that are going to be reversed in a day or two, or a year or two, or even a decade or two apart from massive revival. These are deep, deep cultural shifts, and we need to understand what they are. (Lecture 1, 27:44)

The one bad thing you must not do is convince someone else that they’re wrong and win them to your point of view. …evangelism is viewed as an intrinsic evil…so you’re not only faced with a problem, in that kind of worldview, of showing that what you’re saying is interesting and important, you have to overcome the assumption that your are an evil person for even being engaged in it in the first place. (Lecture 1, 47:14)

It used to be that a tolerant person was understood to be someone who might have held strong views, but who insisted that you have the right to your views. Nowadays a tolerant person is someone who doesn’t have strong views, except perhaps the strong view that you must not have strong views. (Lecture 1, 50:40)

What you get is the complete relativizing of Christian witness. And the only Christian witness which is allowed, is a kind of gentle sharing of my experience which may help you, not proclaiming truth in the public arena to which we will one day have to come to terms. (Lecture 1, 62:02)

If we are evangelizing outside those churchy circles, then we are dealing with people who are biblically illiterate, either because they belong to some other faith community - Muslims or Buddhists or whatever - or because they have abandoned any semblance of connection with organized traditional religions and have been swept into new age thinking of some sort or another… (Lecture 1, 63:09) almost every level your discourse is not connecting...the people you evengelize nowadays, their limited religious vocabulary, such as it is, does not mean the same as what you mean by those same terms in any expression. (Lecture 1, 64:55)

The question is where do you start? Isn’t that the problem that many of us feel in local churches with our neighbours and our friends…? Eventually we start getting discouraged, because we don’t know where to start. We just feel as if we were in another world. It’s as if we’re on a mission field and we didn’t volunteer to be on one. We pay people to go to foreign mission fields. We’re at home where everybody is supposed to be from a nice Judeo-Christian background where you can just share your faith and people get converted… And we’re frightened, a little threatened, somewhat alone. (Lecture 1, 67:05)

Lecture 2 - First Steps Toward Regrouping

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The best lack all conviction. The worst are full of passion and intensity. -William Butler Yates (Lecture 2, 2:50)

It is absolutely essential that Christians recognize the strengths in postmodernism… For a start, modernism…relied enormously on the autonomy of human reason to find the truth. But do Christians want to go down that track? …don’t we insist, for example, on the entailment of fall, for our reasoning functions? … So many of our judgments are constrained by our biases and our hates and our sins, our rejection of God, our vaunted autonomy. … Who we are, [our guilt and our sins] all affect how we handle truth claims… (Lecture 2, 3:50)

The postmodernists say, listen, we’re finite, therefore there is no secure base of information, there is no secure knowledge; we’re finite; all our knowing is therefore circumscribed and relative. We say yes, there’s great truth to that. We go further yet. We’re not only finite; we’re perverted and condemned. (Lecture 2, 5:39)

…there’s a sense nowadays in which Christians can get back into certain kinds of debate simply by saying: say, what are you criticizing my point of view for? … doesn’t postmodern bias mean that every group at least has the right to get back into the debate? (Lecture 2, 10:35)

At the heart of all radical postmodern thought…lies one indefensible antithesis… That antithesis is: either you understand something absolutely and exhaustively, OR you are lost in a sea of relativism... If you expose that antithesis for what it is, you can confound the postmodernist. (Lecture 2, 20:17) people come out of the [Buddhist] temple, you stand up and say in fluent Tai, "Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord" what will they hear you to be saying? Well, among other things they will hear you to be saying that Jesus is inferior to Gautama the Buddha... (Lecture 2, 46:25)

From a Christian perspective, an omniscient, talking God changes everything. (Lecture 2, 50:40)

Lecture 3- Worldview Evangelism

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Our struggle is a worldview struggle. What is at issue in our evangelism today is establishing an entire worldview. (Lecture 3, 8:00)

The hardest thing I do nowadays in university missions is not talking about the death and resurrection of Christ - that’s pretty easy - it’s talking about sin. But the fact of the matter is that unless people already have a Judeo-Christian worldview where God is the One who is offended, and sin is an objective and real and ugly guilt before God that must be paid for, to talk about Christ dying for our sins just doesn’t make sense…it becomes sentimental nostalgia, but nothing more. (Lecture 3, 13:05

…we are in the situation nowadays of my friend in India, that part of what it means to evangelize is to go farther back. You have to get the whole story line. Otherwise the presentation of Christ is…simply incoherent… And therefore, we have to think of how to do this. (Lecture 3, 15:50)

Speaking of a university Bible study on Romans: At the end of each meeting, instead of asking people to come forward…he says things like, if this is brand new to you and very strange, you’re not ready yet, but we’re running a number of bible studies and discussion groups so you can understand these things better… if on the other hand the Spirit of God is already talking to you and you know God is after you, then we have another room…where I will be to explain matters a little more personally and we’d like to see you there. (Lecture 3, 24:47)

Speaking of preaching through the whole Bible on university campus: Because some people only come to a meeting once…you have to say something about Jesus in every meeting…so you have to make jumps to the New Testament every time. The jump in this case is New Adam Christology… what we need is a whole new humanity, a whole new human race, and that’s what Jesus brings. (Lecture 3, 27:43)

The whole point is that this is not clever, it’s elementary. People don’t have a clue. You have to start farther back. Our problem is that we have been so…blessed with Christian heritage that we can talk the talk in such a way that we can easily communicate with one another who also share the same vocabulary and heritage. But our primary task is how to make those things coherent and understandable to people who don’t know any of this history or vocabulary or the like. That is what it means to declare the whole council of God... it means explaining the whole story line, giving the whole big picture. (Lecture 3, 29:40)

In our individual Bible studies, in our sharing of the gospel, in our evangelism with neighbours, we need to find tools and ways and emphases that give people this big picture. (Lecture 3, 30:45)

Questions about how to get into the discussion, need to be replaced by prior questions about where you’re going in the discussion. (Lecture 3, 36:10)

The first order question is not how do you get into the conversation. The first order question is where are you going once you get the conversation going? (Lecture 3, 47:05)

You simply must think of ways ... of tracking backward into the Bible's whole storyline. Otherwise the whole gospel of Jesus Christ is simply incoherent. (Lecture 3, 47:15)

[description of worship service accessible to the unchurched] (Lecture 3, 48:40)

Lecture 4 - Apostolic Evangelism of Biblical Illiterates

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...all opinions in this matter of religion are equally valid, and all religions equally lead to God, and to say anything different is to be a hateful person, then clearly we have moved beyond emperical pluralism to a kind of policy statement that makes it impossible for the God who is there, to speak. Now there is nothing ever to repent of, no God to turn to, because my opinion is simply right. Now Paul faced that in the first century. This is nothing new. (Lecture 4, 8:00)

Stoicism was marked by great moral fervor, a high sense of duty, genuine earnestness, discipline, hard work. Against such a vision the God Paul presents, far from being pantheistic, is personal, He talks, He interacts with other persons made in His image, He’s not confused with the universe, He’s distinct from the creation, and He’s our final judge… instead of focusing on universal reason tapped into by human reason, Paul contrasts the divine will and sovereignty with human dependence and need. It is an entirely different vision. Paul realizes he must erase some of their mental files and substitute others. (Lecture 4, 16:25)

…the second element in [Paul’s] strategy then is to reach outside that [Jewish] circle to people who know nothing about [the shared Judeo-Christian worldview]… the market place was where people chatted… You have to find places where you can engage people who know nothing, and talk. (Lecture 4, 19:43)