For All the Saints – Philip

What is it about the notion of “evangelism” that makes so many in the mainstream church and the broader culture so nervous? I mean, seriously, if brands like Apple and Microsoft and even Coca-Cola can have “brand evangelists”, then what is so wrong with your normal, run of the mill mainline protestant or catholic church being a little more ‘evangelical’ in its approach? It should be simple. But, it turns out that evangelizing is pretty high up on most standard lists of religious turn-offs. Let’s dig a little deeper and see why.
The root of terms like evangelism, evangelist and evangelical is all the same. Take the Greek root for message or messenger, that is “angel,” and add to it the prefix meaning good or beneficial, that is “eu-.”  What do you get? Evangelism is sharing good news or delivering a good message.
For contemporary brands and causes, this definition seems straight forward. An “Apple Evangelist” is someone paid by the company (or so in love with the product that they would do it for free) to spread the word about new features, products or initiatives. I guess its a little bit like marketing. But, sadly, marketing is not something that I know a lot about. So, I’d only be guessing. It seems, though like brand evangelism tends more toward conveying the underlying values and mission of a company or culture rather than simply extolling the virtues, features or competitive pricing of a particular product.  “Friend raising,” is a term that we used to talk a lot about back when i used to work in my college alumni office. It was different that fund-raising or admissions work.
Unfortunately, when we try to apply words like evangelism in a religious (and, ironically original) context, things start to feel weird. Images of street-corner preachers handing out tracts of paper with words like “Sin” and “Salvation” on it come to mind as do awkward invitations to boring church services. Maybe its that the word was also co-opted in the 80’s as a too-simple description of a broad theo-political swath of our culture thus bringing into the definition a host of specific positions on specific issues none of which have anything to do with the original sense of the word.
Today’s story about Philip the Deacon provides a powerful corrective to our somewhat perverted notions of Evangelism. You can ready the story of Philip and the man from Ethiopia HERE, but I’ll summarize it as follows: Upon finding himself in an advantageous position, Philip joyfully shares what he knows about the Good News of God in Jesus with someone who has questions. That’s it. No hard-sell, no talk of sin or Hell, no political litmus test. The man from Ethiopia had questions, Philip had answers. Evangelism ensued.

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