Evangelism, Writing, and Illiteracy: Five Responses
This is the second half of a series on evangelism, reading, and writing. In light of the astonishing decline of America’s reading culture, today I am considering five responses for Christians.
During the Vietnam War, America dropped 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to destroy the Communist forces. The US trusted that the bombings would crush the opposition – perhaps even be a substitute for American casualties. But by 1975, South Vietnam was falling, and on April 30, panicked troops were evacuated from the conquered capitol.
Christians need to respond to America’s crumbling culture of reading, and this story brings us to the first of five strategies.
#1 – We Need Boots on the Ground
Today, many Christians still try to bombard nonbelievers. Instead of literal dynamite, we write excessively, dropping payloads of written arguments. But like American bombs in North Vietnam, the vast majority of our writing is missing its mark. It is dramatic but ineffective.
Discussion and face-to-face conversation must be the primary method of evangelism. These are the ‘boots on the ground’ that we need so desperately. If you are a writer, you must understand: most of your writing will influence Christians, not unbelievers. Your greatest challenge is getting others to read your writing.
As John Knox said,
“I consider myself rather called by God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and living voice, in these corrupt days, than to compose books for the ages to come.” (John Knox)
#2 – Simplicity and Clarity Are Huge
I wish that more Christians would live by Knox’s quote, focusing more on present evangelism than future readers. In fact, Knox was not against writing. While his works are relatively unknown today, they were widely circulated in 16th-century Scotland.
There is much that is good in writing. I wish that more Christians spent time learning how to write, and developing concise, eloquent ways of expressing the truth. Writing is important because it is essentially communication, and Christians are called to communicate.
If you are a writer, try to be the most effective in today’s world. Make your words clear and concise. Get to the point, and avoid sidetracking. Modern audiences don’t appreciate the long, formal style of the past. They want simplicity and force in what you have to say.
One way to engage readers is to be as interactive as possible. My father has a jail ministry, which involves sending written sermons to inmates. They also receive a study guide with questions from the sermon. This guide makes the reading engaging, and forces them to think about the text. How can you encourage your readers to engage with the content?
#3 – Don’t Worsen the Problem
We all learn when we are challenged. Even little children will understand far more than we give them credit for. That’s why it is so important to teach them more than we think they are capable of. In fact, the great problem of the modern education system is that it always lowers the bar to the lowest level, dumbing everyone else down.
In your writing, don’t cater to the lowest common denominator. Effective writing is stimulating and vigorous and encourages people to think, even if it challenges them from time to time.
#4 – Utilize Alternate Media
Jesus Christ is ‘The Word,’ not ‘the film’ or ‘the podcast.’ The Bible is a book, not a TV series. I do not want to undermine any of this. However, we can still take advantage of other forms of media to communicate the message that God has given us.
Writing is simple, because you don’t need much technology. Other forms of media are more challenging, but since they are a part of the culture, don’t ignore them. I praise God for some of the effective evangelistic multimedia that is already produced, such as evangelistic apps and videos. We need more of these things.
#5 – Encourage Reading
Our goal is not ultimately to adapt to illiteracy, but to change it. Challenge people to read. Tell them about the benefits of reading. Model reading for them. This doesn’t mean that you encourage them to pick up any book. Point out that every book we read has an influence, and they need to make wise decisions in their reading.
Perhaps you can be creative in how you do this. Rather than a new iPad, perhaps you could give your family member a book on their birthday. Maybe you will take an interest in what others are reading. Sometimes a tailored book recommendation can ignite an interest in reading.
If we adapt these strategies, our Christianity may not appear as scholastic. We might have fewer theses and simpler arguments. I think this is a small price to pay if more people hear and believe the gospel.
This short article is not a sufficient response to the problem of illiteracy. Christians need to think far more about this disturbing trend. What other strategies respond to reading apathy today?