A generation ago, the need to be born again was not only a central feature of the gospel, as it is in every generation; it was also effective element in an evangelistic presentation because it reflected a sense of need with which the hearers resonated. Today is very different. Unbelievers have a hard time with the concept of being born again for a simple reason: why do I need to be born again when there was nothing wrong with the first time?!
The sunnily optimistic view of man's nature has now been almost universally adopted. This takes the ground out from under our evangelistic endeavours. The genuine good news that Jesus came to deal with the problem of sin seems irrelevant to those who have already believed the false good news that man is inherently good.
If I am good already, the only good news I want to hear is about how my life can be better. Better healthcare, better education, better economic growth, better environment - all the hot button issues every time an election rolls around. And, sadly, the promises that the politicians make offering good news of 'change for the better' in these very issues is mirrored in the good news promised by preachers of a gospel now geared to the felt needs of a new generation. The prosperity gospel and the prosperity political platform platform are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. It's the only good new that people who have believed the apparently good news that I'm a good person really want to hear.
Paul's masterful approach in Romans is the only way to go. People need to believe the bad news about human sinfulness before they can hear the good news about salvation. There are at least two grounds for encouragement of preachers and those engaged in personal evangelism if they will pursue this counter-cultural approach.
The first is pragmatic. G.K Chesterton was right in observing that original sin is the one scientifically verifiable doctrine of Christianity. A 1999 study by Montreal University psychologist Richard Tremblay surveyed 511 children under 18 months of age. His work, published in Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, may not have technically been the scientific discovery of original sin, but it clearly demonstrates that there is something flawed in human nature long before an imperfect environment spoils us. He discovered that 70% of infants grab things, 46% push, 27% bite, 24% kick, 23% fight, and 21% physically attack. This is before the little darlings could have learned such behaviour. Perhaps the most effective form of pre-evangelism would be to spend a couple of days in a pre-school.
But the second reason for hope is that the Holy Spirit has been sent with this express purpose: "He will convict the world concerning sin..." (John 16:8). He has the facts on his side, and his power is not limited by the falsehoods of the intellectual fads of our generation. The Gospel still is the power of God for salvation. It is good news, even for people who have no sense of needing the good news. You must be born again! What me? Yes, even me!