A Strategy for Reaching Secular Man

EVERY so often I arm myself with the strong sword of the promises Cod gives, a fat billfold, and a secret pocket to keep all that cash safe, and infiltrate the citadel of the enemy they call New York. Fabulous, heartless city, capital of a secular, spiritually apathetic, materialistic culture. There Christianity orbits as distantly as in the scrabbling hovels of pagan lands. . .

-secretary of the General Conference Department of Communication at the time this article was written

"I have become everything in turn to men of every sort, so that in one way or another I may save some" (1 Cor. 9:22, N.E.B.).*

EVERY so often I arm myself with the strong sword of the promises Cod gives, a fat billfold, and a secret pocket to keep all that cash safe, and infiltrate the citadel of the enemy they call New York. Fabulous, heartless city, capital of a secular, spiritually apathetic, materialistic culture. There Christianity orbits as distantly as in the scrabbling hovels of pagan lands.

Usually I enter New York to confer with communication leaders from the major Christian faiths. Frequently my lone Seventh-day Adventist presence represents all that is fundamental and evangelical in that liberal, socially oriented group.

Yet, as I listen, all too often they seem far more in interface with secular man, his cities, his culture, his institutions, his goals, than many a more evangelical gathering.

While we must remember the serious dangers in the social gospel, their strategy pries at the evils of society. It seeks for levers to overturn the bastions of hatred, exploitation, inequity, and prejudice. Such planning sometimes succeeds in its goals, but all too often leaves individuals untouched personally. For all their stressing of need, of alienation, of tragedy, God and the gospel of His Son, the Word of God and the faith it builds seldom surface in their planning.

With their fundamentalist counterparts, Adventists move far more certainly in working for those of Christian beliefs than for secular or pagan man. Adventist history helps make us this way. We began with the stated purpose of calling God's people out of Babylon, and confidently defined Babylon as apostate and counterfeit Christianity. Our pioneers convinced Christians to complete what the Reformation had begun.

Much of our effort today still uses this basic strategy. Many of the denomination's programs, like Gift Bible Evangelism, reaping efforts, Vacation Bible Schools, Voice of Youth, Bible correspondence schools, thrive on the presence of a great reservoir of people with Christian background, Christian morality, and Christian belief.

Yet Babylon encloses more gods within its gates than the confusion of apostasy and false belief suggest. The gods of humanism, of materialism, of sheer ignorance also have their devotees who must learn the way to walk out of the city of confusion and into the City of God.

Reach for New Audiences

As the proportion of the Biblically literate shrinks, and the heritage of Christianity abates be fore the hurricanes of doubt and indifference, the church must find ways to reach for new audiences for its message. We see a growing awareness of this need in the great emphasis currently placed on health and better living in new evangelism being developed by the church. Concepts that spear headed the spread of the message in the non-Christian Orient and the primitive South Sea Islands suddenly have validity in America, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. The health message is reasserting its rightful place as the right arm of the message.

The new secular majority demands of the church that it permit the Spirit to orchestrate neglected notes into the symphony of evangelism. "The time has come when, as never before, Seventh-day Adventists are to arise and shine, because their light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon them." --Evangelism, page 36.

Our communication media approaches are sensing the need for standing face to face with secular man on his own ground. Faith for Today, a pioneer in religious telecasting, has often suffered from misunderstandings because it has taken itself into the market place of the media with a program structured after the patterns of television entertainment.

Offer a Way Out

Our strategy must include approaches that offer a way out for the non-Christian as well as the Christian. Looking back to 1950, when Faith for Today began to broadcast latter-day parables aimed at reaching the non-Christian, it seems extremely farsighted that the church of that day should foster such a program. And as Pastor Fagal will tell you, it has worked. Thousands have been nudged, persuaded, taught into the faith of the remnant through the combination of a television parable and a related Bible correspondence school.

Faith for Today isn't guessing when it asserts that its program carries secular man toward belief. Motivation Dynamics, a New York-based motivational research corporation, analyzed students and listeners of Faith for Today. Their report reveals considerable contact with the non-churched and the non-Christian. Faith for Today gained entry to their thinking by meeting them on common ground.

A few years after Faith for Today braved new frontiers in evangelism for the church, another telecast created a skillful mix of message preaching and current issues and interests. It Is Written and its director, George Vandeman, have established a unique program as yet not imitated by any other religious broadcaster.

Understanding Strategy

In order to understand the strategy of these broadcasters you have to look also at their follow-up literature. Today Faith for Today marches also under the banner of Westbrook Hospital, an Adventist medical center, where physician, pastor, and a whole staff of Christian medical workers explore the contribution Christianity makes to the whole man. And with this series stands "Living for Real," six brochures on healthful living. When the program emphasis swings back to the modern parable, Faith for Today offers directly and without apology "The Bible's Answer," its ten-brochure series for the modern thinker.

And It Is Written, displaying its usual apt choice of title and phraseology invites the viewer to read the sound of "Drumbeat." Here the one who responds may walk any of four separate paths of common ground toward "Viewfinder," a layman-distributed Bible course. It Is Written reaches beyond the normal context of Christian teaching to let its audience explore health and problems in addiction, the occult, home life, and the contribution of the Bible to modern life. Thus they help answer the challenge, "The cities must be worked. The millions living in these congested centers are to hear the third angel's message." --Evangelism, page 35.

Yet, for all this, wide gaps are still evident in the church's media strategy. To fill one of these, Faith for Today is committed to a children's television program for 3- to 7-year-olds. To close another, "Breath of Life" a television program oriented toward America's blacks, waits final approval and development.

"In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes." --Evangelism, page 40.

For many Adventists the Voice of Prophecy's venture into the youth arena seemed strange and even aberrant. Youth culture idioms and different sounds is sued from Way Out. Had the Voice of Prophecy overstepped the bounds of good taste and Christian standards? Certainly not in the thinking of the young people. To date close to a million of America's youth have reached for a Way Out. Scores of other denominations and youth organizations have bought Way Out literature to supplement their own programs.

These are extraordinary efforts, new approaches, successful communication vehicles that drive easily over the rough terrain of the generation gap. They display the sign "Follow Me," leading youth through the crisscrossing, contradictory tracks of human belief.

Radio, or at least its religious programming, seems to have been particularly resistant to change. The Voice of Prophecy and a dozen other national broadcasts mark off their existence in decades. Yet, even here the change from program orientation to for mat or sound orientation, so evident in the radio stations of our large cities, is finally catching up with the religious broadcaster. Building on the strong base of its half-hour and fifteen-minute pro grams, the Voice of Prophecy is planning to reach for the secular man where he may be met.

Nudging Secular Man Toward God

Just the other day I heard radio spots that talk about crime, violence, poverty, love, peace, and hope. For sixty seconds they nudge the listener toward God and faith with gentle imperceptible thrusts that suddenly sink home in a kind of spiritual double-take.

The Voice of Prophecy isn't going to rest there. Under the initiative of their short-program director, John Robertson, a five-minute secular approach will shortly traject into the radio orbit.

Much of this strategy projects success on what we might call the psychology of the nudge. It accepts as valid Paul's statement, "To win Gentiles, who are outside the Law, I made myself like one of them, although I am not in truth outside God's law, being under the law of Christ. ... All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, to bear my part in proclaiming it" (1 Cor. 9:21-23, N.E.B.).

I looked the other day at "Century 21," the health-spiritual minis try, now being field tested for worldwide use. Like our broad casters, many of today's evangelists are accepting a responsibility for a ministry that reaches out to basic human needs.

Trap of Sectionalism?

Just a few weeks ago I joined Pastor Richard Byrd of Mountain View Conference for a reaping effort in West Virginia. Unexpectedly I found myself stumbling over words I had vowed I would never utter again. Looking at one of the good folks attending the meetings, I almost said, "He just looks like an Adventist."

Once, when I used those words a perceptive layman challenged me, "Pastor, what does an Adventist look like?" Indeed. Is it the cut of his suit, the length of her dress, the absence of make-up, the hair cut high over his ears, the clothes well pressed? Can a worldwide church really say of any man, he either looks like, or doesn't look like, an Adventist?

To look at a person, or a class of persons and regard them as more susceptible to the gospel, and thus beam our strategy largely toward them snares us in the trap of sectionalism. A church that seeks multitudes from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people which no man can number, deserves better of itself. It looks at every man, woman, and child it meets and says, "That person looks like a potential child of God." Then, and only then, will we be able to devise a way to touch him with the everlasting gospel.

* Texts credited to N.E.B. are from the New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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-secretary of the General Conference Department of Communication at the time this article was written

October 1974

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