Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why I hate Evangelism

It's true; I have had an animosity towards the way evangelism is conducted and explained in many evangelical churches. This animosity has pushed me at times to shy away from engaging in evangelistic efforts. Only recently have I realized my primary problem with common evangelistic methodology: it is so deeply rooted in an exclusively forensic understanding of atonement and salvation.

I grow weary of those who declare peremptorily to others that they ought to accept Christ to gain their ticket to heaven. Accept Christ and avoid hell. We are told that the purpose of this life is to prepare for the next and therefore we ought to be myopically focused upon eternity. Any mention of salvation as a process or way is done so in a cursory manner with quick qualifications that the primary aspect of salvation is that we are forgiven of the many sins we commit daily.

What is ironic to me is that those who so emphasize our need for pardon due to our great depravity so often ignore the necessity for the healing of such depravity. I recall doing "Door to Door" ministries early in my undergraduate education. The main focus was whether these people we met had a relationship with Christ or not. If they did we moved on. If they didn't we stayed and tried to explain why they needed to be forgiven. I cannot recall a single discussion about how God desires to empower us for holy living. How God not only declares us righteous but makes us righteous. How responding to God's pardoning presence opens us up to further empowering presence of grace to move us further on this way of salvation towards likeness with God.

Perhaps this is why we have devalued integritous theology. Perhaps this is why we have superciliously ignored orthodox sacramentalism. Who needs the Eucharist as a means of grace when the most important aspect of the Christian life is our initial justification? Who needs the nourishment of the empowering presence of the Spirit when sanctification is a tag-on to justification?

By no means do I intend to make mordant claims against the necessity for pardon in our lives. We need Christ to exculpate us; but salvation cannot be so narrowly defined as pardon from sins. If we are to truly evangelize it must be done with germane attention paid to the transformative element of salvation. Salvation is being healed of our distored nature. Salvation is being brought into the very life of God by the divine energies. The Greek theologians call this theosis. Salvation is therapeutic and we must understand the forensic language within the context of the larger therapeutic dimensions of salvation.

To be fair, I love evangelism. The Church is called to evangelize and to bring people into the Kingdom of God. What I disdain is the common distored manner in which we evangelize. Perhaps the most important questions is not, "Are you saved." Rather, perhaps the most important question is not a question at all but the reality of the people of God being sanctified and made holy. Sure it's tougher to measure; but at least it's more biblically faithful.


Nathan Hendershott said...


Thanks for the quick post. I would suggest that the responsibility for this "shallow and narror" view of salvation being expressed in Evangelism these days lies in the clergy. It seems to me that Christians do evangelism this way because they themselves see salvation as simply a "ticket to heaven". Would you agree? I have some ideas on how to fix it (namely get back to teaching doctrine and not self-help crap); what do you think?

I am looking forward to learning alongside you again this year!!!



Casey Rycenga said...

Ben I was about to leave a huge comment referencing all of the ideas that this post made me think of, but that got a bit long... so I'm just gonna shorten my comment to this: Thanks for saying what a lot of our generation is thinking.


JMKendall said...

Through the course of this summer, I have grown to love your passion and enthusiasm for spiritual development in and through the local church. I have learned a lot from you through our discussions and while some of it has been academic, the most positive lesson I have learned is that we underestimate our congregation's desire to grow 'deeper'. Part of me wonders, however, how much we are underestimating (or shall I say over criticizing) our clergy.

I believe the exercise, for my class at least, was to get the people in the community plugged into their local church. The emphasis wasn't on getting them 'saved', the emphasis was on our desire to see them in our churches.

We followers of Bounds have really caught on to his phrase 'ticket to heaven' but I am wondering more and more if that is what we are truly preaching. Messages from the pulpit, lessons in Sunday schools, and small groups within our churches do not often focus (for better or worse) on 'getting people saved'. On the contrary, they are focused on helping us grow.

Maybe this is one instance where we may be promoting one thing (ticket to heaven) and practicing an entirely different one (growth in Christ).

just thoughts, pushback welcomed ;)

btw, how are you in your walk with God? :)

::athada:: said...

Go and make disciples of all nations, not converts.

Scott David Hendricks said...


Yesterday I had a conversation with a guy on the Greyhound who came to the Lord four years ago in jail, and has been sober from drugs for a year now. I won't elaborate on his life story, but he told me that while he "knows he's forgiven," he hasn't forgiven himself yet, and still feels as though he deserves hell for all the terrible things he's done in his lifetime. I told him I could understand his hesitancy to "feel forgiven" -- I supposed that he didn't want to pretend as though he never sinned. I told him it was alright he felt that way. We could recognize that for some, repentance may not come in 10 seconds, 10 days, weeks, months, or years. It was clear that he had much restitution to be made; he told me, "I know where I am, and I know where I want to be. And I know that I may never get there, but I at least know that I'll always be headed there."

Anonymous said...

Jared said "push-back." How SLWC. :)


Ben Robinson said...


I think I agree that that is certainly a component of the larger problem. It seems as if this narrow view of salvation has saturated much of Christian evangelism. We never think of considering justification as a component of the larger healing process of salvation and speak of justification as the epitome of Christian salvation.

I think the clergy could do much to fix this dilemma; although as Dr. Schenck once said, perhaps it is not our congregations that are incapable of "going deeper" but instead our clergy are incapable of taking us deeper because of their lack of depth. So before our clergy can adequately address this problem they ought to ground themselves in orthodox theological understanding.

Ben Robinson said...


"Part of me wonders, however, how much we are underestimating (or shall I say over criticizing) our clergy."

I think the potential of our clergy can be underestimated. I think a lot of clergy underestimate their own potential; and I also would agree that at times we are too critical of those in the pulpit. After all, that will be us someday and I would hope that those who disagreed with me would be willing to encourage me in ways they think I ought to be doing certain things.

However, this post was not exclusively for clergy. In fact, it was a general statement about evangelism conducted by evangelicals as a whole (laypersons as well as clergy).

I think what you mention (about speaking of salvation forensically but then pragmatically more focused on growth), is at times an accurate reflection. I think the emphasis on growth is certainly an accurate reflection upon our church this summer.

Yet it is one thing to focus on growth and quite another to preach in a way that is theologically integritous. Can our people truly "grow in Christ" apart from having some basis of an understanding of how this occurs? Can we be continue to be Pelagian pragmatists and not realize our incredible dependency on the Spirit for our sanctification?

I think growth is at times the focus, but the manner in which it is discussed is often not helpful. We are given applicable things we ought to do but forget to explain that we need to be consistently responding to the Spirit in order to be able to move further along this way of salvation. Often we are unable to do certain things we are exhorted to do until we have continuously responded to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Sweet. Your sentiment reminds me of Rob Bell, probably why I agree completely.... But no doctrine, please, I'm not too fond of it. :-)