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Monday, November 29, 2021

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The Walk: unprogrammed vs programmed congregations part two, Evangelism

<p>Graphic by Jackie Llanos</p>

Graphic by Jackie Llanos

 Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. 

Last week, I outlined the differences between programmed and unprogrammed Quaker congregations and the structural challenges facing each of them as described by Bill Samuel in a 2000 article titled “Friends (Quaker) Worship." Samuel says that unprogrammed Friends can struggle to maintain evangelical zeal because of the non-pastoral nature of their worship. 

This week, I will focus on why maintaining evangelical zeal is important and outline the form Quaker evangelism should take. An understanding of the importance and form of evangelism is rooted in the purpose of evangelism. The purpose of evangelism is to help others achieve salvation. Therefore, as long as practicing service to others is important, evangelism is important. 

The form evangelism must take must be in line with its purpose. Therefore, the form that evangelism should take is based on what is necessary to achieve salvation. I believe that living a good life is more important than one’s religious label in determining one’s fate in the afterlife. Therefore, the form of evangelism I advocate for will pursue helping others lead good lives rather than convincing them to change their label. 

Although evangelism is often associated with the more radical Christian right, it remains an important duty for all Christians. Part of loving thy neighbor is helping them achieve salvation. I believe that that salvation is achieved through living well and is not determined by whether one identifies themself as a follower of the true God. 

C.S. Lewis gives us wisdom on this topic. He wrote in the voice of Aslan at the end of "The Last Battle," “No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to [the evil god].” If we agree with the principle Lewis is expressing here, helping others to live well is far more important than convincing them to call themselves Christian or Quaker.

Evangelism of the sort I advocate for should focus on the good of helping others to live a good life rather than convincing people to change their religious label. Evangelism with this aim is both in line with my view of what determines salvation and is in line with the values of an unprogrammed meeting. I understand one of these values to be the communal building of personal relationships with God, which supports evangelism that is aimed at helping others to live a better life rather than evangelism that is aimed at the less consequential selection of labels. 

I will call my favored type of evangelism non-conversional (not about converting). Non-conversional evangelism is more appropriate to the pluralist, modern society that we live in than conversional evangelism. In a time when pushing people to change their label can turn them off to the whole process, I believe in evangelizing through value-neutral exploration. Instead of, “do you want to talk to me so that I can make you Quaker?” we should be asking “would you like to try to discover truths about the good life with me?”

One form that non-conversional evangelism can take is of Socratic education. Plato’s Socrates famously claimed that he did not have any wisdom to offer students. He would not present his viewpoint as authoritative when he discoursed with others. 

Instead, as Jacob Howland said in “Re-Reading Plato: The Problem of Platonic Chronology,” “The dialogues are Socratically provocative documents that are essentially intended to solicit reflection (not to spell out answers).” In non-conversional evangelism, we ought not to assert our own doctrine as authoritative, but rather solicit reflection from the recipients of our evangelism and provide them with the tools to reflect well. Then, whether they decide to share our label or not, they will be helped along the way toward leading a good life. 

To contribute to The Walk, email opinions and columns editor Conner Evans at opinions@thecollegianur.com.

Contact columnist Cal Pringle at cal.pringle@richmond.edu.

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