This year’s theme is “Preoccupied with Love” and will feature key leaders today such as James Meeks, Kim Reisman, Alan Hirsch, Colin Smith, Trillia Newbell, Jenny Yang, James Choung, Sam Owusu, York Moore, and more. CJ Rhodes, Senior Pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, will be talking about ‘One Family: A Gospel that Reconciles.’ Below, I speak with CJ about his thoughts on evangelism today.
Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?
CJ: Eddie Glaude, a Princeton University professor, wrote a Huffington Post article in which he declared that the black church as we know it is dead! This controversial statement elicited much consternation as it was interpreted as a pronouncement of death of the church.
Actually, Glaude’s statement was a reality check on our romantic ideas about the heroic black church that was engaged in evangelism and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Glaude called us to rethink our revisionist history and our unrealistic expectations, while also encouraging us to be the change we want to see in the church and the world.
I believe this sobering word is one not just for the black church, but for all churches of which Christ is the head. There has been much lamentation about the decline of Christianity in America; fears that we are soon becoming like god-less Europe abound.
Some of these concerns are warranted, but I believe that what we are seeing is the death of Christendom, not the way of Jesus Christ. Cultural Christianity is giving way to an authentic faith worth living and dying for, a faith expressed through good works.
Indeed, there are many local congregations that are dying or ready to die. Like the church at Sardis in Revelation 3, those churches needn’t die if only they hear and obey what the Spirit says. My hope is that we will certainly see the death of racialized, tribalized, and commercialized religion and the resurrection of a supernatural faith in which followers of Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear credible, life-giving witness to the gospel.