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Hallo again to all.

Ready for the title of a runaway religious best seller?

The Revd Charles LeslieA Short and Easy Method with the Deists wherein the certainty of the Christian Religion is Demonstrated by Infallible Proof from Four Rules, which are incompatible to any imposture that ever yet has been, or that can possibly be (1697).

Not much of a grabber in the 21st century, is it? But in the 18th century, the Reverend Charles Leslie's slice-and-dice blunderbuss of a book went through numerous editions and, as the 1911 Encylopædia Britannica held it, he 'had the somewhat rare distinction of making several converts by his reasonings'. The book's purpose was just that: to make converts. The means of 'proving' Christianity were strictly rational and the case was built upon four premises:

1) that the matter of fact be such as that men's outward senses, their eyes and ears, may be judges of it;

2) that it be done publicly, in the face of the world;

3) that not only public monuments be kept up in memory of it, but some outward actions be performed;

4) that such monuments and such actions or observances be instituted and do commence from the time that the matter of fact was done.

Leslie's appeal was strictly to the intellect and presumably his converts were convinced by his case. As odd as it may seem to us, Short and Easy was reprinted frequently in the United States, used as an Episcopal evangelical tool along the 'frontier', which in the early 19th century was most of New York State west of Albany. An image from the campaign initiated by the Diocese of Michigan in the Episcopal Church in the USAAmerican Episcopal missionaries made pleading requests for more copies of Leslie, as they ran frequently through their stock.

We can't imagine anyone today wanting to tuck copies of Short and Easy Method in parish tract racks. But Leslie's goal — to convince readers of the truth of the Christian religion*— is the same as the introductory 'movie' commissioned by the Diocese of Michigan, based on the concept 'I am an Episcopalian and my God is...'† This 21st-century effort in evangelism is primarily visual; the text is short and to the point. The appeal is more to the heart than to the head. Rather than one author tackling what he saw as the errors and superstitions of his day, the Diocese of Michigan chose to build its cases on findings from focus groups and interviews. Buses, billboards, radio and telly adverts are to be part of the 'campaign', all designed to catch the attention of over-busy men and women in and around Detroit, Michigan.

Would Charles Leslie and the creators of 'I Am an Episcopalian' recognise each other as colleagues in the same evangelistic effort? We trust so. How we talk to others about our beliefs seems strangely time-bound. We smile at Charles Leslie's pugilistic pamphlets now; perhaps 150 years from today, others will find the 'I am an Episcopalian' campaign risible. To craft evangelism in a way that transcends one's culture will surely doom it.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 19 February 2006

*And of course to persuade readers that the most perfect expression of the reformed Catholic Church was the Ecclesia Anglicana.

†Although we often dislike Flash movies for their large size and clumsy programming, this one is reasonably slim (just over 400K) and should be accessible to most people with Flash enabled in their web browsers.

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