Evangelism is not sales (again)

A recent post at The Ruthless Monk instructively epitomizes the evangelism-as-sales method. It even uses that word, “method.”

The post, by Leslie Keeney, is called “Why ‘Just Telling Your Story’ Is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel.”

I think it shows where you’ll wind up if you imagine that “sharing the gospel” is all about ABC — Always Be Closing. For Keeney, closers don’t tell their stories, closers argue to win:

Anyone who’s ever taken a class on how to share their faith has heard some well-intentioned teacher say, “You don’t need to learn a lot of big words. Just tell them your story. Just tell them how Jesus changed your life. No one can argue with that.”

And everyone sighs a big sigh of relief because they thought they’d have to spend time learning how to answer hard questions. Questions like “how do you know Jesus rose from the dead?” Or “how do you know the Bible’s inspired?”

I understand why this method of what we used to call “witnessing” is popular. Well-meaning pastors realize that people are scared to tell people about Jesus, and they want to find an easy method that they can use to teach their congregation how to share their faith without actually having to ask them to do anything — at least anything hard.

The problem with this method is that it doesn’t work — at all.

Like most Christians who seek a “method” that “works,” Keeney never explains what she means by “doesn’t work.” It seems that what she means is, as the popular evangelism manual put it, “Getting to Yes.” She means closing the sale.

And to close the sale, Keeney says, you’re going to need to learn to hurl “apologetic” talking points at your targets in a Gish Gallop of intellectual-sounding gobbledygook. You can be sure this will persuade any wavering doubters because, after all, this is the same mantra of “apologetic” slogans you endlessly recite to yourself in a desperate attempt to reassure yourself that it’s all true. And it works for you, right?

“While telling our story will often be the first thing we do when we begin sharing the gospel,” Keeney writes, “it has to be backed up with good apologetics.”

One gets the sense that “telling our story” doesn’t impress Keeney because she’s not in the habit of really listening to anyone else’s story. Why should she? Why should a Christian, who has absolute truth, listen to someone else who has only lies?

If that seems like an uncharitable reading of Keeney’s argument, well, it’s still far more charitable than her own dismissive disregard for the stories (and arguments) of non-Christians. “If I am talking to a Buddhist who claims to have experienced Nirvana …” she writes, which hints that while she may have “talked to” a Buddhist, she’s never listened to one.

Keeney’s “method” that “works” seems eerily similar to what I described last year as an approach to evangelism that “starts with a sales pitch and ends in an argument.”

And, like all such sales-based “apologetics,” it’s not really about the other person at all. It’s about using another person as a convenient foil in an exercise intended to reinforce for ourselves what we already believe.

Evangelism is hospitality. And hospitality is always focused on the guest. That means “telling our story,” but even more than that, it means listening to the stories of others.

Here’s a snippet from my June 2011 post on evangelism that gets at what bugs me about Keeney’s sales pitch for sales pitches:

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.

  • Lliira

    In theological terms, it’s comparable to asserting that Congress or Parliament has revoked your citizenship.

    Oh please.

    “Theological terms” mean jack and squat, thanks to the fact that we have separation of church and state (mostly). There are people trying to take away my right to my own body, and using religion to try to do so. If someone thinks something nasty about what they think is my immortal soul, it does not affect me in any way. I got over the idea that it’s bad for people not to like me when I was a teenager.

    There are people trying to take away my right to my body. We’re steeped in rape culture, misogyny and racism and classism and homophobia and ableism take away people’s rights and do violence to them on a minutely basis, and you’re worried about people’s feeling being hurt because someone tries to change their religious beliefs. Really, your whole opinion on this is severely steeped in privilege.

  • Lliira

     I have never in my life seen an atheist say they wished they had the power to pass laws that would restrict someone’s freedom.

    Look, I despise Dawkins. He’s a bigot, a misogynist, a rape culture advocate, and he’s lived up his own ass so long he’s incapable of seeing anything but his own greatness. I’ve seen other atheists go over the edge (in my opinion), and even argued with them here about it. But give me a break. The only “freedom” I’ve seen atheists want to remove is the “freedom” for religionists to shove their religion into every facet of life. That’s taking away privilege, not freedom.

  • Lliira

     Yeah, I think you’re coming from a context that means you can’t necessarily understand what’s going on in the U.S. regarding this. Which isn’t a bad thing — other points of view can be very refreshing. It makes me jealous as all heck, though.

  • Lliira

     Now, technically perhaps he believes that some forms of child abuse
    should be legal, just like how pro-lifers believe abortion is mass
    murder but that the apropriate response is to vote republican.

    Right, someone SAYING the way they feel about something is precisely the same as someone attempting to take away the right of women to our own bodies through the power of the state. And often succeeding — do you have any idea how difficult, even impossible, it is to get an abortion in certain states?

    You just crossed a line twice.

  • Lliira

    Only the ones who go on the chat show circuit telling me that I’m mentally ill and abusing my children.

    “Waaah, people said nasty things about me on TV! No one should ever say nasty things about me! I’m Too Important to have nasty things said about me!”

    A popular, wealthy pop psychologist said women who wear pantsuits are conflicted about their gender. Every day, popular, wealthy, privileged, powerful men rail against the idea I could be human because I’m a woman, poor, and/or disabled. There are about 5 Christian radio stations where I live, and I’ve never even heard of an atheist radio station.

    Cry moar.

  • Carstonio

     

    I got over the idea that it’s bad for people not to like me when I was a teenager.

    What are you talking about? It’s not bad in and of itself, but it’s bad when the dislike motivates people to hurt you, and dislike and hate are arguably THE reasons people hurt each other. The people trying to take away the right to your body do so because they hate women. You’re describing two different varieties  of the same phenomenon.

    This isn’t necessarily about hurt feelings. The hellfire and damnation folks are essentially saying that dislike as a motivation for harm is a good or normal thing. You don’t meet God’s expectations? Into the pit with you. It’s almost like they want everyone to feel hopeless and despair about the impossibility of meeting others’ expectations or being free of those expectations. And the people who dispute that theology are ascribing a trait to their god that doesn’t have an analogue in human behavior, one that seems unlikely at best because too good to be true.

  • Carstonio

     You’re talking about beliefs about how people should be treated, and yes, those are certainly fair game. I’m comparing attempts to convert, say, Jews to Christianity to attempts to convert gays to heterosexuality. Both have involved cruelty.

  • caryjamesbond

    I’m comparing attempts to convert, say, Jews to Christianity to attempts to convert gays to heterosexuality.

    And if your average Evangelical/Atheist used tactics at all comparable to either the Spanish Inquisition or the de-gaying industry, we’d have an issue. But handing out tracts, reasoned debate, or street preaching are not similar tactics to brainwashing and physical violence. They aren’t even the same species. Hell, one is eukaryotic and the other is prokaryotic. 

  • Carstonio

    While you’re right that the tactics aren’t the same, that has little to do with my point. The evangelists using those tactics want something from the person they’re targeting. The person has no assurance that the evangelists won’t use those worse tactics if they don’t get what they want. Again, it comes down to  how the person meets their expectations and how the others will treat the person based on those expectations.

  • caryjamesbond

    The person has no assurance that the evangelists won’t use those worse tactics if they don’t get what they want.

    Errrrr….how?  I mean, anti-gay initiatives work two ways- parents send their kids their, using that parental authority, or people check themselves in, they just don’t grab people off the street. What you seem to be saying is that you’re concerned that people will escalate from non-problematic tactics to problematic tactics, and I’m not sure how that would work, legally. Anything stronger than just engaging you in conversation, you can just walk away from.  Evangelicals of any religion aren’t kidnapping you. 

    The evangelists using those tactics want something from the person they’re targeting. 

    So do television ads. Do you find those immoral?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > Evangelicals of any religion aren’t kidnapping you.

     That’s true. Neither are anti-gay activists.

    Anti-gay activists are backing legal and cultural forces that make it not OK for me to be gay. And some evangelicals are backing legal and cultural forces that make it not OK for me to be atheist. (Or, in some cases, Jewish.)

  • caryjamesbond

    And some evangelicals are backing legal and cultural forces that make it not OK for me to be atheist.

    Yup.  Which is a problem with those people, not with the act of attempted conversion.  The entire argument here is whether or not trying to convert someone is a bad, negating-them-as-a-human-being action. Some of the people trying to convert other are bad, yes. But so are some of the people selling insurance. That doesn’t make selling insurance wrong.  

  • Carstonio

     

    What you seem to be saying is that you’re concerned that people will
    escalate from non-problematic tactics to problematic tactics, and I’m
    not sure how that would work, legally.

    Sure, it sounds unworkable in practice. I’m just suggesting that it may be natural to be fearful when people want something from you, particularly if you’ve had negative experiences of that sort. Not a fear of kidnapping, obviously, but simply an nameless emotional association. Corporations that want your money wouldn’t necessarily be in the same category, because that’s a far more understandable desire.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Sure, he absolutely does not claim to be an expert on this stuff, nor that his positions are proven. But his claims are sufficiently strong–and sufficiently potentially hurtful–that I don’t think he’s in the clear just because he says “I suspect” and “arguably” and “it may be” a lot.

    Again, if what he actually said was just “Hey, not all abuse is created equal, and I think we overlook the harm due to religious indoctrination, which may be very severe, more research needed,” I’d have no problem.

    That is basically what he said.  I find it fascinating that he was incredibly clear on what he meant, but people still feel the need to twist themselves into pretzels to find ways to hate Dawkins.  (Cue 4,521st Elevatrogate discussion this month, to show that Richard Dawkins is The Worst Human Being on the Planet.)

    I’m also interested in your phrase “sufficiently potentially harmful.”  How so?  How is encouraging a discussion on different types of abuse harmful?

    You know, people made (and sometimes still make) a similar argument about other different kinds of abuse: “Emotional abuse?  Emotional???  How dare you say that saying mean things to someone is the same as hitting him, you monster!”

    This tends to happen when people try new ways of thinking about things.  But it’s not actually a bad thing by definition–even if it does come from The Worst Human Being on the Planet.

  • Andrew K

    Look, I despise Dawkins. He’s a bigot, a misogynist, a rape culture advocate, and he’s lived up his own ass so long he’s incapable of seeing anything but his own greatness. 

    I have not followed your entire conversation, but I just loved this. Very funny and sadly spot on.

  • Anton_Mates

     

    That is basically what he said.

     

    No, it’s not.  What he said–basically–was that sexual abuse often isn’t as bad as everybody thinks it is, and that belief in hell is more traumatic than “mild” sexual abuse that isn’t “violent, painful, repeated.”  And that the Catholic abuse victims who are bringing lawsuits actually suffered more from being brought up Catholic than from the sexual abuse, and are opportunists looking for “lucrative redress” by bringing up “long-forgotten wrongs,” and are complaining about the damage to their faith because they want the sympathy of the jury.

    And yes, he said that these claims were “arguable,” and only applied to “many” victims, and more research necessary, etc.  Somehow that doesn’t seem to me to make it alright.

    Oh, and, “Nobody thinks the physical injuries of sexual abuse could possibly last decades.”  Ahahahano.

    I find it fascinating that he was incredibly clear on what he meant, but people still feel the need to twist themselves into pretzels to find ways to hate Dawkins.

    Yes, yes, we all hate Dawkins, which is why we’ve been arguing that he’s not as bad as the leaders of the religious right for the last four pages of this thread.

    I’m also interested in your phrase “sufficiently potentially harmful.” How so?  How is encouraging a discussion on different types of abuse harmful?

    “Let’s have a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of various socioeconomic systems!  Arguably, black people are generally better off as slaves!  Further research needed!”

    Not all “discussions” are created equal.  When you open a discussion by throwing out hurtful and destructive claims with minimal evidence, and then fail to provide citations to the actual literature that bears on your topic (seriously, there are studies of the impact of non-violent sexual abuse), you belong on Fox.

    You know, people made (and sometimes still make) a similar argument about other different kinds of abuse: “Emotional abuse?  Emotional???  How dare you say that saying mean things to someone is the same as hitting him, you monster!”

    Yeah, and if someone replied, “Well, I was smacked around a little by my father and being beaten by your parents isn’t that bad.  I bet it’s usually better than having mean things said to you and we need to stop worrying about kids being beaten so much,” I’d be complaining about him too.

    If you want to raise awareness of Abuse Type X, put up all the data you can find about why Abuse Type X is prevalent and harmful.  Don’t start talking about how everyone worries about Abuse Type Y, but really it’s usually not as bad as Type X and people need to stop obsessing about it and invoking it to rake in the lawsuit winnings.  You can highlight one kind of abuse without trivializing another.

    This tends to happen when people try new ways of thinking about things.

    Trivializing sexual abuse is not a new way of thinking about things.  It is, in fact, very very old.  And it’s a hallowed tradition in the very church Dawkins is attacking.

    He did the same damn thing when he said that the “Jewish lobby” monopolizes US foreign policy.  If you tilt your head and squint you can sort of see the legitimate point he was trying to make, but the actual statement that came out of his mouth was flatly false, and perpetuated a very old and harmful slur that’s normally made by people he rightly despises.

    Look, Dawkins has done lots of good stuff.  He’s an incredibly effective public science educator (I tend to think he’s excessively adaptationist when he talks biology, but that pales next to the sheer number of people he’s gotten interested in the topic.)  He’s done lots to make atheists more visible, more outspoken, and better organized.  He’s on the right side of almost every church-state issue.  He does good charity work.  It’s just that he also periodically makes hurtful, overgeneralized, inflammatory claims on topics in which he has no expertise.  That doesn’t make him the Worst Human Being on the Planet, it just makes him significantly less helpful than he would be if he didn’t do it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If you want to raise awareness of Abuse Type X, put up all the data you can find about why Abuse Type X is prevalent and harmful.  Don’t start talking about how everyone worries about Abuse Type Y, but really it’s usually not as bad as Type X and people need to stop obsessing about it and invoking it to rake in the lawsuit winnings.  You can highlight one kind of abuse without trivializing another.

    I just wanted to highlight this because it’s true, easy to miss in the back-and-forth, and seemed worth emphasizing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    As far as “sexual abuse not being as bad as all that”, I offer hundreds, if not thousands, of Aboriginals who grew up in Canadian residential schools and the concomitant alcoholism and drug abuse that characterizes conditions on many Indian Reserves as a counterpoint.

    Granted, the remainder of the abuse also had to do with purposeful cultural and linguistic suppression, but put all of it together and it’s not at all trivial. (-_-)

  • Anton_Mates

    Granted, the remainder of the abuse also had to do with purposeful cultural and linguistic suppression, but put all of it together and it’s not at all trivial.

    Exactly–put all of it together.  Presumably, not all those types of abuse (and of course religious indoctrination was a big element in the cultural suppression part) were equal factors in causing that social damage.  But I don’t know which types of abuse were most destructive, and if I were going to speculate about that in my writings for the general public, I’d want to do some serious research first.  And if certain Aboriginal abuse survivors claim that the sexual element was the most destructive part for them, I’m going to let them be the judge of that unless I have very good reason to think I know better than they do.

  • ow lafaye

    apologetics:  The field of study concerned with the systematic defense of a position, or of religious or occult doctrines

    If it were right and glorious, no argument or explanation would be necessary.

    Religion is defending a small hillock of faith surrounded by a world of reality.

  • ow lafaye

    About Evangelicals and especially FunDummies:  When their eyes start to bug out, I usually back off, pat them on the head and make my exit.

  • ow lafaye

    You are a patient person if you can listen to that silly jesus story so often.  I have lost patience with the idiocy that is jesus along with the canned music in elevators…it is an endless tape.

  • ow lafaye

    Kudos to Guest…I moved to a remote small town mainly to get away from Xmas carols…only heard 2 this year!!

    My gate has many signs to warn you to KEEP OUT…Jehovah Witnesses top the list…But: all dogs welcome.

  • ow lafaye

    Yes, but you are willing to admit that you are or might be wrong.

    Evangelicals narrow heads have a mirror attached over both ears.

  • ow lafaye

    I like the JWs that can barely read.  My wife, a graduate of Prairie Bible Institute and now a raging atheist, chews up pastors, ministers and priests and spits them up on the compost heap.

    I am working on a device that will make her smoke out of the ears and off the top of her head for the next JW that comes by…laughter

  • ow lafaye

    How about talking culpability, coercion, aiding and abetting, universal Catholic guilt, why Catholic claims regarding child sexual abuse statistics, while equal to stats in other institutions, overlook the 0% abuse expected of a “moral” church organization?

    And thats just getting started.

    If you are out there defending the Catholic Church then you are probably getting punched in the face a lot.  Yes, yes, YOU are just as guilty and YOU deserve to be punched in the face.

    And then again:  See The EXIT???  A real person would skedaddle as fast as their little legs would take them.

  • ow lafaye

    Easter is when Jesus comes back…but remember, he will be in a white Cadillac convertible and if Elvis and Colonel Saunders are not with him then it isn’t Jesus.
    Watch the McDonald’s in your area, this is where they hang out (Jesus likes to piss off the colonel)

    Beware the faux Jesus

  • ow lafaye

    Guest said:  “The problem with Evangelising in a majority Christian culture seems to me to be that people already know the Christian message”

    Quite irritating and TRUE.  That endless tape regarding BeeJeebus is very annoying.  The most amazing thing is that non-believers know more about their religion than they do.


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