I watched a program on TV Monday night called Revealed: Hip 2B Holy. The one-hour documentary explored the burgeoning neo-evangelical movement in Canada. This is, as host Kevin Newman said, “a kinder, gentler evangelicalism.” I was impressed with the entire tone of the piece: it was very congenial toward this movement.
The documentary explored how the Canadian evangelical movement is trying to find its voice and identity in the midst of three major factors that each have the potential to heavily influence it: 1) the louder, brasher evangelicalism of our neighbours to the south, 2) our pluralistic Canadian context, and 3) residual negativity toward the church from former generations.
The question of what evangelicalism in this country will become is a a good one. As Canadians generally, I sometimes think we have an identity crisis — we define ourselves by what we are not (namely, Americans), but rarely could we tell people what we are. Even if we claim, as we often do, that we are a mosaic rather than a melting pot, this does not truly describe for us what we as Canadians have in common, but simply that we are able to embrace difference. Canadians, as the documentary pointed out, are also far more ‘polite’ than perhaps the Americans are known to be, and so in the face of religious pluralism, it is easy to refrain from being vocal about one’s faith. On this point, I believe that one of the people interviewed made a good point: “It is clear that as 10-15% of the population, evangelicals do not have enough clout to impose their will on the rest of the country, but there is no good reason why they can’t speak up and add their voice to this conversation that is going on among different groups.”
People under 30 especially are far more willing to listen to the Christian message than we may think. This is a generation that has often discarded any negative views toward the church that their parents may have had, and are willing to make decisions for themselves. But in order to make decisions, one needs knowledge, and this is a generation that, while they may not be prejudiced against church, also have very little knowledge about it. Christian faith may be totally off their radar and many may have grown up without ever setting foot in a church. I myself, though baptised as an infant, went to church only once or twice a year, and as was amazed to find out, around 10 years old, that there was more to Easter than the Easter bunny. Another person interviewed for this documentary said: “Most people never attend church not because they are hostile to it, but simply because no one invited them.”
Strangely enough, I take this to be a blessing. It is, in many respects, a chance to start over. Rather than scrambling to repair the damage done by the modern church, we post-modern Christians, living in an increasingly post-Christian world, have the chance to once again present the Gospel for the first time. And it is beginning to work, as some churches and denominations are experiencing double-digit growth.
How will we do this? I think it is key that we do it in a way that is uniquely Canadian — one that is polite and respectful of other belief systems but without being afraid to state humbly the truth as we have recieved it (I think this makes hospitable and open-minded dialogue a hugely important tool); one that takes to heart the commnandment to love one’s neighbour, such that the church becomes an advocate for peace, for the poor and the oppressed, and for other vulnerable members of society in our own country and around the world; and one that has a sense of anticipation and excitement for what may yet be — an excitement that is contagious and draws people into a divine adventure. Remember, Christians need not be a bunch of dour-faced, reserved people sitting on uncomfortable pews. We know the Lord of the universe and are in his hands, which is the most exciting and thrilling place to be. Do others see that in us?