EN 51, 52: pre-evangelism and evangelism

It is sections like 51 and 52 of Evangelii Nuntiandi that often confuse evangelical Christians. What evangelicals call evangelism is here called "pre-evangelism" though Paul VI says that even this first proclamation of the Gospel is indeed part of the larger work of evangelism.

What catholics call evangelism is what evangelicals often call discipleship or simply Christian education. By evangelism Paul VI is talking about, it seems, everything from the first proclamation of Jesus' name to the tribal leaders who have never heard it, to, presumably, catechesis and continuing education for grownups at their churches. The difference is that one view seeks to share the message and secure a commitment to it; the other seeks to deepen a person's allegiance to that message, wherever they may be on a spectrum of spiritual maturity.

We should not be surprised that evangelicals tend to identify that initial proclamation as the act of evangelizing, because "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The fact is that Paul has to explain that this pre-evangelism is in fact part of evangelism: She carries out this first proclamation of Jesus Christ by a complex and diversified activity which is sometimes termed "pre-evangelization" but which is already evangelization in a true sense, although at its initial and still incomplete stage.

Perhaps this tendency to lump in frontier mission (taking the Gospel to where it has never been heard or to where there is no witness to it, like much of the Middle East) with the rather amorphous and all-encompassing term "evangelism" is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church has been so inactive in the Muslim world over the past decades.

It is certainly in line with EN (and Redemptoris Missio by JPII) to affirm a central role for this "pre-evangelism" sort of evangelism in the ministry of the Catholic Church, though I don't know of anywhere that this is actually happening with reference to the Muslim world.


Steve Scott said…
I'm wondering if each Christian tradition has strengths more applicable to certain parts of the world, or other religions. I know the RCC is more active in certain non-Muslim parts of Africa for example. The EO have had problems with Islam for centuries that go beyond simple evangelism, so maybe Protestant Evangelicalism has the upper hand in the ME, for some additional reasons.
Anonymous said…
You are right, AD:

As we will be teaching participants in our Making Disciples seminar next week in Wisconsin - in catholic understanding, pre-evangelism and initial proclamation come before initiatory catechesis but are seldom ever attended to, even in this country. Nor do most people know that the Church teaches that catechesis is not initial proclamation but for the maturation of those who are already disciples.

These ideas are hidden in papal documents but universal practice on the ground is much more powerful.

Part of it is that our parishes are already huge, (average 3,500 people, in California, its 10,000/parish) swollan by people seeking the sacraents. Globally, we are overwhelmed trying to deal with the already baptized, the majority of which don't attend Mass, but have a canonical right to the sacraments.

At a practical level, the vast majority of practicing Catholics I've met are de facto universalists. Frontier missions has historically been carried out by religious orders but they have almost all dropped proclamation in favor of a focus upon social justice and a belief in "multiple economies of salvation".

One of the historical reasons that initial proclamation has gotten merged with catechesis in our minds is because the Catholic school system was developed in the 17th century to firm up the Catholic identity of children in the aftermath of the Reformation.

It was a heavily religious evangelically-oriented education carried out by religious orders in their first fervor and was to expected to enflame the personal faith of these already baptized as infants. The European model, developed within Christendom, because the model for missionary efforts outside Christendom as well.

So its a confluence of factors and history that have brought us where we are today.

Sherry W.
businessjohn said…
Truth For Muslims is bringing a comprehensive, biblical response to Islam in America, including evangelism among Muslims.

Abu Daoud said…
Hi Business John, your ministry looks great. If there is anyway I can be of help to you (though I'm not in the USA) please do let me know.

In fact that is exactly the kind of ministry I am speaking about when I say I don't see any Catholics doing it.

Sherry gives a good explanation of why that is. Though "we already have tons of cultural catholics" is not an incredibly encouraging fact.

Steve: Maybe the decline of Orthodoxy and Catholicism in the West is due to the fact that they have decided not to focus on the unreached. If it is true that God's fundamental desire for the church is to take the Gospel to the unreached, then why not cut off the branch that bears no fruit?

Harsh language certainly, but this is the God whose glory departs the Holy of Holies in Ezekiel and who says to the church: Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (rev 2:4).

Of course maybe God is in fact not concerned with the Gospel reaching the unreached. In which case all these nice papal encyclicals are erroneous.
John Stringer said…
Could it not be more related to the problem of many denominations, that they have historically defined mission as something with great formal visibility? In the Arab World formal evangelism to Muslims is almost impossible, and also creates major problems for churches in the region. Hence the Catholics (and Orthodox, and Presbyterians) have not been very visible in evangelism since the end of colonialism.
Abu Daoud said…
Hi John,

You are right, of course, as the Prophet said, 'whosoever changes his religion, slay him.' But still, there are quiet, sensitive ways to do this work, no? makaru wa makara allah wa allah xayr ul maakiriin :-) Let us emulate our Creator then!

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