Evangelii Nuntiandi 18: evangelization and conversion

Evangelii Nuntiandi 18. For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: "Now I am making the whole of creation new." But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel. The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.

To some the emphasis on Baptism might seem like shallow sacramentalism or ritualism and if we are honest we all know people who have been baptized who are far from devout Christians and certainly do not reflect the Gospel life. But when I approach this definition of evangelism from the point of view of a missionary in the Middle East I am struck by how hard it is to find anything wrong with it.

But the pairing of baptism with 'lives lived according to the Gospel' should clarify that this is not at all what is being advocated, though in reality we see it all too often in the various churches that practice infant baptism.

This definition at once embraces the individual emphasis on conversion while seeing this as a conduit towards the evangelization of the whole community.

Also significant is the explicit 'all the strata of humanity,' which would seem to run against the preference for the poor found in liberation theology.

Finally, I note the qualifier on how the church converts others, 'solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims.' The implication is that there must be some sort of pseudo-evangelization, which is done in any other way. A conversion carried out via personal charisma or bribery or some such path--these examples come to mind.


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