The following is an excerpt from Dr Robert Knowles’ newly released book ‘Relating Faith – Modelling Biblical Christianity in Church and World’.
Much of what the Church does for evangelism isn’t. It thinks it is because it is locked in to a way of doing that ignores content and context. In other words, relational wisdom is sidelined for a program. Here’s what Rob Knowles says on the matter, and it is just one point within a much larger framework:
“The church confuses evangelism with infantilisation. It is assumed that ministers and elders are mature and can take profound biblical content, that seasoned churchgoers are almost as mature and can take moderate biblical content, but that most Christians can only take ‘the basics’, and that non-Christians – well – Thomas the Tank Engine is too advanced for them. What a load of old patronizing and offensive drivel.
It is shameful that I and many others even have to point out that many non-believers have degrees, read text-books, do professional jobs that involve technical language, are familiar with current affairs, and are – quite frankly – very, very often much further on in their thinking that the Christian sloganeers are (by ‘sloganeers, Dr Knowles means the oppressive pseudo-evangelistic sloganeering activism that is devoid of interesting/rich/knowledgable content).
But the sad fact is, these days, many of us do have to point this out to the church. Worse – when I and many others do point it out, what we say is often rejected as being irrelevant thinking ‘by intellectuals’ who ‘only have academic knowledge’.
[Earlier on in the chapter], we linked infantilisation to the standard strategies of those in power who wish to keep people immature so that their power bases and systems of privilege are not challenged. Such abusers need to mislabel people who think as ‘mere academics’ so that they can falsely cast aside the genuine criticisms that thinkers bring to the table. Moreover, such patronisation even assumes that academics or thinkers actually have ‘less real-life experience’ from which to contribute, which is also false and an abuse of power.
Furthermore, it is a genuine breach of etiquette, register and of politeness generally when evangelistic mission deploys speakers who sound like nursery-school teachers. Frankly, this is insulting to those unfortunate enough to be listening. Every day, people hear what some sloganeering believers think of as ‘the dreaded long words’ on television. And yet, I have been rebuked in some church contexts for using vocabulary that would be commonplace on Blue Peter.
Only anti-intellectuals and power-hungry infantilisers resist vocabulary, however, for an extension of vocabulary often brings an extension of wisdom and an exposure of sin. Indeed, it’s funny how anti-intellectuals and power hungry infantilisers are happy to learn a compound word like ‘video-recorder’, which has six syllables; but if one dares to articulate a three-syllable word such as ‘redemption’, then suddenly it’s ‘a long academic word’. Oh, grow up!
[So what we are saying] for encouraging mission and evangelism, then, is to take the infantilisation out of evangelism and put some cognitive content and some vocabulary back into it. I’m not saying that we should read out a paper on post-structuralism – I’m just advocating that we say something interesting that doesn’t insult people’s intelligence.
It is often the church that has become infantilised, not the world.”
Relating Faith, p.167-8