Yesterday, I wrote about the term, and teaching emphasis. which is called the new evangelization within the Catholic Church. I showed how this movement has been building and how it has impacted both Catholics and non-Catholics globally. While evangelicals have historically used the term evangelism modern Catholics prefer this newer word evangelization. There are subtle, and at times profound, differences and we can mutually benefit if we understand these better.
In Redemptoris Missio John Paul II gave some of the characteristics of this new evangelization. In reading more on John Paul II’s initiative I came across a magnificent site called ChristLife. ChristLife is a lay Catholic ministry established in 1995 in response to the Church’s call to a new evangelization. The vision of ChristLife is to equip Catholics for the essential work of evangelization so that others might come to know personally the love of God through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, becoming his followers and members of the Church.
David Nodar, who serves as the director of CHRISTLIFE Catholic Evangelization Services, an apostolate of the archdiocese of Baltimore (MD), wrote a fine article in which he lists six major characteristics of the new evangelization that are worthy of our more careful consideration:
- The New Evangelization is Christocentric.
The person of Christ is at the center and the focus must always be on Jesus Christ and his gospel. John Paul II said, “The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.” While these words are not new the emphasis on Christ as the center is a/the vital insight for all the church in the modern world. It is also a profoundly ecumenical insight. This is why I wrote an entire chapter with this title in Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church (Zondervan, 2010). This is, therefore, the very center of my entire argument about missional-ecumenism. In Christ alone can we discover our corporate identity and then move into deeper and more fruitful expressions of our unity.
2. The New Evangelization is the responsibility of the entire people of God.
For most Catholics, and for that matter for many Protestants, evangelization has been perceived to be the work of a special group within the Church; e.g., those with a special vocation, missionaries or ministers/priests. In the new evangelization this call is to the entire people of God. This element is precisely what Protestant missiologists have called “missional church” theology. The whole people of God are “the mission” of God in the world. This is not a fad or a buzz word, missional. It has become this, sadly. But it should not be surrendered to such use.
Redemptoris Missio says, “Missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses, and parishes, Church institutions and associations.” What evangelical could seriously argue with this statement? David Nodar correctly notes, “The message of the Gospel must to be heard, understood, embraced, lived and shared by all members of the Church!” Nodar concludes that the pope is clearly urging that, “The laity must be trained and released into the service of evangelization as missionaries of the new evangelization. The Holy Spirit as the principal agent of evangelization and mission is calling all of God’s people to enter the harvest fields.” Amen!
3. The New Evangelization is not just for the work of foreign missions.
In Redemptoris Missio the pope further said that we should distinguish three unique situations that need to be addressed very differently. The first is the context of the mission itself in terms of the Vatican II decree called Ad Gentes. It was this decree that addressed modern missionary activity. Ad Gentes focused specifically on the factors involved in mission work. It called for the continued development of missionary acculturation. It encourages missionaries to live with the people they are attempting to convert, to absorb their ways and their culture. It also encourages the coordination of mission work through agencies and cooperation with other groups and organizations within the Catholic Church and even other denominations. (This is a good part of what happened in the controversial Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative, which still continues into the present even though Neuhaus and Colson are both deceased now.) What was in mind here was bringing the gospel to peoples, groups and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known. Notice the respect afforded to “other denominations” in this task. Again, the ecumenism is here what I call missional-ecumenism.
Redemptoris Missio thus sounds a clear note in saying that, “(T)o preach the Gospel and to establish new Churches among peoples or communities where they do not yet exist, . . . this is the first task of the Church.”
Second, there are healthy mature Christian communities that are fervent in their faith. These communities have a sense of Christ’s universal mission, and when these exist the church carries out her activities and pastoral care with focused passion. Here the pope seems to be describing a situation that requires pastoral care and not simply evangelization.
Third, there is what the pope called the intermediate situation. Within countries where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or no longer consider themselves members of the Church, a situation exists for “new” evangelization. Here we further read in Redemptoris Missio: “In this case what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’” In this third situation the pope believed that people need to be socialized into situations of vibrant faith. Some need their faith to be renewed and enlivened. Others have had little or no training in the Christian faith and essentially need to be evangelized with the basic gospel and receive formation in the faith (catechesis).