One might ask why new methods are needed for evangelization when the Gospel is already ever new and ever the same. The fact is that changed circumstances demand new methods (in addition to new means of expression). What are these changed circumstances? In discussing “what exactly is the new evangelization,” we pointed out that all too many formerly Christian societies have largely abandoned Christian belief and practice. These societies are not like un-evangelized societies of old. Increasing secularization has led to gravely deficient manners of thought and to societies that consider themselves not only post-Christian but, in many cases, post-moral. We should recall Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the funeral Mass of St. John Paul II warn of the dictatorship of relativism as one of the greatest challenge pervading much of western society.
This dictatorship has left us with a situation that the early Church could not have conceived. C. S. Lewis, in his The Problem of Pain, already saw this problem arising in the middle of the 20th century. He said that the pagans of the first centuries of Christian evangelization at least understood the concepts of sin, alienation from divinity and punishment due to alienation from the divine. The prevailing method of evangelization then was to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to these problems. Today there is an increasing incomprehensibility to the reality of sin and its consequences (see Problem of Pain, 55). We now need first to propose and convince of the relevance of the questions before moving on to proposing answers.
Beginning our evangelizing with the answers will, for many today, lead to reactions ranging from bewildered dismissiveness to hostile rejection. While beginning evangelization by preaching sin and Jesus as the solution may have born some fruit a century ago, today it often confirms many lost souls in their belief that they have heard the Gospel, found it irrelevant from the perspective of their worldview, and so have chosen to reject it. However, we also must admit that this is not a universal situation. Therefore, contemporary methods must take into many other considerations as well. In other words, there will be no “one size fits all” solution. Nevertheless, all successful methods with conform to three fundamental criteria.
The first criterion is that the method must have the character of a personal encounter between the Christian witness and the one being evangelized. Encounters of communion with other persons are at the heart of what it means to be a human person (for more on this, see the article on New Evangelization and the Human Person), created after the image and likeness of divine Persons. For this reason, personal encounter is always effective, but its value has increased given the contemporary tendency to distrust the reliability of rational arguments. As discussed in the article on ardor, authentic witness is, first of all, the witness of a disciple of Jesus Christ (see Evangelii nuntiandi, 21, 41). And this is the second criterion, the authentic witness of discipleship (see The New Evangelization and Discipleship). If an unbeliever is to encounter Jesus Christ, he will do so, by Jesus’ design, through an encounter with His disciples. To make this encounter effective, the disciple must possess authentic missionary poverty, the third criterion. That is, one must have the attitude that as a disciple of Christ, he has nothing of his own to offer that is of salvific value; all he has is Jesus Christ. This attitude of poverty helps to ensure the disciple authentically manifests Jesus Christ.
Methods today also must take into consideration the person who is being engaged. They must be varied to meet the particularities of the person’s background, but at the same time, they must be focused on the universal human need for communions of love and on Christ as the answer to this need. The method will vary based upon the person, his philosophy of life, his openness to religious dialog in general, and his openness to Christianity in particular.
In addition to the particularities of the person’s situation, there are also commonalities among groups of people that need to be considered. Culture is central consideration. Culture is both a mediator of faith and a primary manner of expressing the faith. Possessing an adequate theology of culture is a prerequisite to one’s ability to engage effectively in the various aspects of evangelization (more on the theology of culture can be found here). It is not simply a matter of understanding the elements of various cultures, it is much more important to understand the relationship and interaction between the Gospel and culture. Another consideration is immigration. The situation in the United States today is such that a relatively new wave of immigration has brought great challenges and opportunities for the new evangelization. Having an adequate theology of culture and a solicitude for the many cultures of these immigrants is paramount. The predominant group among these new immigrants are those from Spanish-speaking countries. Therefore, applications of this theology of culture among the various Hispanic cultures now represented in the US will be the most common need for the average evangelist (for more on this see New Evangelization and Hispanic Ministry). But concern for the cultural background of immigrants is not the only issue. The new evangelization also demands methods which take into consideration the situations of the various immigrant communities, such as the difficulties of reaching migrants and the undocumented, language barriers, particular social and catechetical challenges, etc. New methods will also need to be appropriate to the phases of pre-evangelization, initial proclamation, and catechesis.
New methods in pre-evangelization will be most successful when they focus on developing relationships of trust, when they demonstrate the broad range of common concerns of life, when they focus on the inherent religious sense of every man and when they manifest the attractiveness of the Person of Jesus Christ. Catholic philosophers and theologians have been dissecting the phenomena of western society and its increasing dominance by libertine atheism in media, government and education for the last sixty years. A growing number are coming to the conclusion that rational argumentation will bear little fruit with those who have abandoned the search for truth. The late Uruguayan philosopher Alberto Methol Ferré, a close friend of Pope Francis, finds just this. He argues that libertine atheism cannot be fought in the traditional way because it is not so much an ideology but rather a practice, and so it can only be fought with a counter practice, the witness of faithful Christians whose lives bear witness to the attractiveness of Jesus Christ and His truth. Only the Gospel preached by the Church can make post-modern man’s heart burn within him for Jesus Christ. While Ferré looks at practical witness, other thinkers concentrate on evangelization methods based on beauty, goodness and love.
New methods in the kerygma will be most successful when they incorporate the development of relationships of personal encounter between authentic disciples and unbelievers. In these encounters, the unbeliever should experience an introduction to the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the person of the Christian and in his words. An effective kerygma will also aim to elicit the universal human desire to love and be loved. Moreover, the witness must endeavor to help the hearer to find within himself his unarticulated desire for greatness, his desire for heroism in selfless love and to willingly give himself totally to Jesus Christ as His disciple.
New methods in catechesis should follow the guidance of recent papal magisteriums, which advocate that all catechesis should model itself on the Baptismal Catechumenate (see General Directory for Catechesis, 59; see also Evangelii nuntiandi, 44; Lumen fidei, 42). That is, it should follow the phases of spiritual maturity of the one being catechized, it should integrate catechesis into the liturgical life of the Church, and it needs to ever evaluate the measure to which the catechized is maturing in discipleship. One important characteristic of such catechesis is that it should never lose its kerygmatic flavor. That is, in order to be systematic and complete, it will necessarily take on a certain level of abstractness. However, the one being catechized should never lose sight of how every fact presented is interconnected with the others in that they all bring one into an encounter of communion with Jesus Christ.
In the last few decades, new methods of evangelization have been proliferating in many areas. One fruitful source of new methods is among the various new ecclesial movements that have arisen. These new methods are not necessarily understood as such by the movements themselves, but through a careful study of each movement, one can uncover a variety of methods that can be used in each of the phases of evangelization and which can be applied at the level of the individual, the parish and the diocese. Two methods of note include Msgr. Luigi Giussani’s method of encounter in the Communion and Liberation movement (an approach that has greatly influenced Pope Francis), Kiko Argüello’s kerygmatic method among the poor and social outcasts in the New Catechumenal Way, and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) method of personal encounter and outreach. Research into these movements will be one of the areas of focus for MAI.