~ Bad Reasons for Christian Conversion ~
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
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."
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.
In ending, the good reasons for conversion to Christianity has not been
addressed here. Let's contemplate those in the next Weekly Reflection.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © May 6, 2005
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