When I was in college I experienced a significant conversion to Christ. From that point on a fire burned in my heart to help others experience what I received. However, I did not know how to do it and I could not find any resources to learn, even in seminary. So for the last decade I have picked up insights from others that have given me the language to talk about evangelization. My hope is that this article will give concrete, practical tools to help us begin the New Evangelization today.
Effective Evangelization: Authority and Power
When God moves He moves with authority and power. Moses demanded with the authority of God, “Let my people go!” It was authority that freed the Chosen People from their slavery in Egypt. However, once they were freed they were led by divine power – fire and cloud were signs of God’s presence. While authority got them out of trouble, power got them into new lands. With both authority and power evangelization can bring us into new territory.
We see both authority and power in Jesus’ ministry. Bartimaeus relying on Jesus’ authority called out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” “What do you want?” “I want to see!” Then Jesus released power. “Go, your way, your faith has healed you.” Bartimaeus did go his way and, with his new vision, he went the way of Jesus.
The mission of Jesus was to reveal the Father. He did this with the authority of his moral integrity, wisdom, reputation, lineage, rootedness in divine revelation, and, when faith in him increased, his authority as God. His power, however, was: His ability to control nature; walk on water; multiply loaves and fish; raise the dead; and, especially, uniting man with God. When people accepted his authority greater power was released. When Jesus released his power people accepted deeper levels of his authority. Effective evangelization is rooted in authority and animated by God’s supernatural power.
We need power to enter new territories. However, most evangelization efforts rely on authority. The result is a light harvest. We tend to lead with our apologetics and refined philosophy, our apostolic and hierarchical authority, new DVD video series, moral conviction, and other types of authority.
Often evangelization is collapsed into teaching. For instance, when asked: “You’re Catholic, what’s the story with Confession?” We tend to answer, “Well, it’s in the Bible and it was the practice from the early church to this very day.” That’s the answer of the teacher and it’s a good answer. The teacher might even offer some quotations of the early Church Fathers and other historical documents. This is the answer of authority. The evangelist, however, answers with power:
“Yeah …Confession is something very special to me. I’ve been very intentional about it for the last two years and it’s changed my life. I go in old and leave new. I go in unsettled and leave with peace. I go in a little confused and leave with more clarity. I go in sluggish about my walk with Christ and leave excited for the journey. Most importantly, I meet Jesus and know in a deeper way I’ll see him again. People sometimes think it’s weird that we confess in front of a priest – we have reasons for that – but, most importantly, it’s changed my life.”
This is the answer of the evangelist. It is a witness to God’s power.
Need for the Encounter
Pope Benedict, again and again, reminds us that the encounter with Christ is central to our faith. In his own words and experience, Christianity is an “encounter, a love story; an event.” It is Jesus that animates and changes everything, and it is in him that all authority and power resides. When we lose sight of the centrality of experiencing the encounter with Christ our faith becomes a book full of lofty and poetic ideas about God. This is why the evangelist does not simply talk about God. The evangelist is primarily concerned with facilitating an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.
Show me the Money!
If Jesus is so great, then, as one of my friends likes to put it, “Show me the money!” If Jesus is so great, where is his greatness? Where is his power? The answers to these questions are the most exciting part of following Jesus, encountering him. But this begs the question: What is the experience of encountering the Lord?
The Experience of the Encounter
The Son of God came into human history and did not leave. His promise is to be with us until the end of time. Through the Holy Spirit we can meet the Lord.
We live in time and space. That means that our encounters with Jesus are in time and space. We are able to say, “At 4:47pm today I met the Lord!” This is faith. Faith is the capacity to recognize the exceptional presence of Christ. Faith is built on concrete events that put us in contact with him. Faith enables me to exclaim, “I know you are near!” Faith enables me to say, “I know because I not only see signs of your movement but I sense your presence and hear your voice in this room.” Moreover, faith enables me to say, “I know I came from you, I am loved by you, and I am destined for you.” Like the tender embrace of a father, we experience the tender embrace of our Heavenly Father.
From the standpoint of the skeptic, faith and the encounter seem like the product of the believer’s mind. Skeptics look at the world of religion and conclude that since all religions claim “religious experiences,” the encounter must be a product of something from within human nature. However, encountering Jesus includes many signs that point to him. These signs are the much desired changes that occur in us, changes we cannot give ourselves.
When I encounter Jesus my heart experiences more peace, joy, meaning, beauty, truth, happiness, courage, justice, and newness – to name a few. I want these things so much in my life but I cannot just turn on a switch to make this happen. But, when I encounter Jesus my heart experiences the freedom that comes from God. Jesus came to bring life and life to the full. This is the experience of the encounter with him. The changes in us are so remarkable and beautiful that it’s hard to imagine greater things. The person who really loves himself is willing to say, if someone can offer something better, show me, and I will follow you.