In a comment on my last post, I, a Bible loving, gospel embracing, Paul-enamored lefty progressive Christian, a reader wrote, “Hi John … your view of evangelism then in a nutshell, please?” So I thought I’d take a moment to address that. Jesus said (at Mark 12:28-31):
The most important commandment is Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
That’s what Jesus himself declared the Great Commandment. At Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus also said this to his disciples:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
That’s what Christians(and not, notably, Jesus) decided to call the the Great Commission. Throughout history the Great Commission has been the primary motivator for Christians to evangelize to non-Christians. At the time that Jesus uttered the Great Commission, he was known by almost no one. So it was certainly imperative then that his disciples get out there right away, and start spreading the message about who Jesus was and why he came. If they had failed to do that, then today we might have no idea who Jesus Christ was. But today Jesus is so extremely famous that Mel Gibson made a movie about him. Har! No, but seriously: I think it’s safe to say …. Commission accomplished. The message of the Great Commandment boils down to this:
God loves you. I love you. You are worthy of unqualified, absolute love.
The message of the Great Commission boils down to this:
You should stop believing whatever you do, and become a Christian. It is terribly wrong for you not to be a Christian.
In combination those two messages—the dual message that Christians are most driven to deliver to non-Christians—amounts to this:
I love you. Now change.
Being on the receiving end that passive-aggressive message doesn’t make anyone feel all warm and fuzzy. Which is why Christians evangelizing or “witnessing” to non-Christians invariably find the target of their efforts walking away from them. (For more on how non-Christians feel about Christians trying to convert them, see What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear.) If, due to my actions, a person walks away from me—if they decide I’m not someone they want to hang out with, or get to know better—then I have eliminated the possibility of my having a loving relationship with that person. Which means that, when it comes to that person, I have broken the Great Commandment. Not to mention the Golden Rule. That is one big fat Christian fail. My view on evangelism is that today—and at the very least today in America, where everyone not only already knows about Jesus Christ, but has readily available to them infinite information streams should, for any reason, they care to know more—Christians should resist their urge to evangelize (which, in my experience, is almost always more about the evangelizer’s ego than about anything else, since who doesn’t like to tell others why they should be more like them?) Trying to convert a person is failing to love that person—because it’s failing to respect them, and love without respect is at best patronizing. Evangelizing—that is, basically trying to talk someone into becoming a Christian—is intrusive, condescending, patronizing, and alienating. In a nutshell: Trying to fulfill the Great Commission entails violating the Great Commandment. So Christians shouldn’t do it. Another way of expressing this is this, which I made awhile back: Another is the eleventh tenet of the document I wrote for the group Unfundamentalist Christians:
God can handle converting people. Our job is to love people.