Tim and Rick continue the discussion with Cas Monaco (PhD) on sharing the gospel in modern times. In Part 2 of this discussion, Dr. Monaco shares findings from a 2016 survey on the climate of evangelism in America. Of particular interest, she shares three disheartening findings from this survey on people’s perceptions of Christians as being inauthentic, offensive, and unsafe. They then discuss the importance of understanding the landscape in which we share the good news and identify behavioral changes Christians can make to help others listen to the gospel and make evangelism winsome. This is Part 2 of a 2-part conversation on modern evangelism with Dr. Cas Monaco.
Cas Monaco: The most compelling things that we discovered through this research was that of the 400 people that were surveyed, 84% said they are ready and willing to engage in spiritual conversation with Christians, but they believe that Christians are not ready, nor are they willing.
Rick Langer: Hi, my name's Rick Langer, and I'd like to welcome you to the Winsome Conviction podcast. I'm a professor at Biola University in the Department of Biblical Studies and Theology. I'm also the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning, but one of my favorite activities is being the co-director of the Winsome Conviction project with my good friend, Tim.
Tim Muehlhoff: My name is Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a Communication Professor here at Biola University and the co-director of the Winsome Conviction project. We've been talking about evangelism, about a commitment to telling the story of Jesus, but that the backdrop has changed. The setting by which we speak of biblical truth has kind of shifted.
Tim Muehlhoff: We've been and exploring that with Dr. Cas Monaco, but before I bring her on, I thought I would read a section of a book that our initial conversation made me think of. In his book, The Divine Deli, John Berthrong writes that traditional boundaries between religions are dissolving, and people feel the freedom to have multiple citizenships in a number of faiths.
Tim Muehlhoff: For example, Vietnamese columnist Anh Do describes her upbringing as a multiple citizen of diverse religious faiths. She writes this. My father filled our home with books and music, making sure we had information on the Quran, Hinduism, Confucianism, Quakers, and Jehovah Witnesses. My mother took us to temple, cooked kosher, and navigated us through First Communion, all the while garbing us in the right clothes to match secular holidays. Both parents showed us that practicing is believing, yet that there's always more one belief.
Tim Muehlhoff: Man, imagine growing up in that at context, and you show up saying, "No, actually Christianity is the only option." And I think she and John would look at that and say, "That is so old thanking." We are in a very different context where it's mix and match and do what feels good and practicing is believing.
Tim Muehlhoff: So how do we make sense of this? How do we fix all the religious pluralism problems we are experiencing in our country? Welcome Dr. Cas Monaco.
Rick Langer: You just have to get the right guest on your podcast and everything else, the penny drops and bam, there it is.
Tim Muehlhoff: We literally have our pen and paper ready. Dr. Monaco, fix the issue that we're... No, but you did such a great job in the last podcast, Cas, of explaining to us that for you, things kind of shifted. It shifted when you asked a woman a survey and said who do you think Jesus Christ is? And she had no context for that whatsoever. And then you're in a taxi cab ride, and you're being evangelized by a Muslim, and somehow America exists between these two extremes. Welcome to evangelism in the year 2021.
Cas Monaco: Yep.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yep. Okay, we're done. Welcome.
Cas Monaco: That's exactly right. Yeah, and that, I think, this is, as I said before, I think that excerpt that you read, Tim, is such a great description of that, of Taylor's definition of secularization, that it's a supernova, kind of galloping pluralism on a spiritual plane, and that people, many people around us borrow from all sorts of religions, all sorts of beliefs in order to do what feels best to them. And I think that it's really significant that we understand that today, that it isn't just that now we just present a form of the gospel and people will embrace that very easily.
Rick Langer: Now you've been on Cru staff for 40 years, so you've been sharing your faith through the course of that time. It sounds like this got to the attention of Cru leadership in the course of events. And in 2016, you guys did a survey about the environment, well yeah, in some sense, the environment, the climate of evangelism. I don't know exactly how, but tell us a little bit about that.
Cas Monaco: Yeah. I was serving on a new, a reboot of Cru's community ministry or ministry beyond the college campus. And that part of crew today is called City. It was when I was there too, but we were all seasoned staff members that served on that executive team, and we were all experiencing some form of what I've been describing here with you guys.
Cas Monaco: And so we all knew that something was going on, and we wanted to validate that. So we had a marketing firm help us by doing some [inaudible] and qualitative research on our behalf and on Cru's behalf. And it was so insightful. There's so many aspects of that that would be great to talk about.
Cas Monaco: But just to give a little background on it, this project surveyed and interviewed 400 men and women from across America. So they were tried to get a blend of people coast to coast. They were men and women. They were between the ages, I think, of 25 and 55ish. And they were diverse ethnically as well as in their worldview. So it was a good cross-section of America at that time.
Cas Monaco: And what was so great about it was that it validated what we had been experiencing. One of the most interesting findings was that over 50%, over 50% of these people, considered Christianity to be inauthentic, offensive, and unsafe.
Rick Langer: And unsafe.
Cas Monaco: And so we thought, okay, yeah. And we watched. There was a quantitative study. We could go into these rooms and people were interviewed throughout over the course of, I think, a couple days, and the researcher would ask questions of the people that were involved. It was all virtual. And to hear their answers, it was sobering to hear their fear, and how when people would start to talk to them about their church or a Christian organization. There was one woman in particular that I saw that talked about how afraid she felt. And that was pretty sobering to me and for all of us.
Tim Muehlhoff: What were the three again, Cas, that you mentioned?
Cas Monaco: Inauthentic, offensive, and unsafe.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, that inauthentic one, Cas, has been around forever. That was when I was a young Christian, is that, being a hypocrite is kind of the term that was used. But that inauthentic really has followed us and has really endured.
Cas Monaco: Yes, it has.
Tim Muehlhoff: Any thoughts of why do you think that one just stays with us? Do you think it's earned by the church? Do you think we are inauthentic in many ways?
Cas Monaco: That's a great question that I've pondered a lot and thought about that too. That we would encourage when I was younger, we would say, "Well, don't look at me, look at Jesus."
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Cas Monaco: That he's the perfect example, which would be hard to say today, I think. But in some ways, as I've interacted with a lot of Cru staff, and a lot of my friends, and just my own experience, what I've found myself transitioning from being prepared to make a presentation with someone of the, I would present the gospel to the people that I spoke to for many of the early years of my ministry experience. And I think sometimes it was so memorized. It was a presentation that I could hand them a booklet when I was done. And I knew that I had given them everything they needed to know how to place their faith in Christ. And then I was done.
Cas Monaco: Today the conversations that I'm having take a long time. They take a process of building trust. And what I've found is that we need to engage no longer in a presentation, but we need to be willing to have more than one conversation, that it's a dialogue that goes back and forth. And it's been a challenge. I've had to work on changing my posture, as well as those of us that have worked on this, we would all agree that we were so trained the other way.
Tim Muehlhoff: See, I think that's the good news right there, Cas. Right? Because imagine you're with Anh Do. Right? The Vietnamese columnist, and she's talking about her family life, how she's grown up. I would hope that anyone listening to this would just stop and say, "Tell me more about that. My goodness, that sounds really... What an interest way to grow up. Explain more about that."
Tim Muehlhoff: Instead of jumping in saying, "Well, you know, all of those viewpoints couldn't be true at the same time and in the same way." Right? But more to step back and say, "Tell me more about your experience or what that was like." Anyone can do that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Now it might make things longer, but I think the benefit is listening is the number one way to show people that you respect them and you care about them. So to enter into her story, I think all of us can do that, and we don't need a ton of training to do that. Now there is training on how to listen and find common ground and things like that. But it's a great opening posture just to listen and then ask questions.
Rick Langer: One other quick-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Oh, go ahead.
Rick Langer: ... quick comment related to that. You mentioned about having longer conversations, did you find people were willing to talk?
Cas Monaco: Yes, yes. And one of the most compelling things that we discovered through this research was that of the 400 people that were surveyed 84%, 84% said they are ready and willing to engage in spiritual conversation with Christians. But they believe that Christians are not ready, nor are they willing to talk to someone who has a different perspective.
Cas Monaco: So we found both good news. I remember my friend [Charmaine] saying, "This is good news. 84% are willing to have a conversation." But then we have work to do when that same group of people doesn't think we're ready to have one.
Rick Langer: Yeah, and it strikes me that that prevailing perception is, when you're first leaning in on it, if the prevailing perception is not that people actually want to talk, the Christians want to talk, they just want to discharge their duty, whatever the other perception is, that really makes it harder then to enter into a conversation that ironically, these people are quite willing to have, but the perception is you're the last person they could actually have it with.
Cas Monaco: Exactly.
Tim Muehlhoff: All right, Cas, let's get it a little controversial. Why not? Let's just get a little controversial because we have to define what we mean by a conversation. Right? Imagine this scenario. Cas, I say to you, and I have no idea what you think about vaccines or anything like that. But if I say to you, "Cas, let's have a conversation about vaccines. I'd love to have that, but let me just say a few things heading into this conversation. I absolutely have my mind made up. There is no nothing you could say that would ever change my mind about my particular stance on vaccinations, but let's have a conversation. It would be really fun."
Tim Muehlhoff: Right? You would stop and go, "I don't think this is a conversation. I think this is a presentation or a monologue."
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: So are we willing? Because maybe that 84%, they're willing to have a conversation, but they look at Christians and say, "But you're not a good conversation partner because your mind is so made up. There's nothing I can say that you would learn from or areas of agreement." So I wonder if partly Christians are not good conversationalists because we're not willing to yield anything, nor are we willing to learn from people or find common ground. What do you think about that, Cas?
Cas Monaco: I think that's such a great example. And my husband and I were in a conversation like that. Not quite as definitive as you described, but one that in order for us to continue the conversation, we wanted to understand okay, so tell us more. Why is it that you don't want to get the vaccine, and help us understand more where you're coming from?
Cas Monaco: And that actually really helped the conversation because we were interested not just in that decision, but the motivation behind it. And I found that to be, in this day and age, I found it a lot easier to yield a little bit and lean in like you mentioned earlier in our time just to say, tell me more, tell me more about that.
Cas Monaco: One of the findings, we kind of dug, we really utilized the research that this group did in a lot of ways. And one group discovered through the results of the different interviews and research that had been done, that three core longings that surfaced in the lives of these 400 people. And that they're intrinsic in the lives of everyone as God's created us, as people created in his image. And that those core longings are peace, so the absence of anxiety; prosperity, not riches, but just, food on my table and money to pay my bills or that type of prosperity; and purpose, having a reason for living, a purpose for being here. And that, I would say, that along with your great work, of course. I want to be sure and emphasize that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well done, Cas.
Rick Langer: The check is in the mail. Thank you.
Cas Monaco: Yeah, but understanding that I have those longings, and that the people around me do too, and to ask questions enough to be able to find out where those longings are, what's pressing against those. What's upsetting those. I think really those longings in our lives has been really helpful in recognizing the people that I talk to are human beings like I am. They have a lot going on in their lives that I can't see right in front of me, so I that's been really helpful for us.
Rick Langer: I think we have a tendency. Tim's thought about, why would I want to talk to someone who's already made up their mind. That's kind of a meme that works first. We do tend to think that way.
Rick Langer: But it strikes me. You told us in our previous podcast of story about the taxi driver from Kazakhstan, who ended up sharing his faith in Allah, in Islam with you via video link, and you likewise having a conviction about Christianity, and you realized the two of you were having well, if you had a better language between you, the two of you could have had a very interesting, perhaps valuable, conversation, even though both of your minds were already made up.
Rick Langer: It seems like the fact that a mind is made up doesn't mean the mind has nothing worth finding in it. And therefore we need to reframe our conversation expectations somehow to say, wait a minute, there's still things and a lot of things to gain from someone who really does have their mind made up about it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and that posture is so important of a willingness to engage, find common ground, not be defensive, being inquisitive, we think are just important qualities that people pick up on.
Cas Monaco: One story that I thought of. I live in Durham and often fly to Cru's headquarters in Orlando, so it's a quick flight. This was a little bit before the pandemic. I was on a flight one afternoon sitting next to a young girl who had just graduated from high school. And she was with her dad and her dad's girlfriend traveling the U.S. for this summer. So it was about this time of year.
Cas Monaco: She was headed to Disneyland or Disney World, and she asked me what I was doing and where was I going, and why was I headed to Orlando? So I told her that I worked for Cru, a faith-based nonprofit, and told her a little bit about what I was doing and her posture and the look on her face just closed. I could see it.
Cas Monaco: I watched her sort of, I don't want to talk to you anymore. So I just asked her. I said, "I sensed that that made you a little uncomfortable. Can you tell me why is that?"
Cas Monaco: And so she proceeded to tell me about having attended church, having met with a Christian, she was close to becoming a believer, and her aunt got sick with cancer. And she sought help, I think, from this place of faith where she's from Britain, so I don't know what type of church she went to or anything. But she was so distraught over her aunt being near death, and she prayed and called out to God and said, "Would please heal my aunt. And even if it means that I'd be willing for you to take my life instead of her life." And she's by this time weeping next to me on the plane.
Cas Monaco: And so I just entered in and I told her that my mom died when I was in my twenties, and so I know what that's like to lose someone that you love and someone close to you. And that it's hard to understand why God would allow that. And when she told me that she told God that she was willing that he would take her life. I explained to her that God loved you enough that he sent his son to die in your place. That the same longing that you have, God has done that for you.
Cas Monaco: And we talked about that some more. We talked for probably a solid 30 minutes on a pretty deep level, and she ended the conversation by telling me that her dad's girlfriend was new age and that she was helping her through this transition.
Cas Monaco: And I thought, man, I'm hoping. And I continued to pray for her since then, that just by sharing the gospel, by using her story, that God will use that in her life. And that was one of those situations where I was in this mode of learning that I've got to do this differently.
Cas Monaco: And it was such a meaningful conversation. And I with this little treasure, I feel like God gave me to see the inner workings of this young woman's heart.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Cas Monaco: It's takes practice, I think.
Tim Muehlhoff: And here's part of the practice. So, all right, so you're on an airplane with a woman who shares her story, and then she says, "But a friend of mine's been teaching me new age philosophy that has helped." Now at that point, every Christian communicator has a decision to make. One, do I step in and say, "Hey, no, no, no, no, no. Be careful with that new age stuff. You need to go to God."
Tim Muehlhoff: Or do you say, "Well, I'm curious, what do you mean by new age? I'm not sure I understand what you mean by that. So what is it this person has been sharing and how's it been helpful?" You see what I mean? More of an open posture rather than immediately stepping and saying, "Look, I don't really know much about new age. I just know it's wrong, so you need to stay away from that." You're advocating a posture of first I just need to know the landscape of this person before I know how to enter into that landscape, to be inquisitive rather than being combative right off the bat. Does that make sense, Cas?
Cas Monaco: Yes, it does. I think that's exactly right. And that's a really different posture, I think, than what I'd been trained to have. And one thing that I've been thinking as we've been talking is that Bill Bright, who founded Campus Crusade for Christ back in the early fifties, they did a survey on campuses, and we don't have the exact number, but it was according to what I've read thousands of surveys of students. Excuse me.
Cas Monaco: And what they found was that most of the people that they surveyed knew who God was, they just didn't know that they know God personally. And so that's what really motivated Bill Bright back then in his creation of the four spiritual laws and that presentation of the gospel. So he could assume that most people that he talked to believed in God, had attended church, which was pretty much true according to things that we've read and even how our training went.
Cas Monaco: But today, that young woman on that flight or the taxi driver that I talked to, or the girl, the freshman student at Portland State are just a microcosm of what the rest of the country looked like. We can't start. We have to, like you said, I think that's a great way to describe it. We have to figure out the landscape before we enter i, as we enter into a spiritual conversation with someone.
Rick Langer: Now it sounds like you've been doing some thinking about that issue of telling what you might call a fuller, deeper, broader, longer, whatever story simply because you don't have a set of shared assumptions you can start from. You don't have a common language. You don't have common points of reference. So talk a little bit about this idea of telling the true story of the whole world.
Cas Monaco: Yes. That's been one of the most encouraging discoveries for me, I guess, personally, and has prompted me forward in my research and stuff. I think by, throughout this whole process of learning over the last 10 years or so, I kept her reading my Bible, even though I felt like the earth was shifting beneath my feet. I knew that I needed to stay grounded in the Scripture.
Cas Monaco: And so I back then started because of classes, reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, which from up until that point in time, I had been more of a book at a time kind of person, and that's how I taught the Bible. It's how I understood it.
Cas Monaco: But as I was encountering all these shifts and changes, I began to read this story, seeing the grand narrative of Scripture from creation to fall, to redemption and restoration, these themes that are at points along the true story of the whole world that we know God created the universe. We know that man fell. Adam and Eve's desire to be autonomous from God, that God promised redemption right away. And we see that fully realized in Jesus Christ, of course, and that he's the clue to this story. And then we look forward to redemption and restoration.
Cas Monaco: And what I recognize is that even that is there are those four points along a historical spectrum, but that also we see creation fall redemption restoration, it spirals its way across the Canon of Scripture. And it's true in our lives that we're watching God and engaged in a world where he is God. He wishes as the Scripture tells us that none would perish, but that all would come to repentance.
Cas Monaco: And at the same time, no one comes to the Father except that he draws them. And so in the true story, we see all across the Scripture, amazing ways that God enters in not just in the big events of history, but he enters into individuals lives all across the Scripture.
Cas Monaco: And so the true story gives... One way I've heard it said and have borrowed from is that it gives meaning to all of life. It helps assess, understand everything about life, but it also gives meaning to our individual lives. That, like you said, Tim, when you're on a dorm floor or I'm getting coffee at Starbucks or wherever it is that I am God's child everywhere I go. And that each person I encounter, if the Scripture's true, he knows every single person. He wishes that none would perish, but that all would come to repentance and that he will use people like us to give a defense, not of Christianity, but to give a defense of the hope that's in us.
Cas Monaco: And I think that's helped me to recognize that I am a witness for God's love, and the God that I love is somebody that I want other people to know too. It's not just a presentation, but he's a God I follow and I submit my life to, and I'm surrendered to. And the true story gives us so many examples of that from Genesis to Revelation.
Rick Langer: I think of the way you frame that, as both as a true story and then also the God who knows our stories. That's an allusion of Psalm 139, but the idea that he knows every one of your days before a single one came to be. So we've all of us have done some writing here, and we've probably all had that experience of having an article or book chapter or whatever it is you're writing and sending off. And you've done a lot of work on it on your own computer, in the coffee shops, wherever you do it. And you're sitting there and you're about to push the button on your email to hit send, and you stop and think, is it right? Is this a story? Is this what I want to say? You have all of those questions and then say, yes, I'm going to push the button that's send because I think this is a story I want told. And Psalm 139 has that image of God sitting up there in heaven on his laptop, probably an Apple.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's the message.
Rick Langer: Anyhow. [crosstalk] He's sitting up there, and he's thinking of a person's story. And he decides, yeah, we'll do this one. And he hits, send, and boom, that person is in effect called into being. And when we meet another person, we're meeting their story. We're entering their story, and it's a story that God saw fit to publish. And so we should have a certain sense of regard for it and a sense of holiness in some sense of entering into it.
Rick Langer: So, yeah, it's a powerful way to reshape our orientation to what's going on as we meet a person in any context, be it the airplane or the university campus.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's so good. So Walter Fisher, communication theorist, argues that we are homonarrens. We narrate our existence, we're storytellers. And he argues the number one way to affirm a person is to be a receptor of the story, to say, I care about your story even though Hollywood's never going to make a story of my life, they're never going to make a movie. They're never going to do X, Y, and Z. I'm not going to have a book, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: But for a person in an airplane to sit and say, "I want to hear your story," and enter that story, boy, that is a great way to change this perception of us out there that we're offensive, that it's our way or the highway kind of an attitude, Cas. So I love the fact that you knew enough to enter into this woman's story and just let her emote and tell her story without being challenged. I think it's a great start to telling the grand narrative of who God is.
Tim Muehlhoff: John Calvin said, "Reformed and always reforming." And I love that Cru, through your work, this study in 2016, is not afraid to revisit some of the central tenants of the ministry of Cru. Everything from changing their name from Campus Crusade a for Christ to Cru for evangelistic reasons and took hits for it. I appreciate that that Cru is willing to step back and say, "Listen, we need to adapt and we need to change."
Tim Muehlhoff: And thank you, Cas, that you've been part of that change agent and that Cru is much stronger for it. And we're big supporters of Cru, so thank you so much for being on our podcast.
Cas Monaco: Thank you so much for having me. It's been great to be here.
Rick Langer: And thanks for joining us on the Winsome Conviction podcast. Would love to have you be a regular subscriber. You can join at Apple Podcast or Spotify or wherever you like to get podcasts and would love to have you check out the Winsomconviction.com website as well, where you'll find a lot of resources, articles, book chapters, and also the archive of the podcasts we have. It's a great place to come and think a little bit more about how you converse and interact with other people. Thanks for joining us so much.