Are Christians Required to Evangelize? Are They Morally Wrong to Force Their Views on Others?

Evangelism should flow naturally out of relationship and community with God and His people. it should begin and end with community.

These competing questions bookend the following statement I borrowed from a social media group that was a preface to some questions about evangelism:

“As I’ve been doubting my Christian faith one of the issues I’ve been wrestling with (and frankly have always been averse about) is the reality of forced proselytizing.
Those of us raised in a Christian (and specifically evangelical) churches are all too familiar with being shamed, guilted, and forced to have awkward conversations with friends and strangers in which we were expected to sell them our brand of Christianity.
This sell was to be aggressive. We could not take no for an answer and we were to continually pester and compel the person until they either converted or broke contact with us (for obvious reasons).
Given that the message of Jesus seems to be that we are to give up our lives and enjoyment of them for the kingdom, to wear ourselves out in serving the poor, all while carrying a heavy moral burden, it appears all the more immoral to compel this message on people and to be indignant when they don’t take it.
This is not even mentioning the threat of hellfire for the salesman and prospect.”

The truth is that many Christians have difficulty with the thought of doing evangelism. Many people in our culture today think that forcing one’s views on others is morally wrong, yet evangelism has long been something expected of Christians, especially in evangelical churches.

Before diving in, I need to make the point that we all have freedom of speech in a free country. Exercising that freedom is no more forcing one’s self on others than expressing the belief that forcing one’s views on others is morally wrong. We have equal rights to speak and equal rights to reject what others are saying.

I don’t believe that sharing the Gospel is morally wrong. If it is, then it is morally wrong for you to tell me that it is morally wrong to share the Gospel. I don’t share your views on that position, but I would never say you are being immoral or have no right to express your views or even to try to convince me of the truth of them.

With that said, I feel fortunate not to have grown up in a church tradition that is “aggressive” about evangelism and “forces” people to evangelize or risk hellfire and brimstone. Not that anyone is “forced” to do anything. We all have a choice in the matter.

More importantly, though, God doesn’t work that way. In fact, I maintain that such an attitude is exactly contrary to the will of God. Further, no one can be forced into the kingdom of God. Not even Jesus forced people to be saved:

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13)

God became man, and He appeared to “His own people” – the ones with whom He established a close relationship characterized by great demonstrations of power in their favor – and they didn’t even recognize Him. What did he do?

He didn’t rain down fire and brimstone. He also didn’t stop sharing the good news, but most of the people who were willing to listen were the poor, the downtrodden, and the “sinners” who knew their own deficits.

People become children of God not by not by blood: not by being born into the right family line. People become children of God not by the will of the flesh: not by their own desire or wishing that it were so. People become children not by the will of man: not by decree, or force, or proclamation.

People who “receive him” (receive Jesus, believe on his name) are the ones to whom “he gave the right to become children of God”, and that is not of their doing, or of anyone else’s doing; it is God’s doing!

The key word here is “receive”. That is how we become God’s children: we receive him, which requires, first, that we believe him. The believing comes before the receiving. Believing is accepting what he is saying and trusting him so that we put our faith in him and enter into relationship with him.

To receive him means more than simply believing, however. It means receiving him into our lives (into our “hearts”). It means not only trust, but commitment. It means receiving him in to have relationship with us, but this is not of our own doing. The invitation is His, not ours!

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God….” (Eph. 2:8)

We simply have to receive it, accept it, and make “room” for him in our hearts and lives – as our Savior and Lord. We don’t do this on our terms, but on His terms.

Notice to the elite, religious leader, Nicodemus, Jesus said, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God”, but to the outcast woman at the well, Jesus said, “I will give you Living Water.” The invitation Jesus gives to everyone is ultimately the same (to receive Jesus), but people have to be willing to exchange what they have to receive him. Those are God’s terms.

The Gospel isn’t a dogma or propaganda to be enforced and forced on people who do not want to receive it. It is a gift that God offers, a “free” gift (Romans 6:3), but people must be willing to exchange what they have for it.

Though we have reason to believe that Nicodemus did ultimately receive Jesus and become a follower, the outcast woman at the well likely found it easier to receive Jesus than Nicodemus did. Nicodemus had most of what the first century world had to offer: power, position, prestige, wealth, reputation, etc. The outcast woman had little of it.

Perhaps, this is why Jesus presented a different way of looking at the offer to Nicodemus – you must be born again, you must be willing to give up what you think you have and start over. To the woman at the well, who had little to hold onto in this life, Jesus said, “I have Living Water to give you.”

Both of them had to give up what they had. There is a cost to the free gift of salvation that God offers, but some of us are unwilling to let go of what we have to receive it. We aren’t willing to make room.

How does this tie into the statements that prefaced the questions about “doing” evangelism?

We have to understand what evangelism is and why we might want to “do” it. We have to understand what it is that we are presenting when we do evangelism. We need to understand, ultimately, what God is offering and how people must receive it.

Continue reading “Are Christians Required to Evangelize? Are They Morally Wrong to Force Their Views on Others?”

On Being Ready to Give an Answer

Being ready means being in ready relationship

The article I link here, How an Ex-Christian And Counter Apologist Came Back To Jesus – Q+ A With Theologia Apologia, has a lot in it to chew on. Erik Manning is one of my favorite “apologists” on the Internet because he keeps it real. He comes from the other camp (atheism), and I think that always provides fresh perspective.

I put apologists in parentheses because many people, including Christians, don’t really know the term. An apologist is a person who studies and presents evidence defending faith (simply put). The term comes from the Greek word, apologia, which is used in 1 Peter 3:15 when Peter encourages people to “always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope you possess.” (NIV)

I had not really focused on the part about “everyone who asks” before, but I think it’s relevant to the article and the message I hear in it. Maybe we spend too much time trying to convince people who aren’t asking us about our hope, people who don’t care, people who aren’t asking questions or seeking answers.

At the same time (speaking from my own experience), we miss opportunities when people actually ask us those questions! One of the problems with “apologists” is that we prepare for audiences that we choose to “walk into” with all of our memorized and canned responses, but we may not always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit speaking to us in midst of the audiences we encounter throughout our daily lives.

On a related matter, I see Christians posting things along the lines of not being ashamed to say they are Christians. (See also Christians on Social Media) Certainly, if the Holy is convicting a person about the fear of man and the need to “come out”, do it. But, that kind of statement is usually lost on the world, generally, and not very effective (it seems to me) in spreading the Gospel message.

As for the article, the interviewee was a new Christian when he went off to seminary, and he was ill-equipped to face the challenges he encountered. He wasn’t grounded in his own faith. He says, “It was hard for me to have intimacy with God when I was devoting a lot more time to reading and studying about the Bible for a class than I was to reading and studying the Bible devotionally, or when I wrote 10-page papers about a biblical theology of prayer while my personal prayer life was scarce.”

He came from a “seeker-sensitive” church that didn’t deal with the meaty subjects he encountered in seminary, and he “felt lied to”. Bitterness and disillusionment set it. He began to develop suspicion and skepticism about the surface level faith with which he was familiar when plunged into the deep end.

This is where the article speaks to me. This is here the lessons lie.

Continue reading “On Being Ready to Give an Answer”

Thoughts on A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates — Follow Jesus

We should attempt to be more led by the Spirit than by our capacity to debate when we engage with non-believers. Like Jesus did.

Larry Hurtado wrote this in his blog:

Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed.  It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters[…]

via A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates — Larry Hurtado’s Blog

I’ve often been frustrated with debates as a tool for advancing knowledge and understanding. Many times, maybe even most often, both sides claim a victory, but wins and losses are hard measured in debates. Debates are seen as win/lose propositions, but they rarely deliver that kind of satisfaction.

Listen to any political debate, and both sides will claim victory. Listen to any debate of atheist and theist, and both sides will claim victory. The after debate responses are continuations in kind of the debate – both sides trying to convince the other and the world of their victory. The claims usually fall flat and ring hollow to anyone who makes an effort at remaining objective.

If we want to get at truth and understanding, debates are not the way to do it. Respectful discussion and dialogue are much better platforms for truth and understanding.

Since this is a faith-based blog, a little reference to Jesus is in order. Jesus didn’t debate people, ever. He often asked questions. He spoke in parables. He connected with people where they were – healing them, addressing them at a personal level, touching on their psychological, emotional and physical and spiritual issues.

Jesus treated everyone with respect, even the spiritually high-minded Pharisees. He took everyone seriously.

We can not get “inside” other people’s heads like Jesus could – knowing the thoughts and intents of their hearts – , but we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We should attempt to be more led by the Spirit than by our capacity to debate when we engage with non-believers. Like Jesus did.

Reach out to our Muslim neighbors

Nabeel Qureshi Interview

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a devout Muslim family in Virginia Beach, VA. He memorized the Qur’an by the age of 6 and prayed five times a day. When he went to college, his college roommate was a Christian. They spent three years debating the historical claims of both religions, and he came to realize that Christianity could withstand historical scrutiny but Islam could not.

At that point, he came face to face with a a difficult, life-changing decision: whether to abandon the Islam of his family and and heritage by embracing Christianity, or remain a Muslim, knowing that it could not stand up to history and reason. This was a decision that would ostracize him from his family. Continue reading “Reach out to our Muslim neighbors”

Intellectualism and Scholarship for Christ

On the other side of our language is something which sustains it which can’t be contained within it … and that’s what we call God.

Olin Hall

As Christians, we naturally emphasize faith because faith is what God rewards. Faith is what connects us to God. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. But, faith also separates people from God – when they don’t have it.

Faith is a stumbling block for the agnostic and the atheist.

When agnostics and atheists (and sometimes even Christians) talk about faith, they often talk about faith in the “blind” sense, divorced from reason and rationality. Real faith, however, is anything but blind or irrational.

For the Christian, faith informs a God logic that is captured in doctrine. This logic is far from irrational or inconsequential. Faith is part of that God logic, but it isn’t divorced from logic or truths discoverable in  the material world that God created. Continue reading “Intellectualism and Scholarship for Christ”