This morning the line in the Psalm for Morning Prayer which always strikes me is the following: “put me on a rock that is higher than I.” What might this mean? We need to get out our own head, the series of mental loops we are all prey to. But it means something deeper as well. At the heart of the Christian Gospel is that I cannot save myself, that I need help I cannot provide. This is offensive to the self-reliance so central to our culture! But why can’t I help myself? Because there is a flaw, a “crack running through everything,” including me, and not only at my worst, but even at my best. I need another we have the leverage to move me when I couldn’t move myself. There is a place for my own effort, but always at a result of, and by the impetus of, the initiative, which is to say the grace, of God. Entailed in this insight, central to the Reformation because it was central to Paul, is that cluster of terms which define aspects of what God has done for us: sin, redemption, contrition, conversion, salvation.
I mention all this because I have just read the official account of evangelism offered by our own denomination. It emphasizes paying attention to how God is already at work in all people around us. Attention and appreciation are certainly virtues on evangelism. It emphasizes that the Gospel announces God’s love and His will to free His people. No argument there either!
The problem is not in what the statement says, but in what it leaves out. First of all, it leaves aside the vocabulary I have mentioned above. It gives no account of our condition which would indicate that we need a rock higher than ourselves. And this being taken and set in a new place is not attributed to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now showing how these events as the culmination of the Bible’s story can change our circumstance is challenging, but it is also the heart of the task of Christian theology. Obviously, all this puts the name of Jesus, His work, His continuing presence, His promise to be with us to the end of the age, at the very center of the evangelistic task. We do not stop with its effect in the lives of the believers, but go on, as the official account suggests, to show how it reigns over the whole world.
Is there a distinctive Episcopal evangelism? I am sure there is, insofar as we have traditions of prayer that are distinctive, not to mention a rich history represented by the mission societies, none of which are mentioned in the documents. But in another way, there must not be such a thing as Episcopal evangelism, insofar as it depends on the victory of Jesus, attested in the Scriptures, which are equally the inheritance of all Christians.