Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fighting fire with fire – still not effective

Written by: on April 13, 2024

When Christians equate evangelism with undermining cultural ideologies, it can quickly become white noise and easy to dismiss. In my work in the Canadian context, this distortion of evangelism that leads to less positive engagement, and more pushback even from within a marginalized Christian community. In September, 2021, Alpha Canada held a “Life Shared Summit” after an extensive Canadian research study, which included many Catholics, where 31.7% of Church leaders agree or strongly agree that it is wrong to share faith in hopes that someone will become a Christian”. This was, the study revealed, as much a critique of unhelpful evangelism tactics as anything else. [1]

So although Matthew Petrusek’s argument for responding to the cultural battlefield in Evangelisation and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to the Political Culture is intended to rally the troops, I am left with the impression that his self-perception of help for the cause for Christ may outpace the reality. Instead, it feels like fighting fire with fire, and the cost is that the good news is heard as a mere political trope.

As an ethicist, and a Catholic intellectual addressing moral philosophy and social issues, Petrusek is trying to share insights that help Catholics engage with a hyper-politicized society, [2] and this I agree is a noble and useful cause. Yet I find something lacking in his approach. In its attempt to dialogue with four current ideologies: utilitarianism, classical liberalism/ libertarianism, progressivism/ wokeism, and non-theistic conservatism, [3] it plays by the same rules as these other ideologies by declaring its own way as the right way, and not giving us any sense as to why people are drawn to them. In light of Christianity’s stronger presence in the Western world’s past, I think it is an oversight to not address our the Church’s blind spots which contributed to it being unpalatable for all those who’ve flocked to other ideologies and religion-less religions. After all, post-modernity is declared post-Christian, and the sentiment grows stronger with every covered-up sexual misconduct scandal. Something of the way we’ve been living our faith is seen as harmful to the culture. They don’t always know how much God and many followers of Christ are grieved about these things. The sound-bytes have already eroded trust.

Yet into this cultural milieu, we are sent to bless others and invite them to follow Jesus. We are called to do the work of evangelists. (2 Timothy 4:5) Where is the winsomeness to Christ by becoming all things to all people in order that I might win some? (2 Corinthians 9) Where is the leaven in the dough that grows through influence? (Matthew 13:33).Where is the Areopagus approach that references elements within the cultures, in order to reveal the counter-cultural ways of the unknown King of Kings? (Acts 17:16-34) There are ways to be counter-cultural without becoming smug or glossing over our failures.

Stephen Bevans presents living counter-culturally as one of his Models of Contextual Theology but cautions away from becoming anticultural… He says, “This was certainly a danger for missionaries in times past, and while many accusations of missionaries destroying cultures in their efforts to preach Christ are surely exaggerated, such destruction did indeed take place”. [4] In an interview Petrusek gave to EWTN Nightly new in 2023, he expressed his reason for writing this book was that after ten years in Academia which had ‘become extremely woke’, that he had many things which he longed to say, which now shaped this book. [5] He had to resign from Academia and join Word on Fire to shape how to be an evangelist to those he left behind. In a different portrayal of being counter-cultural, Bevans argues, “It is not enough for Christians to be an inviting milieu; Christians must “dirty their hands” in real work with real institutions in the world”. [6]

Petrusek is longing for a window to share the beauty of a social ideology and ethic with God at the centre [7], and helps unmask what gets argued for as “applied morality” in the realm of politics as actually better located within a map of concentric circles that understands its influence from the outer rings. Politics is then, in Petrusek’s framing dependent upon morality, which is dependent upon epistemology, anthropology, ontology, and theology. [8] 

My concern is that by calling for “the Church… to re-enter the sociopolitical fray, re-engage the secular mind, and call the culture back to Christ”, [9] Petrusek needs to provide something more than tools to “effectively understand and respond to the contemporary ideological battlefield” and know how to show them as hollow and irrational. [10] It is my contention that in order for there to be a powerful sharing of the good news that transforms, one needs to consider the right-heartedness, or Theocardia that accompanies good doctrine (Theology) misinterpreted as it often is by the world as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23),  and good deeds (Theopraxis) done by those living as “resident aliens” (1 Peter 1:1). 



[1] Alpha, “LifeShared Summit Recording”, Accessed April 5, 2024,  https://alphacanada.org/lifeshared-summit-recording/.

[2] Matthew Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to the Political Culture, Word on Fire, 2023, 7.

[3] Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology, 149.

[4] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology. Vol. Revised and expanded edition, Faith and Cultures Series, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002, 49.

[5] EWTN. Matthew Petrusek on Evangelizing the Political Culture | EWTN News Nightly, 2023. https://youtube.com/watch?v=2zlDXJ8A5Rs.

[6] Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, 49.

[7] Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology, 161.

[8] Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology, 50.

[9] Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology, 7.

[10] Petrusek, Evangelisation and Ideology, 7.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

6 responses to “Fighting fire with fire – still not effective”

  1. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Thanks brother. Your blog definitively highlights the challenge of sharing the gospel in the world we live in. Thank you.
    How might the Church develop and implement evangelistic strategies that build trust within communities that are deeply skeptical of religious motives?

  2. Akwese says:

    Joel, thank you for your post. You’ve been able to put words to some of what I couldn’t. At one point, you said, “Something of the way we’ve been living our faith is seen as harmful to the culture.” You may be able to answer my and Glyn’s questions together but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to combat this and/or what you see as the greatest challenge for Christians when it comes to living their faith in practice and letting that be the thing that transforms rather than trying to prove right vs wrong through arguing points.

    • Great question, Akwese. I am going to try and addresses Glyn’s question here too.

      I wonder if we look at this as a cadre of tools for different occasions. I’m all for political engagement around moral issues, but the everyday lived witness involves so many more ways to seek the transformation and flourishing of society. These include such things as:
      – demonstration of God’s love and care with neighbour and enemy.
      – proclamation of the way of Jesus, and
      – standing against injustice
      – being an agent of God’s blessing.
      – I have a friend in Northern India who says, “we will defeat our enemies by prayer, and win them with love”. – I have parents who modelled the power of an open life, open table and simply ways to demonstrate Jesus is Lord.

      The greatest challenge is to live as a ‘sent one’ everyday. And through the Holy Spirit, to receive wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to listen, or when to demonstrate or persuade. I look to the Apostle Paul’s practice of “becoming all things to all people in order that he might win some. (1 Cor. 9)

      Does this resonate?

  3. Graham English says:

    Joel, thanks for your blog. Since we live in the same context, I’d be curious to know your thoughts about the value of this book in Canada. Are there any parts of the book that might be valuable for us?

  4. Chad Warren says:

    Joel, I appreciate your analysis of Petrusek’s work and your response to Glyn and Akwese. You referenced the need for an approach by the Church that emphasizes a right-heartedness that accompanies the orthodoxy(right-doctrine) and orthopraxy (right-practice). Do you have any suggestions on cultivating what you term “Theocardia” or what I have seen referred to as orthopathy (right-emotions/affections)?

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