TF: How Not To Do Evangelism

Tribulation Force, pp. 386-396

Reading the Left Behind series has caused me to re-evaluate many of the “Bible prophecy,” End-Times works I encountered before opening these books. The more I read of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the better that Hal Lindsay and Donald W. Thompson seem.

Thompson was the auteur behind A Thief in the Night and its sequels, the premillennial dispensationalist thrillers that circulated in church basements and coffee houses for years before the age of VHS. Thief was not a good movie. The dialogue was awful and Thompson’s endearingly awkward cast of nonprofessional actors was never able to rise above it. But the guy did have some idea of what to do with a camera and how to make the most of his tiny budget, so he was able to create some memorable images. Thompson conveys the disappearances of the Rapture with a neighbor’s lawnmower, still running but suddenly unattended — a scene that is both simpler and creepier than any of the Rapture scenes in Left Behind.

Thompson’s movies are like a PMD version of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” — earnest, overwrought and unintentionally campy, but sprinkled throughout with memorably unnerving bits. Those movies were also made with the same intent as Edwards’ archetypal fire-and-brimstone rant — to frighten audiences into repentance so that the unsaved might be spared the horrors portrayed. It’s that intent, that motive of sincere if strangely expressed concern for others, that makes A Thief in the Night and its many imitators vastly preferable to the Left Behind books, in which one finds only very rare expressions of concern for those unsaved others, and in which those few expressions do not seem sincere.

Thompson was part of a wave of 1970s End Times mania and nearly all of the popular “prophecy” books, movies and albums of that time shared this fire-and-brimstone, repent-for-the-end-is-nigh desire to save the unsaved. This was true of Hal Lindsey’s books from that period, and of Larry Norman’s rock and roll records, and of nearly every other PMD ancestor of the Left Behind series. They were all urgently concerned with evangelism — with saving the lost before it’s too late. Their approach to such evangelism may have been horribly askew, but that was their intent.

I expected the Left Behind books to follow that pattern, but one of the many awful surprises they held in store was that they don’t. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins invoke fire and brimstone, but not in the hopes of frightening the unsaved into heaven. Instead they present it as a kind of revenge fantasy — a variation of the “abominable fancy.” Their central message is not, “Repent before it is too late because I do not want you to suffer all these torments I am describing,” but rather, “You’ll see, you’ll suffer all these torments and then you’ll realize too late that we were right.”

Instead of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” LaHaye & Jenkins’ message is “We’re ready, you’re not — neener neener neener.”*

This is true in these books even in chapters like this one, presenting Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah’s ostensibly evangelistic message. Ben-Judah’s message turns out not to be an upbeat, Billy Graham-style gospel of hope (“Good news — the Messiah has come and salvation is at hand”). Nor is it even a Jonathan Edwards or Donald W. Thompson-style message urgently pleading with others to escape the coming wrath. Ben-Judah’s message, instead, boils down to a reiteration of the core message of these books: “We’re right. You’re wrong.”

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider how and why the authors came to believe that such a message constitutes evangelism.

It shows, I think, that the authors are unable or unwilling to consider how their message is likely to be perceived by others. That comes in part from an inability or unwillingness to listen to what others have to say. (Why should they listen, when they already know that those others are wrong?) That’s part of a larger lack of concern for or interest in others as actual people — real human beings who bring their own lives, stories, experiences and ideas to the conversation.

This lack of interest in learning about others goes hand in hand with the authors’ seeming lack of interest in learning about themselves, raising a chicken-and-egg question of cause and effect. Is their distorted and unexamined self-concept a result of their distorted and unexamined concept of others? Or vice versa?

For a sense of what I mean by this self-concept, consider that this whole business with Tsion Ben-Judah’s “research” is based on a flattering lie. It’s one thing to tell flattering lies to someone else. It’s worse to tell them to yourself. And it’s worst of all to then believe them.

The authors are pretending that this is why they believe what they believe and how they came to believe it. Ben-Judah’s research project is presented as a depiction of their “personal testimony,” as we evangelicals say — and more generally as the testimony of all real, true Christians. Ben-Judah was simply a disinterested, unbiased, rational scholar drawing disinterested, unbiased, rational conclusions from the study of sacred texts that are obviously and self-evidently authoritative to any such unbiased and rational reader.

This is how LaHaye wants to think of himself. It’s how he wants to portray himself as having come to religion. But that is not how it happened — for him or for anyone else. He was introduced to these sacred texts — these particular texts and not to other ones — and began to read them with a host of preconditioned and predetermined interpretations. His decision to accept those interpretations was shaped by his personal history and experience, by his relationships and encounters with others, and by a host of other variables including — most essentially, we Christians believe — the grace of God. The Ben-Judah scenario denies the existence and importance of all those other factors, presenting the rabbi’s conversion — and by implication, LaHaye’s — as something else, as simply an inevitable and undeniable intellectual conclusion reached from an honest and objective evaluation of data.

This is why — apart from all the howlingly awful errors and misapprehensions we discussed earlier — I cannot believe Ben-Judah’s story. That’s just not how it works. It didn’t work that way for me, or for LaHaye or Jenkins, or for anyone else. That is not my testimony or theirs or anyone else’s and so I cannot believe that it is Ben-Judah’s.

L&J have presented this “conclusions of research” myth not just to flatter their fictional representative (and thereby themselves), but also to accuse the rest of the world. Their false portrayal of how Ben-Judah came to be a real, true Christian also conveys a false portrayal of everyone who isn’t an RTC. They’re not just claiming that this is how Ben-Judah became a believer, but that this is how all nonbelievers became nonbelievers. Ben-Judah, they say, became an RTC from an honest investigation of the undeniable data. Therefore, if you are a Jew — or an atheist, a Catholic, an Episcopalian, Lutheran, Hindu, Mormon, Pagan, etc., etc. — it is because you are dishonest or because you are ignorant of the data or obstinately refusing to accept its self-evident truth.

All of us non-RTCs can thus be lumped into two and only two categories: the malicious and the ignorant.

The former category is necessary to make the plot of the Left Behind series palatable. The horrific suffering these books present for non-RTCs couldn’t be tolerated — much less enjoyed and savored — unless those others were portrayed as fully and consciously deserving such punishments. The damned here are thus portrayed a bit like the damned in a Jack Chick tract — as arrogant and deliberate deniers of what they know to be true. Like Nicolae, they hear Ben-Judah’s enumeration of the clear evidence and perversely choose to reject it.

The latter category, the ignorant, isn’t so much a subset of Them as it is a subset of Us. The merely ignorant are still innocent and thus are portrayed less as non-RTCs than as not-yet-RTCs. Since the malicious are unreachable, this latter category is the only real intended audience for Ben-Judah’s evangelistic message — or for the evangelistic message, such as it is, of the authors. The ignorant have never heard of Jesus, never been told what it is that Christians believe. Once they are told, they will either accept this obvious and compelling truth and convert to become RTCs, or else they will reject it for perverse and evil reasons and become part of the category of the malicious, the cackling, Chickian damned (“Har har!”).

That one might hear Ben-Judah’s message and simply not find it persuasive for any legitimate reason isn’t an option the authors imagine or allow for.

You may have noticed that these two categories of the malicious and the ignorant don’t seem to account for any actual humans you have ever actually met. The authors present them as comprehensive, but experience proves them to be almost nonexistent.

That’s why L&J-style evangelism will always be fruitless. A message intended for a nonexistent audience won’t be heard. And you cannot convince others of anything if you’re already convinced of something about them that just isn’t true.

This doesn’t just mean that the the authors are failing at evangelism themselves. It also means they’re setting up their readers to fail as well. Those readers are being sent forth with the expectation of encountering people who do not actually exist. They are being taught to expect to meet these imaginary innocent ignorant, the RTCs-in-waiting who have never heard of Jesus before and will gratefully ask to hear more — finding the message instantly persuasive and thus eagerly converting.

I don’t think that has ever really happened. Maybe once, but probably never.

And when this doesn’t happen for the would-be-evangelist readers of Left Behind, what have they been taught to conclude about those they actually do encounter? They have been taught that these people must all belong to that other category of the malicious and perverse deniers. So those readers’ hapless attempts at Ben-Judah-style evangelism are not just doomed to fail, they’re also designed to reinforce the Manichaean, Us-vs.-Them worldview that underlies LaHaye’s John Birch Society politics.

How convenient.

I don’t want to leave off here only saying that L&J have provided a manual on How Not To Do Evangelism. They certainly have provided that — offering a template for evangelism that seems designed to inspire ill-feeling on all sides and to be as ineffectual as it is unpleasant. But before we return to our journey through the instructively appalling pages of Tribulation Force, let me suggest a few things I think I’ve learned about a better way to approach this matter of evangelism.

1. Evangelism is hospitality.

Hospitality means opening up your life to share it with others. Sometimes that means sharing your home or your food, but here it means sharing that which is centrally and essentially important to you, the core of your identity and your source of meaning.

That seems kind of overwhelming — a bit more fraught than just inviting someone over for a cup of coffee. But in either case, it bears keeping in mind that this is what you’re doing — extending an invitation. And that this is who you’re dealing with — guests.

Guests are not obliged to swallow everything you’re serving, nor should they be compelled or feel pressured to do so. Your job, as host, is to defer to the preferences of your guests. Guests are not prisoners or detainees. If your attempts at hospitality cause your guests to feel more like prisoners — if you can see in their eyes the look of someone desperate to escape — then you’re doing it wrong. Stop. Step away. Let them go.

When you invite someone over to dinner, they will sometimes bring something with them to share in return — a nice bottle of wine, maybe, or some pie for dessert. If you turn up your nose at this contribution then you’re not being a good host. You’re not the only one sharing here and it would be unfair, not to mention rude, not to appreciate and honor what they’re sharing with you.

When I’m asked if I can recommend a good book on evangelism, I sometimes jokingly suggest Emily Post’s etiquette manual. Except I’m not really joking.

2. Evangelism requires relationship.

Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales. Evangelism should never be anything like sales. This is not a transaction, not commerce.

People who are in a relationship with one another talk about those things that they regard as important. Unlike many white guys my age, I am not a member of the Cult of Golf. But since many of my friends are also white guys my age I often wind up talking about golf a lot. Why? Because they are my friends and it’s important to them. That’s how human relationships work.

Evangelism directed toward strangers often seems awkward and weird because it is awkward and weird. Evangelism in the context of relationship, by contrast, is natural and organic. It’s not weird when two friends talk about the things that are important to them. It would be far stranger if they didn’t.

A word of caution: It won’t do to try to start a friendship with someone as a means to evangelizing them. A friendship that exists only as a means to some other ends isn’t really a friendship at all. It’s more like the unctuous faux-friendliness of the salesman. We can all tell the difference between such professional chumminess and the real thing it imitates. Your local car salesman is probably a friendly guy, but he’s not your friend, he’s your salesman.

Life sometimes conspires to create encounters that bring about something like the trust and mutuality of friendship even if they’re not really part of any pre- or post-existing relationship. The train breaks down in the tunnel or the elevator gets stuck between floors and soon you may find yourself having one of those sacred, crossroads-of-life conversations with a complete stranger. You don’t know this person’s full name, you’ve never met before and you’ll likely never meet again, but despite that — or because of it — you find yourselves telling one another things you wouldn’t be able to say to the friends and family you have to live with every day. The old man next to you on the train says he had a child about your age, and because the train has stopped there in the tunnel he tells you something about that child that he’d needed to say for a very long time but had never been able to before. And because he told you that, and because the train is still not moving, you tell him things you also had needed to say — hopes, fears, dreams, confessions — that you had never before been able to articulate aloud.

That happens sometimes, miraculously. I don’t know that such encounters quite count as “relationships,” but they also can be, sometimes, appropriate contexts for what might be called evangelism.

3. Listen.

Like improv, evangelism is usually more about listening than it is about talking.

The Cherokee Baptist theologian Bill Baldridge tells a story about white missionaries who arrived at the Indian settlement. “We are here to tell you the story of our God and of salvation,” they announced.

The elders welcomed them, brought them food, and gathered around to hear this story. The missionaries, pleased by this enthusiastic audience, decided to go with the Long Version. They started at the beginning and over the next several hours they told the whole great Christian saga of creation, fall and redemption.

When at last the missionaries were finished, the elders thanked them. “This is a good story,” the elders said. “Now we would like to share with you our story.”

The missionaries were furious. Hadn’t these people been listening? Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?

The missionaries abruptly left, shaking the dust off their shoes and heading out to find some other group more receptive to to their message.

4. Your story is not an argument.

Evangelism is often presented as something that starts with a sales pitch and ends in an argument. That’s wrong from start to finish. At its core, evangelism involves telling your story. That’s not a debate or an argument, it’s a testimony, a narrative (one that hasn’t ended yet).

Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive. Their usefulness, though, is almost never a matter of persuasion, but rather of two friendly foes helping one another to clarify their own thoughts.

That’s the healthy version. In the unhealthy version, it’s more about two unfriendly foes using each other to reinforce for themselves what they already believe.

That distinction between healthy and unhealthy arguments has to do with whether those involved in the argument are willing to listen to and to try to understand what the other is saying. If they both are, then the argument may prove enjoyable and useful — and perhaps even marginally persuasive. But if neither one is really listening or really interested in understanding what the other side is saying, then all that’s going on is two people with their fingers stuck in their ears shouting slogans in an effort to drown out the sound of their own doubts.

The Ben-Judah broadcast in Tribulation Force strikes me as the unhealthy kind of religious argument. Nothing in this chapter is really designed to persuade those who disagree with Ben-Judah’s or the authors’ views. It is designed, rather, to reassure those who already believe and to help them buttress their faltering faith.

Those in need of such reassurance would do well to avoid attempts at evangelism. Better that way for all involved.

Anyway, my point here is not to describe how best to argue evangelistically, but rather that evangelism usually ought to avoid argument. Your story is not an argument. Stick with your story.

That story should tell more than just how or why or when you began to be a Christian. That’s how we evangelicals are often taught to present our “personal testimony,” but that’s like telling a story that consists of nothing but “Once upon a time.” Telling your story means telling what it means to you that you are a Christian — why this is the most important thing to you, how it changes and shapes and directs your life, how you wouldn’t be you without the faith, hope and love you have found.

Of course, if you’re telling this story to a friend, to someone who knows you and has known you for some time, then they may already know all of that.

And if you’re trying to tell such a story but you realize that you can’t say how the faith you are trying to share actually does change or shape or direct your life, then you may find that you’re going to need to tell a better story.

And the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story.

That’s probably why so many people seem to find it easier to get in arguments than it is to tell their stories.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* The Left Behind series is thus a reflection of a larger cultural change in American evangelical Christianity. The earlier wave of PMD enthusiasm came at a time when evangelicals’ contact with the larger culture was primarily evangelistic, but by the 1990s when these books were typed, that contact had become primarily political. Where Norman, Thompson and 1970s-era Lindsey were oddball expressions of the hopeful, inclusive faith typified by Billy Graham, the Left Behind books are expressions of the partisan, militant, power-seeking faith of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Pat Robertson. They’re not primarily about invitation, but about identity. Not about drawing others to Christ, but about drawing lines between us and them and mobilizing “the base” as a special-interest voting bloc.

But then it’s not quite accurate to say that Left Behind is a reflection of this dismaying cultural shift. It’s more deliberate than that. Tim LaHaye was one of the central figures who worked hard to bring about this change in American evangelicalism. The John Birchification of American evangelical Christianity has always been his life’s work.

  • Anonymous

    The “malicious or ignorant” dichotomy contains the classic 19th century Liberal idea that if people are given knowledge they will naturally make correct decisions (based on knowledge and reason).  [Yes it is a flawed notion especially in the light of quantum uncertainty, Schrodinger's Cat and other non-deterministic notions affecting epistemological questions.]  The modern version shows up in political discourse as “Stupid or Lying” which pretty much describes last night’s dog and pony show on CNN.

  • Anonymous

    One year in summer camp, I was picked on fairly regularly by a kid who I later learned was into Traveller.  Had I but known, maybe we might’ve bonded over the planetary government randomization table or something.  Or maybe not.  By junior high, due in large point to my A grades and lousy coordination, it was obvious that my bottom-tier social standing had already been decided for me.  There wasn’t any point in trying to change by jettisoning unpopular hobbies like D&D, so I figured I might as well be the nerdiest nerd I knew how to be.  I mean – if you’re going to be seen as strange no matter what you do –then why not openly carry a Grimtooth’s Traps sourcebook around everywhere you go?  Why not?

    Of course, every kid takes their adolescent lumps in their own way; that’s just the shape mine took.  (With only one exception I know: I once had a girlfriend comment that junior high was the happiest years of her life.  I stared at her like she’d just sprouted a third ear from her forehead.)

    An atheist in Great Britain surrendered his doubts and opened his hard heart to Christ while reading Tribulation Force, the second volume in the series.

    I wish the person in this testimonial actually existed (oh, of course he doesn’t exist, he’s as made-up as Buck’s journalism skills), because that’s a story I’d love to hear in more detail.  Which is the scene that did it, do you think?  The cookie scene?  The chapter where nothing interesting happens?  The other chapter where nothing interesting happens?

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post. Calvinists in particular have a tendency to assume that the #1 thing you need to know about Christianity is the correct theological setup, and launch straight into an argument about it, instead of explaining why they care about the finer points of doctrine in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    Vermic: I wish the person in this testimonial actually existed (oh, of course
    he doesn’t exist, he’s as made-up as Buck’s journalism skills), because
    that’s a story I’d love to hear in more detail.  Which is the scene
    that did it, do you think?  The cookie scene?  The chapter where nothing
    interesting happens?  The other chapter where nothing interesting
    happens?

    My guess is that they’re trying to claim Jew McHugeJew’s speech here actually managed to convert a flesh-and-blood person:

    “Why, now that he mentions it, Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead!  That probably means he was the messiah!  Why’d I never think of that before?”

  • chris the cynic

    The “malicious or ignorant” dichotomy contains the classic 19th century Liberal idea that if people are given knowledge they will naturally make correct decisions (based on knowledge and reason).

    I’m pretty sure that Socrates made that argument in his defense.  It failed, as evidenced by him being put to death, but the fact that it was made (assuming I’m remembering correctly) seems to indicate that it’s somewhat older than the 19th century.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Pelor commands you have no other gods before Him.  >.>

  • Tonio

    Why not?

    My answer back then was simple – I didn’t want anyone to be mean to me, physically or emotionally. It seemed to me at the time that what people thought of me was the single largest determinant for how they treated me. My unspoken attitude was, “If you don’t like me, then leave me alone, but get off my case.” It felt like the only way I could stop people from being mean to me was to go to classes with a Rottweiler. Even if I was only being ridiculed by a few classmates, it still created what a human resources expert would call a hostile environment.

    An atheist in Great Britain surrendered his doubts and opened his hard
    heart to Christ while reading Tribulation Force, the second volume in
    the series.

    That sounds similar to the Sean Hannity show, which has been accused of broadcasting staged phone calls. They’re usually of the “Democrat who hates Obama” variety.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The very idea that I can’t have control over what class I am…the thought that any character might not survive to be playable (although in the version we used I think that possibility had been taken out

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

  • Nanananana

    I’ve only ever met one kid who played WoW and he was both popular and an asshole.

    So that kills any stereotype right there. Harry Potter only gets you ostracized in Christian communities (that happened o me in elementary school to no end. My 5th grade TEACHER told me it was an evil book) however as people matured they realized it was actuallya good series an I’ve now set up a midnight showing facebook event for it :)

    Does anyone else read Chick Tracys for pure fun? Haw haw.

  • Anonymous

    A group of women in a Georgia rest home proclaimed tearfully, “We don’t want to be left behind!” after listening to a visitor read from the first book of the series.

    This doesn’t even sound like a conversion story.  Instead of using visiting time to entertain or simply listen to the residents of a rest home, someone used the opportunity to proselytize to a captive audience.  That’s bad enough, but to terrorize these women with a horror story/revenge fantasy in order to convert them is shameful.  On top of this, he or she got the warm fuzzies from the women’s tears and bragged about doing “God’s Work.”  Disgraceful.

  • Bificommander

    So now one of L&J’s biblically predicted prophecies shown in the book has come true, even if it took a rewrite after the fact to do it. Wow, L&J are so sensitive to the spirit of the modern age! Reading Left Behind is as if you’re really there, it’s so life-like!

  • Anonymous

    WRT D&D, my mom was told by my cousin that she (my cousin) saw with her own eyes the steps for performing Satanic rituals in the D&D manuals.  When we visited them that summer, I read all of her son’s D&D manuals cover to cover, but never saw anything like that.  Finally I asked him and he said that she was probably talking about the procedure for changing alignment.

    To the day she died, my mom believed my cousin’s “there’s a Satanic ritual in them thar books” story over my “it’s all numbers and stuff about rolling dice” story.

  • Rikalous

    Worse yet, I STILL can’t even cast Magic Missile!

    Maybe you have rogue or fighter powers, instead. Have you tried picking locks or punching someone recently?

  • Rikalous

    The linked video has me wondering what kind of campaign they’re playing that a piddly d6 roll is the difference between life or death.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    That entire movie is a series of the Most Awkward Exchanges on Earth, played completely straight.

  • Rikalous

    Former drug addicts are overcoming the habits that have enslaved them
    and are finding hope and joy. The difficulties faced and defeated by
    Rayford, Chloe, and Buck in the Left Behind series have given them the
    vision and courage to confront their own troubles.

    So, did they have to slog through a couple books to get to the “difficulties faced and defeated” or are the former junkies drawing strength from Buck fearlessly crying after Stonegal got shot?

  • Rikalous

    Seriously, what the hell would a Catholic version even LOOK like. The
    Pentecostals might be able to crank out a half-way decent epic fantasy
    of the battle of good and evil, but Catholicism? I ain’t buying it.

    Well, Catholicism is the one with all the patron saints of things like lost causes and people with dangerous jobs. In the hands of a decent writer, there’s a lot of material there. Sadly, the Good Christian Alternative (TM) is almost always dreck (I’m told the Christian metal band Burning Broadway is good, though).

  • Rikalous

    Given that the Player’s Handbook shows his cleric casting an evil spell (symbol of pain), Pelor might be closer to RoboJesus than you’d think.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I know, it’s awesome for that

    I think the one in the video is my favorite though, it’s just so very “What.” >_<

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Hehe, the reason it’s a d6 is because the song it’s based on is “Like a G6″  >_>

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Ya know that reminds me of something I saw on the Giant In the Playground forums last year.  It was a list of reasons why Pelor is the most evil god. >.>  It was surprisingly convincing!

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Computer Programmers:  There is clearly only one correct way to do this particular task, and there is only one tool chain that can be used to do it.

    Any computer programmer who thinks that way is not a good programmer. Systems are so complex that the only way to be good at it is to be able to hit a problem from as many angles as possible, even if you have to invent them.

    (Though as thedailywtf.com shows, there are a *lot* of bad programmers out there.)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Computer Programmers:  There is clearly only one correct way to do this particular task, and there is only one tool chain that can be used to do it.

    Any computer programmer who thinks that way is not a good programmer. Systems are so complex that the only way to be good at it is to be able to hit a problem from as many angles as possible, even if you have to invent them.

    (Though as thedailywtf.com shows, there are a *lot* of bad programmers out there.)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    His claim was that the makers of D&D visited him to check their spell list, because they wanted to be sure that the spells in the player’s handbook and the way to cast them was all correct

    Sounds like he’s trying to be the Mike Warnke of D&D.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    His claim was that the makers of D&D visited him to check their spell list, because they wanted to be sure that the spells in the player’s handbook and the way to cast them was all correct

    Sounds like he’s trying to be the Mike Warnke of D&D.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    The Good Christian Alternative tends to be too self-conscious and that’s what makes it dreck. When you’re constantly trying to stay on message you end up with an advert not a story.

    They’d have something shinier and better if they weren’t trying so hard.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    The Good Christian Alternative tends to be too self-conscious and that’s what makes it dreck. When you’re constantly trying to stay on message you end up with an advert not a story.

    They’d have something shinier and better if they weren’t trying so hard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Every time I read about “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” for history or literature or something, I got really, really angry about it. Fred, you give entirely too much credit to ‘scare them straight’ people in terms of good intentions. Or, at least, I’d argue that such intentions don’t matter a single little bit when people are being harassed and traumatized by such an assault on them. 

    Maybe it’s because I’m an atheist, but it’s the same sort of ghastly, open moral dumpster fire as, say, when the preacher at my greatgrandmother’s funeral proselytized directly at me and my mom and dad. That guy knew this was his only chance to get me in a church, and great-grand would have been honestly okay with it… but holy shit. What unabashed, life-draining evil. It’s hard to explain how far that shifted me away from ever considering his message. His intent doesn’t matter one single bit at this point because he has failed before his argument began.

    If I may, your blog has been the closest I’ve ever come to going back, just because I agree with you so often and you’ve taught me a ton about Christianity; in fact, you sound a lot like my (pagan, but total literal living saint) mom in many ways. (I actually will need scientific evidence of the space jesus thing, but we agree on fundamentals like love and justice, so our differences seem so much smaller than the void between you and Fred Phelps.)

    In that way, strictly on the basis of ‘results’ that RTCs care about, you are a superior Christian to every fundamentalist and aggressive preacher on the planet. (Oh and in moral and intellectual ways too but that’s beyond the point) I have to believe you’ve won some people somewhere over, as opposed to, oh, say, Moonblade, who I am entirely sure will never convince anyone to think anything aside from wondering if he’s an adult infant or just a troll having a good time at the expense of more honest people.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Bunnies and Burrows. Although, slightly more seriously, they could have been playing Tri-Stat dX.

    Oh man Traveller. I enjoyed that game. It is, however, one of those games where sometimes the die rolls conflict with fun, and IMO, fun wins out every time. Of course, having a planet with TL16 medicine (WOOHOO ANAGATHICS) makes it a LOT easier to get a very playable character.

  • Randall M

    A pastor in Illinois, while reading the signature first volume in the
    series, suddenly felt compelled to visit his cancer-stricken neighbor.
    After reading to him from the novel, he urged his friend to open his
    heart and receive Christ as Savior. The neighbor eagerly said the
    sinner’s prayer and reached out in faith to trust the Lord. A few hours
    later, he died.

    So, read Left Behind and die.  Left Behind will kill you.  Good job dodging a bullet, Fred.

  • Anonymous

    Once it was a good setting, and in some ways it still is, but… not really for ‘Travelling’ anymore.  If you’re into courtly intrigue, or military action, or trading, sure; but there’s not a lot of frontier left in the setting.

  • Anonymous

    That was one of the things about the game that some people adore, some people think is awful, and some people look at oddly.  I think the Mongoose (T6?) version fixed that somewhat, letting you have more control over your character.

    Traveller came out of the school of RPGs that arose from wargaming (same school that D&D came out of) and the system reflects that strongly.  Its original iteration was not helpful if you wanted to play something even remotely specific since everything was random… and you effectively had a one in six chance of your character dying during chargen anyway!

  • Anonymous

    I would contend that weather a particular character is effective or not is a function of the kind of game the GM is running.  I ran a Firefly/Serenity game (HSR, not Cortex or Traveller) where one of the characters really was a pacifist with a genius for computer and sensor systems, and they did very well. =) (They weren’t stoned or a slacker, but they did have sass and an ornery streak a league wide and a lightyear long.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    Must resist… urge to shill… favorite system…

    (fails EGO roll)

    Except that those have been basic concepts of the Hero System even back when it was just Champions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    I would contend that weather a particular character is effective or not is a function of the kind of game the GM is running.  I ran a Firefly/Serenity game (HSR, not Cortex or Traveller) where one of the characters really was a pacifist with a genius for computer and sensor systems, and they did very well. =) (They weren’t stoned or a slacker, but they did have sass and an ornery streak a league wide and a lightyear long.)

    True, to an extent, but the system and setting both, I would argue, impose assumptions about what kind of game can or should be run.  In my particular case, it was a game being run primarily for the benefit of my Father-in-Law, who’s an old-school grognard who likes an old-fashioned, rules-heavy action-intensive playstyle, which leads to a hostile work environment for non-violent drifters with no personal combat skills whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    I think that what Fred’s describing is a perfectly decent way to behave, but it just doesn’t sound like evangelism to me.  I’m not going to say that he’s wrong to use the word that way, but it just doesn’t sound like a great way to win converts.  If you follow Fred’s advice, you’ll convince people that your coreligionists are decent folk, you’ll have genuine friendships with people who don’t believe as you do, and everyone involved will better understand everyone else’s beliefs.  These are all wonderful things which to my atheist mind are much more important than actually converting people, but I wouldn’t say it’s evangelizing.  One could argue that the people being interacted with are more likely to convert than they would be without this relationship, but the same can be said for the Christian.

    I also wouldn’t say that evangelism isn’t (intended to be persuasive) argument.  The evangelism I’m most comfortable with is argument.  Other sorts of evangelism have always struck me as fairly cultish – (conversion) evangelism by example or emotional appeal or high-pressure selling is most effective on vulnerable people.  I’ve had a lot of fun with religious arguments with Christian friends of mine, and, while we never go in expecting the other person to change his/her mind, there’s at least a presumption that the purpose of the argument is to try to resolve a disagreement.  And a lot of times you do resolve disagreements on the edges.

    I have liberal Christian friends who would agree with this post wholeheartedly, but they’re not interested in converting anyone.  My more conservatively religious friends wouldn’t agree at all, and I think it’d be because Fred’s not really talking about trying to convert people.  I think it’s fine to say that Christians shouldn’t try to convert others, but I don’t think you’ll convince people by using “evangelism” to mean something other than what they mean by it.

  • hapax

     

    I think that what Fred’s describing is a perfectly decent way to behave, but it just doesn’t sound like evangelism to me. 

    Well, the root of “evangelism” is “Good News.”

    Whether or not this is “evangelism” depends greatly on what you think the “good news” is.

    If you think that the Gospel is “God hates you right now, but if you say this magic spell it will get you out of His eternal torture chamber!” — probably not so much.

    If you think (as I do) that the Gospel is “The Kingdom of Heaven is in the midst of us!  Right here and right now!  Let’s all go and act like it!” — well, there really isn’t any other way to do it other than “behaving perfectly decently”, at the barest minimum.  “Genuine friendships” and “better mutual understanding” sound like pretty sound techniques as well.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Gotchaye, have you considered that some people might consider what Fred’s describing to be evangelism because that behaviour led to their own conversion? I’d say people who have “been evangelised” would be decent judges of what constitutes evangelism, and for a whole lot of people it wasn’t argument about theological statements that did it.

  • Tonio

    I would suggest that evangelism is not behavior that leads to the conversion of others, but behavior that is intended to produce conversion.

  • Tonio

    I would suggest that evangelism is not behavior that leads to the conversion of others, but behavior that is intended to produce conversion.

  • Rikalous

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    You could get away with either one of those concepts as long as you have the other. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had your class rolled for, because the Warhammer universe is grimdark and the people in it don’t have much freedom to pick their job (you could move from one class to a related class, though). D&D had NPC classes so every farmer, shopkeeper, and lord wasn’t at least as badass as the first level PCs they’re hiring. The only game I’d heard of before this thread that combined the two was FATAL. FATAL, for those of you not in the know, is a racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, unwieldy, poorly edited mess of a system widely considered the Worst Tabletop Game ever.

  • Rikalous

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    You could get away with either one of those concepts as long as you have the other. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had your class rolled for, because the Warhammer universe is grimdark and the people in it don’t have much freedom to pick their job (you could move from one class to a related class, though). D&D had NPC classes so every farmer, shopkeeper, and lord wasn’t at least as badass as the first level PCs they’re hiring. The only game I’d heard of before this thread that combined the two was FATAL. FATAL, for those of you not in the know, is a racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, unwieldy, poorly edited mess of a system widely considered the Worst Tabletop Game ever.

  • Anonymous

    Hapax: Sorry, I was trying to be clear that what Fred’s describing sounds pretty great to me, and I want to stress that I’m not even saying that he’s incorrect to use evangelism in the way that he does.  I’m just saying that it’s not consistent with the sense in which I would tend to use the word, nor do I think it matches up very well with what many Christians mean when they use the word.  Lots of people read “evangelism” as something to do with effective or intended conversion of the evangelized to the religious beliefs of the evangelizer.  Fred seems to me to be more or less rejecting this as a goal.  I’m saying that, for a lot of people, half of what Fred’s saying can fairly be characterized as “stop evangelizing” (noting that he himself understands what he’s describing as evangelizing so that he can still fairly call himself an evangelical, etc.)

    Sgt. Pepper: I’d thought of that, but the problem with the kind of thing that Fred’s describing is that it’s fairly symmetric.  He’s just saying to do what any decent person of any religion should do.  If a Christian who evangelizes in this sense is likely to convert someone else, then surely the Christian is also likely to be converted, since nothing about Fred’s evangelism is one-way.  I’d further argue that, in the United States, a Christian who takes Fred’s approach is far more likely to end up no longer a Christian (by that person’s original standards) than to convert even one person (averaged over all Christians).  Almost any interaction between Christians and non-Christians is likely to produce some converts if the scale is large enough, but I don’t know that I’d therefore say that any interaction is evangelism.  I’ll certainly grant that argument has probably not converted many people.  But I’m not sure that Fred’s approach has a great track record either.  Seems to me that the most notably effective conversion efforts have been strongly intended to produce converts (historical missionaries, for example), but that’s starting to get pretty far afield.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Most tabletop RPGs before the late 90′s had these kinds of problems. Spellcasters in sword & sorcery games were frail and shrieking right up until they became unholy mobile firing platforms of death. Becoming a Jedi in West End Game’s Star Wars system was an exercise in masochism. (“You mean my character development is totally dependent on the Storyteller AND I’ll be less effective than every other character at non-Force things? Sign me up!”) RIFTS was full of classes that were either godly-powerful or paper-thin weak with very few in the middle-ground.

    A lot of games of that era substituted random die rolls for playable balance. (“It’s OK for this ability to be super-powered, because only one in a thousand characters will get it from a random die roll!”) The reason so few examples stick out in memory is that almost everyone house-ruled away those flaws. Demi-human level limits? House-ruled! Random character trait tables? House-ruled!

    It takes a special kind of awful to be remembered. F.A.T.A.L. is so bad it has it’s own TV Tropes page.

  • Lori

     I’d thought of that, but the problem with the kind of thing that Fred’s describing is that it’s fairly symmetric.  He’s just saying to do what any decent person of any religion should do.  If a Christian who evangelizes in this sense is likely to convert someone else, then surely the Christian is also likely to be converted, since nothing about Fred’s evangelism is one-way.  I’d further argue that, in the United States, a Christian who takes Fred’s approach is far more likely to end up no longer a Christian (by that person’s original standards) than to convert even one person (averaged over all Christians).  

    Your position is that Fred’s approach is not evangelism because American Christian’s have weak beliefs and can only hold onto their faith if they stick to practicing a dueling religions version of asymmetric warfare? 

  • Anonymous

    This is unfair.  I’ve said that, for me, evangelism is about trying to convert people.  I’m hardly alone in that.  I’ve stressed that I don’t think Fred is wrong to use it another way, but I do think it’s important to see that these uses are different.

    But yes, Fred’s approach is not effective evangelism as I would use the term because I do not believe that American Christians have uniquely strong or resilient beliefs such that, when they have symmetric interactions with people of other faiths, there will be net conversion to Christianity (also it’s not intended to win converts anyway).  In the United States today, because of facts about the prevalence of Christians and the preexisting exposure of Christians to non-Christian thought and vice versa, a substantial interaction between a Christian and a non-Christian seems to me to be likely to move the Christian more than it moves the non-Christian.  I suppose you could take that as saying that American Christians have weak beliefs, but I don’t really see it that way.  There are just lots of American Christians who have not had a great deal of substantial exposure to non-Christians.  The opposite is not true.  Non-Christians in the US tend to have a much better idea of what Christianity is about and what it does for people than Christians in the US have of any of a variety of belief systems.  This means that giving each person a certain level of understanding is a bigger change for the typical Christian.

    I suppose I was unclear when I said “a Christian who takes Fred’s approach”.  I meant “a Christian chosen at random from the US Christian population, who then starts doing what Fred is suggesting”.  I’m not going to speculate about the Christians who are likely to choose to follow this advice, although even in that case I think it’d be weird to assume that they have more resilient beliefs than the people they’re talking to.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    By Odin’s bunions, how could you bring up the game we dare not speak of?!

    I once looked at the F.A.T.A.L. sourcebook (downloaded of course, I’m not paying money to slake my morbid curiosity) – it was as bad as it sounds.

    Ho. Lee. Shit.

    Extreme Trigger Warning for rape in effect, the following will be ROT13ed because it’s awful:

    Gb tvir lbh na vqrn bs whfg ubj njshy S.N.G.N.Y. vf, guvf vf n tnzr jurer lbh ebyy enaqbzyl sbe nyzbfg rirelguvat.  Rirelguvat.  Rkprcg Traqre – jr’yy rkcynva jul va n zbzrag.

    Nyfb guvf ebyyvat vapyhqrf cravf fvmr, intvany pvephzsrerapr naq nany pvephzsrerapr.  Jul qb lbh arrq gb ebyy sbe nany pvephzsrerapr?  Orpnhfr S.N.G.N.Y. vf abg n fjbeqf naq fbeprel tnzr.  Vg’f Encr, gur ECT.

    Guvf vf abg n wbxr – lbh znl ynhtu orpnhfr vg’f fb ubeevoyr naq gur bgure bcgvba vf gb pel, ohg vg’f abg zr vagraqvat gb perngr uhzbe.  S.N.G.N.Y.’f ehyrobbx vf pbafgnagyl, pbafgnagyl tbvat ba nobhg encr.  Lbh ebyy sbe nany pvephzsrerapr orpnhfr gurer vf n uvtu cebonovyvgl bs orvat ivbyragyl crargengrq naq gurer vf n evfx bs grnevat.

    Abg. Znxvat. Vg. Hc.

    Qrne tbqf V pna’g oryvrir V unq gb fnl gung.

    Qba’g rira trg zr fgnegrq ba gur enzcnag ubzbcubovn, enpvfz, frkvfz naq whfg nobhg rirel bgure “vfz” lbh pner gb anzr.

    Bu naq bs pbhefr ba gbc bs gung, vg’f nyfb avtu hagb hacynlnoyr rira vs lbh jrer gjvfgrq rabhtu gb jnag gb.

    Fhzznel:  UBYL ZBGURE BS TBQ JUL QBRF GUVF RKVFG?

    ——-

    *shudder*

    So yes. F.A.T.A.L. is in fact what a lot of people seem to think D&D is. …only worse, and without the cool factor of magical powers.

    I’m going to go vomit now; you’re welcome to join me.

    (Part of why I wrote the above is so you don’t have to go to the TVTropes page without knowing what exactly you’re getting into.)

  • Lori

    How is my question unfair? I asked for clarification on what you were saying. You clarified and frankly I seem to have gotten the essence of it right the first time. 

    It seems to me that if most US Christians aren’t strong enough in their faith to use Fred’s method the issue lies with the Christians or with the faith, not with the method. 

  • Anonymous

    (“players decide what their character is” and “all options should be
    equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent additions to the
    framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten years

    The first has been around far longer than ten years.  The very, very first incarnation of D&D and Traveler are the only systems I can think of… oh, wait, there may have been a Star Trek one… where you don’t decide what your character is.

    As for the second… that rather depends on how you’re defining it.  Games weren’t balanced ala MMOS until pretty recently (and, other than nuD&D, I still can’t think of any that are), but generally the only times people ended up with non-playable characters were when a) someone really, really new to role playing tried to make a character with no help at all or b) when someone made a character that didn’t fit the game master’s campaign (either because the player ignored what the game master said or because the game master misrepresented the focus of the game).

    And, while I rolled up plenty of less-than-optimal (not very first edition) D&D characters, they were still playable and I can’t think of any game masters who didn’t have the house rule that if you somehow rolled absurdly low in everything, you could start over. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayofcats Pamela Merritt

    I once inadvertently evangelized.

    I was gardening one fine May morning when two Jehovah’s Witnesses targeted me, opening with the traditional greeting, “Have you ever thought about God?”

    Well, I had a fine time! I said I thought about it all the time, just look at this gorgeous day, and all the beautiful flowers I was fussing over. It makes me so happy, and that’s what God wants, it’s really the force of love, isn’t it, wanting us to be happy and making others happy…

    I had the young lady nodding and grooving on it and the middle-aged lady woke up and yanked her out of there.

    Fastest way to get away I’d ever had.


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