Here is a second interesting proposition of Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity.
It concerns those who become new converts to a faith.
He states, obviously enough, that most converts to any religion come from the religious middle. That is, people who are religiously inactive and discontent, but open to faith.
Very little conversion happens with those on the extremes, those who are atheists, agnostics, or have a firm stance against faith and/or religion or those who are actively faithful and religious.
There was one determining factor in the conversion of those from the ranks of the religiously inactive and disconent which I found extremely interesting.
Stark says that this group is more likely to “adopt a new religion to the extent that it retains cultural continuity with convenational religion with which they are already familiar.”
This says to us that receptivity to something wholly new is very low. Which is why Mormons have been so effective, one does not have to reject the tenets of Judeo-christian faith, or even the Old and New Testament, but essentially add a chapter to what came before.
He goes on to say that all successful prophets articulated and gave form and substance to the dreams and half-articulated prayers and hopes of at least a large portion of their adherents.
He inserts this quote: “The orginality of a prophet lies commonly in his ability to fuse into a white heat combustible material which is there, to express and appear to meet the half-formed prayers of some at least of his contemporaries.”
For us today, the challenge is to learn the half-formed prayers of our contemporaries and figure out how to communicate the gospel in a white heat combusible way.
What are the hopes of our culture and society? What is missing for the people in our communities and societies that they desperately seek?
The miracle of the Gospel is that the grace of Christ is such that it holds the answer to whatever the need, hopes, and dreams may be. Our job, as followers of Christ is to know the needs, hopes, dreams of our culture and community and to articulate the timeless gospel in such a way to address those needs, hopes, and dreams.
This is the miracle of the Gospel. Why would we present it the same way in all circumstances, in all places, and in all times? The gospel is bigger than that, it is more living than that. It IS more than that.
What our goal as Followers of Christ in 2008 should be is not to bring a new message to a group familiar with Christianity, but if Stark’s proposition is right, our goal should be to articulate the gospel in the context of the needs, dreams, and hopes of the people of 2008, not 1958. Instead of a white heat combustible gospel we are all to often articulating the fading embers of what was white hot and combustible several decades ago.
So what are the half-spoken prayers, hopes, and dreams of our culture, society, and age?
It may be the most pertinent questions our churches and family of believers can ask.