The Gospel Coalition

I often meet Christians who are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism. Whenever I dig down to the root of the discomfort, I encounter issues related to the nature of truth, what it means to follow Jesus, and the role of worship. Here's a fictional example of how this kind of conversation usually goes...

Christian: I know we're supposed to tell people about Jesus, but I don't like the idea of pressing someone to come to my way of thinking. When I talk to people of other faiths, I don't want to come across looking like I think my religion is better than theirs.

Evangelist: But even when you don't try to persuade someone to become a Christian, you still think your religion is better, don't you?

Christian: How is that?

Evangelist: The very fact that you're a Christian means you must think Christianity is superior to other religions. If you don't think Christianity is better than Buddhism in any way, then why are you a Christian? And the reverse is true too. If you're talking to a Buddhist, for example, surely they would think Buddhism to be superior. If you don't think your religion is best, why not convert to whatever religion is best? You should always be kind and civil, but make no mistake... Both of you think you're right and both of you think the other is wrong.

Christian: So it's okay to believe Christianity is superior?

Evangelist: There's a difference between believing your religion is superior and having a superior attitude.

Christian: The minute you think your faith is better than someone else's, you start down the path of having a superior attitude.

Evangelist: Sometimes. But what's the alternative?

Christian: What if we said no religion is superior? What if we said all religions are on equal footing?

Evangelist: Believing no religion is better than another is itself a belief. You don't lose the attitude of superiority by saying no religion is superior. You get even more reason to feel superior. Now you're standing over against all the religions of the world, saying none is better than another.

Christian: I guess when it comes down to it, there's no way around it. I do think Christianity is better. But evangelism still doesn't sit well with me.

Evangelist: That's because you're thinking of Christianity as if it's a preference. Like having a favorite color or something. Trying to push your favorite color on someone else would make anyone uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, we don't believe the gospel because it's helpful. Or because it's prettier. Or because it's our upbringing. We believe the gospel because it's true. Not just a preference, but true. Truth about the way the world works.

Christian: I still think we look bad when we tell people they should become Christians.

Evangelist: Then what do we do with the Jesus' final instructions? "Go and make disciples of all nations." What do we do with Jesus' prediction that the world would hate those who follow Him? What do we do with Jesus saying His disciples would be fishers of men?

Christian: But it seems so arrogant to proselytize.

Evangelist: We don't proselytize. We evangelize. Proselytism is about getting someone to change from one religion to another. Evangelism is proclaiming the evangel - the gospel. It's an announcement about the way the world is. Then we call people to bring their lives in line with that reality.

Christian: But it still seems arrogant.

Evangelist: Frankly, I think it's more arrogant to be against evangelism. Whoever says we should just keep our faith to ourselves and not evangelize - they're really saying we ought to follow their instructions and not King Jesus. That is the height of arrogance, if you ask me.

Christian: So I guess we ought to just grit our teeth and do evangelism because Jesus said so.

Evangelist: No, not at all. You see, failure to evangelize is a worship problem. The New Testament picture of evangelism is not that we share Jesus with gritted teeth. It's a picture of lips and hearts overflowing with worship. Whenever you are completely taken with something or someone, you can't help but talk about it. Love can't stop talking about the beloved. Fix the worship problem, and evangelism starts coming naturally. So remember, we evangelize because the gospel is true and eternity hangs in the balance. But most importantly, we evangelize because we love Jesus and want others to know the joy of loving Jesus too.


Comments:

Ben

June 28, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Trevin has made an observation that many of us have - fear of evangelism. There's a way of thinking ingrained into the evangelist's response that I'd like to address quickly.

The Christian's problem is identified as a misunderstanding or lack of understanding of truth. This is immediately treated by the evangelist as an issue of logic (by nature of what you claim, x is true).

Is a correction of logic really what that person needs to overcome a fundamental problem like lack of understanding?

I would like to submit that evangelists and pastors who notice this among their congregations might examine themselves. Remember back to a day when perhaps you were unsure of how to evangelize. If there's no time in your life like that which you can recall, question why that is - what had to occur in your life for YOUR fire for evangelism to be in place?

If you have never been (or at least aren't now) afraid of evangelism, I will almost guarantee it is because you have a FIRM grasp on basic biblical truths, and have come to that grasp through MUCH teaching, discipleship, mentorship, etc. and I bet it did NOT occur because of a logical flip of a switch.

T. Webb

June 28, 2012 at 09:27 AM

Trevin,

Thanks for an interesting post. Honestly, I don't 'evangelize' because I simply can't give an answer for the hope that lies within me (1 Peter 3:15). I struggle even to be able to know where to begin to give an answer. I'm well educated and have read many books; this isn't an issue of needing to read one book on apologetics that will give me answers to difficult questions.

Steven Mitchell

June 28, 2012 at 09:00 AM

All-in-all a good post, but it quite obviously misses one very important point: the subjective. When Christian does not understand why he implicitly thinks his own religion is superior, the explanation that Evangelist goes on to give is instead grounded in objective, without addressing the problem of subjective. And that's the clash in the postmodern west.

The reason why people in our age cling to one religion over another is that they believe that religion to be subjectively best *for them*. They do not necessarily believe that it is objectively best. They accordingly believe that other religions may be subjectively best for other people. 'I find that Buddhism is best for me, but I accept that Islam may be best for you.' The belief behind it all being that God has given us different religions to match our differences in personalities, cultures, &c.

Therefore, I submit that the post would have been far more helpful, instructive, and germane if Christian had challenged Evangelist's question, '...If you don’t think Christianity is better than Buddhism in any way, then why are you a Christian?' by answering, 'I think Christianity is better for me, but I think it possible that it may not be the best for someone else. The arrogance that I think presents itself in evangelism is in presuming to know what's best for someone else, when perhaps Buddhism may, in fact, be the best religion for him.'

If Evangelist had been presented with that challenge and competently answered it, I think the discussion would have far more didactic utility. If for no other reason than it requires diving into some of the real meat of Christian doctrine to point out that Christianity is all about the objective, not the subjective. If one thinks about Christianity only subjectively — as so many reluctant to evangelize do — then one has all but missed the point. That is something which desperately needs correction.

I also think Diane above is onto something, but I would characterize it less as fear of persecution than fear of rejection. After all, those reluctant to evangelize are often as reluctant to evangelize to strangers, who couldn't possibly persecute them in a meaningful way, as they are acquaintances.

[...] The Idea of Evangelism Makes me Uncomfortable I often meet Christians who are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism. Whenever I dig down to the root of the discomfort, I encounter issues related to the nature of truth, what it means to follow Jesus, and the role of worship. Here’s a fictional example of how this kind of conversation usually goes… [...]

Cool finds: 7/27 « Becca after college

June 27, 2012 at 12:16 PM

[...] “The Idea of Evangelism Makes Me Uncomfortable.” – Post by Trevin Wax, accessed via the Gospel Coalition website. I don’t blanket accept everything that comes from these guys (one of them wrote an article recently about the evils of Thomas Kinkade that was… well, I think kind of misplaced in its vehemency), but this article gives great perspectives on some hesitancies we have about sharing our faith. The “Evangelist’s” comments towards the end of this article reminded me of one of my co-workers in college who had just discovered vegetarianism. You couldn’t make her shut up about it – not that she was “proselytizing,” but the very fact that she found it so cool dictated the stuff she talked about. Her passion overflowed into her life. [...]

Will

June 27, 2012 at 03:26 PM

Good read. This post does not cover all of the reasons why we Christians are averse to evangelism, but I find the post most useful for highlighting the arrogance of universalism and relativism that are sweeping our world. A counter-message that is not being spoken enough is that those who accuse "religious" people of intolerance are equally intolerant, as they are coming from a place of belief about the world and God (universalism and relativism), seeking to impose that belief and belittling others with different beliefs. This "hidden truth" is not widely understood in our culture...thank you for articulating it well!

Jason

June 27, 2012 at 03:08 PM

I agree, I can see the validity in the above scenario but it's not the problem I struggle with. I am a constantly recovering people pleaser.

Diane Mitchell

June 27, 2012 at 02:33 PM

I believe Christians avoid Evangelism due to their fear of persecution. Of course the non-Christian is going to reject what we have to say. They love the darkness and do not want to come to the light and I believe subconsciously some know this. They love their sin and do not want to give it up, knowing they would have to if they came to faith. I have experienced an admission of this from someone who refused to come to Christ because he would have had to give up something he loved more...the sins he coveted.

Still if we stay focused on scripture and what The Lord has to say about sharing our faith, we would do well.
Matthew 5:11-16, "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Our love for Christ should compel us to desire to share Him whenever the Holy Spirit moves us. Our love for others should compel us to share our faith. Truly it's difficult to imagine anyone suffering in hell for an eternity, that too should motivate us. Not only that, but did you catch what Jesus said in vs.12? Our reward will be great in heaven! What inspiration! What more motivation do we need?

Another great scripture to remember when the enemy attacks and injects us with fear is: Psalm 118:6, *The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?*

Trevin Wax

June 27, 2012 at 02:31 PM

I hope so, but others I've discipled would have to attest to that. I'm actually speaking of myself here... when I am most exultant in Christ and what He has done for me, I find I am much more apt to share the gospel with others. When I fail to evangelize, usually it's because my heart isn't as on fire as it once was. I need God to break my heart again and again for the lost and capture me afresh with His goodness. When my heart is overflowing with worship, evangelism is less of a duty and more of a privilege.

Truth Unites... and Divides

June 27, 2012 at 02:25 PM

"Fix the worship problem, and evangelism starts coming naturally."

Trevin, have you helped some people fix their worship problem so that evangelism started coming naturally to them?

Louis Cook

June 27, 2012 at 01:21 AM

This issue was addressed by Adrian Rogers years ago and they reran the sermon this week.
The Soul Winner's Six Mighty Motivations | Love Worth Finding with Adrian Rogers http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/love-worth-finding/the-soul-winners-six-mighty-motivations-286316.html via @lightsourcecom

It was the first time that I heard this sermon and it really convicted me. It is based on 2 Corinthians 5.

Susan

June 26, 2012 at 09:53 AM

Teaching about hell is neglected in many churches. If we have a true understanding of the reality of hell, and recognize that responding to the proclaimed gospel is the only to avoid it, it becomes a matter of faith and love. Truth and love compel us to override our discomfort. If we refuse to proclaim the gospel to those nonbelievers we know personally we reflect a lack of believing the truth, faith in God and the promised help of the Holy Spirit as we witness of Christ, or a lack of love.

Jacob Lee

June 26, 2012 at 07:43 AM

Very good...THANK YOU!

Fish With Trish

June 26, 2012 at 07:19 PM

Nice work, brother!

"Let us arouse ourselves to the sternest fidelity, laboring to win souls as much as if it all depended wholly upon ourselves, while we fall back in faith upon the glorious fact that everything rests with the eternal God. "

-C.H. Spurgeon

Steve Martin

June 26, 2012 at 06:23 AM

That Old Sinner in me is uncomfortable with it, too.

The desire to want to be liked and not offend people sometimes causes me to keep my mouth shut.

I like to think that I am waiting for the right opportunity. A time when a particular person is really hurting...when the law is having it's way with them.

Brent Hobbs

June 26, 2012 at 06:18 AM

Great article. It really hits on some of the idols of modern day thinking.

[...] “The Idea of Evangelism Makes Me Uncomfortable” [...]

Joshua

June 26, 2012 at 02:30 PM

I hated any evangelism before the Lord saved me. I wanted to stay in darkness and cling to my sin. Being confronted with the light of Christ was offensive to me. Now, as a believer, I realize the necessity of being light in darkness and shining light in the darkness of my unbelieving friends and family.

Thanks for this post!

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/06/26/the-idea-of-evangelism-makes-me-uncomfortab... Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in KFD. Bookmark the permalink. ← Peter and Paul fought with each other .. What’s up with that? [...]

Hannah

July 13, 2012 at 09:17 AM

The photo you used for this is of my sister and brother!