Tim and Rick speak with Cas Monaco (Ph.D.) on sharing the gospel in modern times. Dr. Monaco’s research identifies several behavioral changes Christians can make to help others listen to the gospel and make evangelism winsome. In Part 1 of this discussion, Dr. Monaco shares stories of how the landscape for sharing the gospel has changed; the old approaches aren’t working as well as they used to. Yet, people continue to search for meaning and actively seek the sacred, transcendence, and Ultimate Reality in this secular landscape. Jesus’ words, “Look and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting,” are true today for those who engage the field effectively. This is Part 1 of a 2-part conversation on modern evangelism with Dr. Cas Monaco.
Cas Monaco: The first question on our survey was who in your opinion is Jesus Christ. And the memory of the look on her face is burned into my brain because she just had this blank stare and kind of confusion. And she said, "I have no idea what that is."
Rick Langer: Hi, my name's Rick Langer, and I'm your host for the Winsome Conviction podcast. And I'm a Professor here at Biola University in the Biblical Studies and Theology Department, as well as the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning. But one of the favorite things I do is to co-direct the Winsome Conviction project with my good friend, Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a Communications professor here at Biola University for the last 17 years, Rick.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: I had hair when I started at Biola University.
Rick Langer: I saw you, and sir, you didn't really have that much.
Tim Muehlhoff: Ooh.
Rick Langer: But go ahead, we're listening.
Tim Muehlhoff: Stop it. Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us. It is so fun, Rick, to have old friends on the show, and though she's new to you, Dr. Cas Monaco has been a friend of me and my wife Noreen for almost gosh, 35 years, I would imagine.
Cas Monaco: Yeah, probably.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, please. Don't interrupt me, Dr. Monaco. I'm still doing the introduction. Please, that was a little rude. Okay. No, Cas is awesome. You're going to love her. She is assuming the role of Vice President of Missiology and Gospel Engagement for FamilyLife Ministries that my wife and I have spoken at for gosh, maybe 20, 25, 26 years. She lives in Durham with her husband Bob, who's absolutely awesome. And she has graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with both a Ph.D. in North American Missiology and Applied Theology, and she also has a master's.
Tim Muehlhoff: But the reason we want to bring her on is because her research has focused on evangelism and the shifts that have happened in evangelism. So when we started the Winsome Conviction project, we had many different goals, and one of those goals obviously is when it comes to sharing the central tenets of Christianity, sharing our faith, unfortunately, Christians have a negative reputation. And we wanted to change that, so when we learned of Dr. Monaco's research, we thought how perfect to bring her on. So Dr. Monaco, we're going to call you Cas from here on out. Is that okay?
Cas Monaco: I think so. I think that'll be just fine.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, Cas, welcome to the podcast.
Cas Monaco: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, honored to be here.
Tim Muehlhoff: Tell us a little bit about you for our listeners and the journey that you've had when it comes to evangelism.
Cas Monaco: Yeah. I became a Christian when I was in college, and so right away as an early believer, I was trained to share my faith and did that pretty regularly and saw and within my family, a lot of people come to faith, and on the campus where I was, I got involved in what was then Campus Crusade for Christ, and that's who trained me to use the four spiritual laws as I shared and made gospel presentations at the University of Utah, the University of Texas and various places overseas. And then back in the Northwest.
Cas Monaco: And I like to say in situations like this, I'm not a gifted evangelist, but I'm very well trained, and I've used that training over the course of my ministry career up until maybe around the early 2000s when I began to really sense as I would try and have conversations or try to make this gospel presentation with people that I wasn't getting the same response.
Cas Monaco: In fact, I getting a very positive response. And so that sent me initially into a tailspin because I was so well trained. How could this be happening? But it caused me to pay a lot more attention to what was going on around me. So that started me down a journey that brings me just talking to you today.
Rick Langer: All the way to this podcast, what a journey.
Cas Monaco: That's right.
Tim Muehlhoff: We like to think of it as the pinnacle, Cas. It's all downhill from-
Cas Monaco: It's so far, so far.
Tim Muehlhoff: You know, Cas, we should have mentioned, my bad, that you're on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for 40 years. We are huge fans of Campus Crusade for Christ, Cru. I was on staff with my wife almost 30 years. And Rick, you have a great background with Campus Crusade for Christ.
Rick Langer: Yeah, I also came to Christ through the ministry of Campus Crusade. Believe it or not, you'll appreciate this given your new situation, Cas. I came to Christ through the high school ministry of Campus Crusade on my high school campus in Boulder, Colorado.
Cas Monaco: Oh wow.
Rick Langer: The high school director at the time was none other than Dennis Rainey.
Cas Monaco: Oh, wow.
Rick Langer: ... who promptly left a few months afterwards to start FamilyLife ministry. But yeah.
Cas Monaco: Wow.
Rick Langer: Yeah, so I was involved with Campus Crusade all the way through high school, college, went overseas with him after I graduated, and have had tremendous, both respect for and appreciation of and fond memories of my connection. My wife was on staff with Campus Crusade, as well, so.
Cas Monaco: Oh wow. That's so encouraging to hear.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Rick Langer: Well, and it's been fun. A lot of water goes under the bridge in intervening decades, but it's always remarkable to me to see some of the abiding fruit of these relationships. Meeting you here now is just one of countless examples of these webs of relationships that come out of just countless people walking faithfully with Christ all around the world. And it's just a tremendous thing.
Rick Langer: So anyhow, kudos to you guys at Cru and your efforts to try and both keep evangelism going, but make perhaps evangelism wiser or whatever. I'm not sure what the right phrase would be, but to help us become wiser as we do that.
Cas Monaco: Thank you. Yeah. It's so fun to have been involved that long actually, and to know people all over the world. It's really encouraging, and it's fun to meet you via podcast. That's just another one of those people. So.
Rick Langer: So tell me, what did you think was happening in 2000ish? Was this a cultural change? Was it simply a religious kind of background change? How did you perceive what was going on at that time?
Cas Monaco: Well, I don't know if I even knew how to think about it other than, or if I even thought that deeply, like is it cultural? Is it societal? I wasn't really sure, but because I had always been pretty active in sharing my faith, it was really noticeable.
Rick Langer: Huh.
Cas Monaco: And when I, at the time, I spent some time at Portland State University periodically during that time, my husband and I lived in Oregon for a while. And I was out on campus at lunchtime with a friend, and we were doing Cru's religious survey, which I had done 20 years before when I was a student. And we approached a freshman sitting at a table by herself and asked her if she'd be willing to take our survey.
Cas Monaco: And she was and told us that she was from a central farm in Oregon, even though she was attending school at Portland State, which is in the heart of downtown Portland. So she had a lot of very different environment for her.
Cas Monaco: But the first question on our survey was who in your opinion is Jesus Christ. And the memory of the look on her face is burned into my brain because she just had this blank stare and kind of confusion. And she said, "I have no idea what that is."
Rick Langer: What that is.
Cas Monaco: So we continued. Yeah, what that is. And we continued to ask her, who's God, who, in your opinion is God, what about your church background? And nothing. And it was at that point because she was kind of quintessential America, you know? She was raised on a farm, she was a freshman in college, and I couldn't believe that she had no idea what Jesus was, let alone who he was.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Cas Monaco: And that sent me down a trail, that conversation really,
Rick Langer: I spent some time in Eastern Washington working on a wheat farm in my high school and college years. That's where my mom grew up. And central Oregon and central Washington, that area is all fairly similar. I traveled around there a fair bit, and it's not the soy latte sipping downtown Portland, Birkenstock, we only fly airplanes with two left wings, kind of area. It's not the place I would've thought you'd find a person who didn't even begin to know who Jesus was.
Cas Monaco: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking at that point in time. And so, and I think, I wasn't completely unaware of culturally what was going on, but that to me, hinted at something much deeper than I understood. I describe it as feeling like the earth shifted beneath my feet at that point in time.
Rick Langer: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: And, Cas, one of the fun connection points we have is my wife and I lived in Lithuania for an entire year, and we got a chance to visit with you and Bob. You guys came out, but I remember being asked to lead a Bible study by Lithuanian faculty. And so of course I said yes.
Tim Muehlhoff: So I remember the first day we sit down, I said, okay. I gave them Bibles and said, "Let's go to Matthew." And they didn't know where to go. And so I turned for them. And then one woman, who is educated. She has a PhD, she raised her hand. She goes, "Why Matthew?"
Tim Muehlhoff: I said, "Oh, what do you mean?" She goes, "Why called Matthew?" I said, "Oh, that's who wrote it." And they all started to write down notes in their notebook. And I thought to myself... Do you think, Cas, we are entering into that kind of age today where people do not know the basics of Christianity that we often take for granted?
Cas Monaco: Oh yeah, definitely. And I think in many ways it's more complicated even than back in those days because we lived in what was the former Soviet Union with you, and we lived in Moscow and had similar experiences with students.
Cas Monaco: But here, I think there's, some of the research that I've done, there's such a pluralism of belief in America today, that it's not quite as cut and dry almost, where you can even start with the Bible or start. You know what I'm saying? I think there's so many crazy beliefs out there, and some that are religiously anchored in maybe the more significant religions of the world, but I think it's much more complicated than that today.
Rick Langer: You told an interesting story in your book about a taxi ride you had. You were speaking of people who may be anchored in other religious traditions. Tell us a little bit about that episode.
Cas Monaco: Yeah. I love telling this story, and it was in this season not long after I had talked with that student at Portland State. I started having these conversations with people everywhere I went. And I was traveling a lot at the time and had talked with Pentecostals who had turned Wiccan. Bob and I, my husband and I, talked to a woman on a flight who was a socialist revolutionary, whose sole goal in life was to free the Cuban Five. And I told her at that point that we follow a revolutionary too. And she said, "Who?" And I said, "Jesus." She didn't like that answer very much.
Cas Monaco: But I was beginning to you run into people with all different kinds of beliefs and crazy transitions into Buddhism or like the Pentecostal turned Wiccan, and in the midst of this, I was doing a work trip to Chicago and landed at O'Hare in the afternoon on a Sunday, waited in line for a taxi, and got in the backseat of a car with a young Asian looking guy driving.
Cas Monaco: And as we started out, I could tell that he knew very little English, and he wasn't really sure where we were. And so we circled the airport one full time and came back to the taxi stand. And he talked to the guy that was assigning cars, I guess, and he helped them. And somehow we got off in the right direction, and my hotel was maybe 15, 10, 15 minutes away.
Cas Monaco: But as I listened to him, I could hear a Russian accent in his English. And so I asked him where he was from, and he told me he was from Kazakhstan. And I said, "Oh, I've been to Kazakhstan." And he was shocked that I had been there. And he asked me why. "Why were you there?"
Cas Monaco: And there's like one phrase I can still remember in Russian, and it was, we were there to talk to students about God. And so, as I told him that in my weak, weak, Russian phrase, he got kind of nervous. It was fascinating to watch from my vantage point in the backseat. And his hands started to shake, and the car slowed down, and he was fumbling around in his, where he kept his phone, and he pulled out a different phone than the one he was using for GPS. And I'm watching all of this so interested in what's going to happen.
Cas Monaco: And he started thumbing through his phone and pretty soon handed it back to me. And on the screen was a Muslim, a mom debating a priest, either an Episcopal or Catholic priest about the virgin birth. And I am just shocked at this point because I think this guy is sharing his faith with me. And I might be the first person that he's ever done this with.
Cas Monaco: And so I listened kind of amazed, and I had been taking a New Testament class at that time, and we were discussing the virgin birth in English, not in Russian. And so it was really hard to have a conversation, but we kind of had a halting one.
Cas Monaco: And eventually I made it to the hotel, and we both got out of the car. I was on one side and he was on the other, and we met at the trunk as he pulled my bag out, and he looked at me in the eyes and he said, "I believe it was Allah's will for us to meet today, and I hope that one day I will see you in paradise."
Cas Monaco: And I said, "I believe it was the God of the universe's will that we meet today, and I hope that one day I will see you in heaven." And we just looked at each other and he walked to his car, and I rolled my bag into my hotel and I thought, what just happened? And again, there was that shift again underneath my feet. I'm like, what is happening? I'm in Chicago.
Rick Langer: Yeah because you're Chicago, not Moscow.
Cas Monaco: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: So Cas, hearing stories like this, the pluralism that is evident today in our context, juxtapose that with people who know very little of Christianity. I could see how that would both encourage people and discourage people. Like people would be like, "Oh, I don't know how to share with a person, a Muslim, Russian Muslim. I have no idea what to do."
Tim Muehlhoff: So what would be your words to our listeners about how do you proceed in a religiously diverse context? What would be helpful? And then later we're going to reference a 2016 study launched by Cru. But right now, what would be your encouragement to our listeners with a diversity of opinions, religious opinions, or people who know absolutely nothing about religion? What would be your counsel to us?
Cas Monaco: I think that one of the most important things for me along the way has been acknowledging the shifts that are happening in culture. And some of my research was on Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, and he talks about the fact that North America has been secularized. And the way he defines that is that it's not so much of that the secular's way over there, it's the world. And then religion is way over on the other direction, and if it's own world.
Cas Monaco: But secularization, he says, is let's see where I put that here. It's an era in which people find belief in God not only implausible, but even unimaginable.
Cas Monaco: So I think when we step into a culture that, or we are part of a culture where a majority of people may think that way, it changes our posture, I think. But even before we think about our posture, I think it's important to know that and to recognize that, that people, that plausibility structure in people's lives today is so different than it was back when even when we were in the former Soviet Union, Tim.
Cas Monaco: And Taylor, I really wanted to slide this in here because I think it's such a great way to describe it. He says that this secularism that we're talking about, isn't void of spirituality. So again, it's not way over there, the world in contrast to Christians, but in fact he calls it a supernova, a kind of galloping pluralism on a spiritual plane.
Cas Monaco: And this pluralism treats Christianity as one option among an explosion of other options, so it's a whole different deal when it's not Christianity or not Christianity. It's Christianity and thousands of other different ways that we can believe, and I think that's very significant for us to understand.
Tim Muehlhoff: And what I find, Cas, when I deal with students and do evangelism training is how ill-equipped people are when asked very basic questions. Here's what I'm thinking. So a person comes from a Muslim background, and they say to a Christian, "Well, why the Bible and not the Quran or why not the Bhagavad Gita or why not certain new age writings? Any of these options are viable options."
Tim Muehlhoff: And Christians step back and they go, "You know, I don't know if I have a great reason why it's the Bible and not something else. I mean, this is my context. It's my family," things like that. So I'm finding that Christians are ill-equipped to have some of these conversations of why not Buddha rather than Jesus, and why am I not free to pick among these different options? I find that a lot of Christians are like, I've not really thought long and hard about how I would answer that the smorgasbord of religions now that I have to justify why I picked this particular entree.
Cas Monaco: Yeah, I'd really agree with that. I think that describes me, that even had I not been as studying the virgin birth in my New Testament class that day, I would've had some vague understanding of why that was an issue. And I went back and I read a little bit more about it. And I think that these answers are, it's hard to make, you can't oversimplify, I guess, how to answer the questions you're asking.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Cas Monaco: But I think that part of understanding our context is that we are, the U.S. is increasingly diverse religiously. So I think it necessitates that we understand where people are coming from when they claim to be Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu. That takes some effort on our part, which, and one guy that I read Timothy Tennent, he's President at Asbury Seminary, and he said that in a way as believers, we've been able up until a certain point of time. So back when I was a newer Christian, we could almost have a passive position in sharing the gospel because people, we knew that we had a certain starting point most of the time.
Cas Monaco: But today, I think it's going to take a lot more effort to understand what the major religion of the world believe and how to engage in conversations too, and then even we're also not just talking about religious belief, it's spiritual belief. And so what do we do with that? And I think there's a patience also that we have to nurture and build trust with people in order to have conversations and not always have all the answers.
Cas Monaco: I don't know if that's too vague of an answer, but that's kind of, I think it's a process if that makes sense.
Rick Langer: Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Let me ask a follow up question on this, but broadening it out a little bit. When you talk about the pervasive process of secularization with, and with Charles Taylor, you're talking about not something that's happened in our lifetimes, but has happened over a season of centuries in the west that has led to this. Changes now have been been so dramatically cultivated.
Rick Langer: Has that also helped contribute to the kind of extreme polarization in our discourse, and a lot of the conflict that we're facing right now. People talk about polarization, but I'm wondering if when we gain secularization, we also lost a common foundation for moral discourse. So things that used to shape the way we talk about what was right and wrong, what are good things? What are bad things? How do we orient to the world? We didn't even know it.
Rick Langer: Even if we weren't Christians, we were tapping into an ancient, old longly, long held resource. It was embedded in our language. It was embedded in our expectations, and has secularization broken that foundation, and therefore, it's kind of like an ice flow that suddenly shatters, and you begin to feel all the different pieces of that ice flow separating from each other or something else going on? I don't know. I just am wondering your thoughts.
Cas Monaco: Yeah, that's also a great question. I can think of various angles to talk about that. And I think one of the things that I have paid close attention to is the fact that this process of secularization has created a vacuum for moral authority.
Cas Monaco: And I looked at both Charles Taylor and sociologist Philip Rieff, and he talks about the vacuous sacred center in the U.S. And I that, to me, when I look at some of the problems we're facing today, I think that has a lot to do with it. And there's a lot of assumption that what our beliefs are, which you guys cover really well in your Winsome Conviction book by the way, but that a lot of beliefs, we tend to think are biblical, but they might not all be biblical. They may be more politically or nationally founded. So I think that is a big question.
Rick Langer: So many of our beliefs were, they were formed of our unspokens, the things that could be taken for granted in the culture. And because of that, we don't actually have a good label on them. Is democracy Christian, or is it just American? All we know is it was one of our unspokens, we all agreed on it.
Rick Langer: And I think that is one of the things that has made... My sense is that Christians have become very sensitive about any pushback because they realize they can't give an account. I think part of why they can't give account is not because they're so uninformed or whatever, they simply have lived in a world where they haven't had to. It's been one of your unspokens, so of course you can't give an account for the unspoken because you've never had to, and you've never heard anyone else have to. So all of a sudden, you're taken back when you have to start from ground zero and explain to someone from central Washington, what Jesus is.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, yeah.
Cas Monaco: Yeah, exactly.
Rick Langer: I thought that was included on the mental furniture we could all appeal to here, but apparently not.
Cas Monaco: Exactly. Yes, that's exactly right.
Tim Muehlhoff: And that's what I love about Cru training was when I was at Eastern Michigan University, part of Cru, and I was a theater major. It was drummed into us by the campus director. Listen, you're not just there to be a theater major. For sure, learn and grow in your craft, but what about other theater majors who don't know Jesus?
Tim Muehlhoff: And so to have an outward focus, and again, it was the same thing in your residence hall. How can you reach the people on your floor and in your dorm? So I love Cru's idea that let's be outward facing. Let's take this Great Commission, and you don't have to go to Lithuania, you can be right there on your floor and you can just simply go and do that.
Tim Muehlhoff: And when you do that, it's exciting and scary because you're going to meet some really different perspectives, different views. But to me that was energizing. And so I hope listeners, and we're about to get into some behavioral things that we can do. But right now we're setting the stage, and the stage is that we're not in Kansas anymore. Right?
Rick Langer: We're not even in central Oregon anymore.
Tim Muehlhoff: Central Oregon anymore.
Cas Monaco: We're not even in Lithuania.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right? Yeah. So we're just going to have to adapt to that, but let's not listen to what Dr. Monaco is saying and then the results is, well, I'm going even more inward. I'm just going to hang out with people that we already have spokens because that world is scary to me. That is not what we want to do. That's not what Campus Crusade's about.
Tim Muehlhoff: So in our next segment, Cas, we're going to talk about a very interesting study in 2016 and glean some information that you were privy to of how it changed Cru's perspective as well as it can change ours. So we'd love to have you back for one more segment. Are you up for it?
Cas Monaco: Yeah, I'd love to.
Rick Langer: Well, I can't wait to hear more for from Cas Monaco, so tune in for our next podcast, and we'd love to have you join us regularly. You can subscribe to the Winsome Conviction podcast at Apple Podcast or Spotify or wherever you like to get your podcast.
Rick Langer: Also check us out at thewinconviction.com website. You'll find both archives of our podcast, but also a lot of other things we've written or issues that have come up, and it's a great place just at some resources for thinking a little bit more deeply about how we can speak to one another about some of the things that are of great importance we face in our daily lives. So thanks for joining us and would love to have you join us regularly.