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Mystical and Rational Approaches of Evangelism

Evangelism holds different meanings in different denominations of Christians. At its worst (even profane) is the kind that mimics secular marketing techniques. Here are a few garnered from some Christian radio stations and evangelical literature:

1) The celebrity conversion. A rock star, famous rapper singer or Hollywood celebrity announces his or her conversion. Within four to six weeks, that person is paraded as the poster person and spokesperson for Christ. They are invited to speak from church pulpits and Christian concert stages. Christians exclaim "Wow" and anticipate non-Christians to be impressed with their "testimony" and follow suit. These people, however, are "babes in Christ." Their conversion is only beginning to develop into spiritual maturity, which takes years, actually, a life time. To be a follower of the Way, Truth and Life is not easy. "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14). There is a good reason why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy not to be quick in ordaining new converts as preachers and leaders. "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands [ordination]" (1 Timothy 5:22a).

2) The former bad person conversion. Some are invited to speak to audiences (prevalent in prisons) about how bad and evil they were. In a typically boastful manner, they give their personal "testimonies" of abuse and aggression. That often goes on for twenty minutes, with the last five minutes praising Jesus for turning their lives around. The anticipated result is that many in the audience will say to themselves, "I want to be a good person and Jesus may change me." The Gospel of Christ is not essentially about reforming violent behavior and making people into socially acceptable, law-abiding citizens. Many therapeutic and social programs have notable success at doing that without Jesus. The Gospel is the Good News that Christ can do what no mortal can.

This approach could lead to a loss of faith and credibility in Christian conversion. When such violent, evil people respond to an "altar call" and are led in a 30 second to a minute long "sinner's prayer," they are congratulated on now being saved and "new creatures" in Christ. Emotions are running high, especially if good music is playing and the audience is clapping. What happens, then, when a day or two later, the person feels the same as before? "Jesus isn't working for me." This is not hypothetical, but a phenomenon I personally witnessed many times. If the person does seek spiritual counsel, he or she is typically told, "Don't trust your feelings. Have faith in the promise of the word of God. No matter how you feel, you are born again." When we are with a loved one, we feel. When we experience union with God, we feel. When we go through bouts of "the dark night of the soul," we feel. A Christian feels his Christianity and the Christ within and his love for Him. How can he not? Feelings cannot be trusted to be indicators of truth, but nor can rational thought. A Christian who doesn't feel love for Christ must be counseled in a different manner than telling him to "just believe the word of God. You asked Jesus into your heart and He is there, whether you feel it or not." Nonsense.

3) The hopeless addict conversion. "I asked Jesus to come into my life and I haven't touched a drug (or drink or smoke) since." I know people who suddenly quit smoking or drug use without Jesus. Again, Jesus' work cannot be duplicated by anyone's own will, resolve or recovery program. What is the value of "Jesus in my life" if something else can achieve what Jesus does? What happens when such a person "relapses" a year or five years later? What happened to Jesus in his life? Of course, evangelicals will explain this away with the term, "backsliding."

The 12-step program has been very effective in treating addictions of all kinds. It is a spiritual methodology, but not a Christian one. The "Higher Power" to whom or what one yields can be anyone or anything of the person's choosing, including or excluding the Christ. And the program still works. Does this suggest Christians should honor whatever "Higher Power" a person chooses as equal to Christ? Again, the Gospel is not about freeing people from physical or emotional addictions or afflictions. Many of the greatest Christians suffered from them, including the apostle Paul.

Many atheists, non-Christians and even persecutors of Christians in certain nations do not drink, use drugs, smoke, and abide by admirable moral standards (as did St. Paul before his dramatic conversion), but are not residents of the kingdom of God as Jesus taught it. Conversely, many afflicted, addicted and troubled people who love the Christ will find themselves in His embrace now and in the next life.

4) The hell-fire escape conversion. This is so prevalent yet needs the least commentary. Christ was quite emphatic about losing your life to save it and about abandoning all self-centered endeavors, dying to oneself. He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be given," not "Seek first the kingdom of God SO THAT all else will be given." Using Jesus to save oneself from hell is to make oneself the object of focus rather than the Christ. This is ego-centric and contrary to the Gospel.

5) The prosperity conversion. Some believe Jesus will bring prosperity and a wonderful, earthly life. An extension of this is the promise that if you give money to Him (i.e. the local church), your monetary return will be ten-fold. That is a better deal than any financial investment you will find in the secular world! Like the other bad reasons for conversion, this is a self-centered, non-spiritual and profane motive for charitable donations and charitable works. Christ told us, "When you give, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

Search the Scriptures and examine the lives and examples of the church fathers, leaders and martyrs (a word that means "witnesses") and see if any of these five evangelical marketing approaches are supported or promoted. If you think you have one or more supportive citations, please email me them for my consideration, learning and response.

Some evangelical lingo that may seem odd to prospective converts or seekers and that also demeans our own magnificent theology and faith.

One is "accept Jesus." A prominent metaphor for Christ is "King." Imagine a poor peasant getting an audience with the supreme monarch of his nation. Suppose he says to him, "Your majesty, you are a good king with a lot to offer me. So after much thinking and some pressure from others, I decided to accept you." The king may well be insulted and reply, "Excuse me? You are accepting ME? How dare you disrespect my sovereignty with your inflated ego!" The king may well respond more compassionately, but that response would be quite appropriate and true.

"Accepting Jesus" strikes me as rather egotistical and a perversion of the sacred. Do we "accept" a glorious sunrise or the sweet fragrance of an exquisitely colored flower? Do we "accept" a restful sleep that nourishes our bodies and souls? I bask in these things with deep gratitude and love. They are not mine to accept.

Another is, "Do you know the Lord?" Recall the incident recorded in Acts 19: "One day the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?'" Note that the spirit didn't say he knew "about" Jesus, but that he knew Jesus, and very well I could add. Our scriptural prophesies declare that everyone will know the Christ, in one manner or another, and very well at that.

We are not speaking about accepting or knowing sunrises, flowers, the love of family or the loyalty of friends, but about the Creator of all, the Supreme Being, God Himself! And we puny, little, disordered and egocentric mortals dare to tell Him that WE accept and know HIM? This mind set should indicate to us how little we know God and our own place in the scheme of things. "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4).

Another term that rankles me is, "Winning souls for Christ." I get visions of TV games shows or those carnival contests where you keep a steady stream of water flowing into a clown's that inflates a balloon. The first contestant's balloon to pop sets off bells and sirens. "Ding, ding, ding, you won!" "I won a soul for Jesus! I won, I won!" What a perversion of the most sacred. I don't win souls for anyone. I discuss, listen, write, and the Holy Spirit speaks to another with that "still, small voice" that takes receptivity and contemplation to hear.

So what are the good reasons for "accepting Jesus"? Suppose there was no heaven, hell or eternal life? Suppose what you physically see is what you get? Would you still love Jesus? Would you still be a Christian?

Good reasons for being Christian? I propose there are no rational good reasons. A baby rests lovingly in the arms of his mother and father for no good reason. I rest in God's love for no good reason. I don't need reasons. He is my Creator, my God, and that reality calls me to plunge into Him like I plunge with self abandonment and joy into a cascading waterfall on a hot day.

In their evangelism, the apostles never "shared their testimonies" to convince people of the changing power of "accepting Jesus." Those men sure had great stories to tell about the transformation of their lives, but didn't. Nor will you read in Scripture a call to a gathering like, "Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, raise your hands (or walk to the front) if you want to ask Jesus into your life." Jesus is life! No, the way of our forefathers was to inform people of salvation history and point to the reality of "the kingdom of heaven in our midst, within us." "Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: 'To An Unknown God.' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23, NIV).

Many, of course, found salvation history absurd and even threatening to their established mind sets, whose reaction ranged from walking away to violent persecution of the messengers. Jesus had instructions for that response, and it wasn't to use power point presentations, Christianized secular music that appeals to the popular culture, promises of prosperity and good living or other sales pitches. He instructed, "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town" (Matthew 10:14-15).

Many, however, with no promises appealing to their human egos, asked, "How can I be saved?" The response was typically, "Be baptized," starting with Peter's first proclamation of salvation history when "those who believed his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (Acts 2:41).

Church membership and attendance logs, the number of people who "come forward" to say "the sinner's prayer" at "revival rallies" mean nothing regarding the number of people who embrace the love of and union with their Creator. With good funding, planned and appealing publicity, a good location, a designed build up of emotional excitement with great oratory full of promises and a background of appealing, modern music, I could pull off a "rally" that would get lots of people to "come forward" and "accept" any bogus philosophy or trendy way of life I offer. In the end, Jesus observed, "Many will say, 'Lord, Lord!' and I will say, 'leave Me, I don't know you.'"

Christianity is not about accepting, but rejecting...core beliefs, self, world values, personal aspirations, personal gain, ego attachments. If anything is to be accepted, it is suffering and the staying on a narrow path of obedience and self-sacrifice. Unlike many other religious persuasions, Christianity is  not particularly attractive to anyone's ego, though the modern marketing of the Gospel is often geared toward convincing seekers otherwise.

So why become a Christian? It's like falling in love with someone. That's a powerful drive we ourselves may not understand. Others may not either. "Why are you in love with THAT person of all people?" We don't have good, rational reasons. I'm reminded of a story about a psychiatry student making rounds with his advisor in a mental hospital. They pass by a patient in a padded "safe room" who is yelling over and over, "Lisa!" "What's up with him?" the student asks. "His girl friend dumped him and married another man. He can't get over it." Later they pass by another safe room in which another man is also yelling, "Lisa!" "How about him?" the student asked. "That's the guy who married Lisa. He's not happy either."

In chapter 4 of Paul's letter to the Ephesians he wrote, "It is he who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature. Let us, then be children no longer, tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine that originates in human trickery and skill in proposing error. Rather, let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head. Through him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love."

I best let the apostle John have the last word about this question of reasons. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete...How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 1:1-4; 3:1-3).

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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