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.

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  • Daughter

     It’s been a long time since I watched it (so I might not be retelling it 100% accurately), but this reminds me of the movie The Big Kahuna, in which three salesmen from the same company are on a business trip together. One of them, an evangelical Christian, is hoping for an opportunity to witness to his colleagues. His attempts to do so thoroughly alienate one of them, played by Kevin Spacey, who happens to be going through a lot of personal problems at the time. As the evangelical sits in confusion and frustration about his failure, the third colleague, played by Danny DeVito, pipes up. “You know,” he says, “if you really want to reach somebody, talk to him about his life. Ask him about his kids. And then listen.”

  • Carstonio

    While the tactic here is obviously more respectful, the agenda behind it is still disrespectful. The fundamental problem is the goal of wanting everyone to hold one’s religious beliefs. The assumption that whatever someone’s beliefs, they’re wrong if they’re not one’s own. (Anti-theists tend to have the same attitude.) In another thread I condemned Mother Theresa for believing she knew what was best for other people and seeking to help them on her terms, not on their own terms, and many arguments for evangelism seem to embody that belief to one degree or another. 

  • It impossible to help a large number of people on their own terms individually. It cannot be done. I’m not a huge Mother Teresa fan, but this is one area in which I will absolutely defend her. 

    I am also… bemused by the idea that it is wrong to try to persuade others to your way of thinking. I think it’s pretty disrespectful not to take into account that everyone has different opinions that are not set in stone. How could any kind of scholarship exist, how could we possibly move forward as a society, how could we even have conversations without trying to persuade people of things? It’s infantalizing to assume others will not be able to withstand the supposedly horrible onslaught of civil argument. Persuasion is the only way anything happens. Everything else is masturbation — pleasant, useful in its way, but not particularly fruitful.

  •  Back in the day, I used to watch Inside the Actor’s Studio a lot, and a pretty common exchange involved the interviewer asking “How important is listening?” and the interviewee replying that it was, of course, the most important thing. It became kind of a running joke for me.

    It was only years later, when I got into directing, that I actually appreciated the truth of it. When I’m actually paying attention it’s amazing how striking the difference is between someone who is actually listening, and someone who is merely pretending to listen.

    And the difference can be enormously powerful.

  • Foreigner

    Maybe we ought to be grateful that evangelism hasn’t quite yet descended into outright salesmanship. Buy one god, get two more for free.

  • Eamon Knight

    So what does Keeney recommend when the mark (say, an ex like me) replies, “Thanks, but I’ve heard this pitch before — in fact I’ve *given* this pitch before. Let me explain to you why it’s all bullshit….”?

  • Listening is also the best way to sell things. At least that’s what I’ve found, and when I want to be, I am really good at sales. “Welcome. How may I help you?” *listen* “I believe this product will work for you, because xyz.” *listen* “Oh, I see, then try this one. And [higher priced product/more products] might also be what you’re looking for, I recommend them. [Honesty is necessary here, do NOT recommend products of which you do not approve.]” *listen* “You’re welcome, and thank you for visiting us.” Never ever push — if they walk out without buying anything this time, no big deal. So long as their experience with you is positive and the store isn’t off-putting, they will come back. 

    You also must be honest. The customer knows you want to sell them things, and you know they know it. Trying to shield it in “all I care about is your happiness and literally nothing else, you are the center of my life, I will do ANYTHING for you” is just as manipulative as the hard sell, and just as off-putting. Anyone who’s ever been flirted with by someone whose goal is to get them to a church knows how gross this is.

    Hospitality is about pleasing the person you are being hospitable to and nothing else, getting your own happiness from theirs. That is not what evangelism is. Evangelism wants something from the evangelized. Evangelism is a type of sales — there’s no way around it. As with selling anything, you have a choice about whether to do it ethically, leaving everyone involved feeling fine, or unethically, leaving everyone involved feeling dirty and used.

  • Carstonio

    Huge difference between seeking to change someone’s opinions and seeking to change his or her religious beliefs. The latter are so fundamental to an individual’s identity that outside attempts to change them are almost like replacing the individual. And in the case of evangelizing toward an entire minority or an entire society of a different religion, too much like pressure to assimilate.

  • So often, the person trying to witness to me is only thinking of themselves; whether it’s a soul score-keeping thing, or just using me to shore up their doubts, it displays the opposite of what they are trying to convey.

  • Wingedwyrm

    To play the devil’s advocate, even with a sharing of stories, the stories do have their limits.  Every time someon “shares their gospel” with me*, I know three things.

    Thing 1.  Without any intent to decieve, the storyteller is exagurating the experience and zir certainty about the cause.  This is a natural aspect of any anecdotal data.  In trying to convince other people and in response to expectations built up of what our own experience should be, we tend to knock the certainty and the power up a notch, thus creating a grandeur inflation.

    Thing 2.  Again, without any intent to decieve, the storyteller is downplaying or leaving out aspects of zir experience that zie believes to have a negative response.  This will include people upon whom zie has turned zir back, actions that might be less than obviously good to all bystanders, and causes that just don’t track with normal morality.

    Thing 3.  That nearly the exact same story could have happened for nearly any religion.  The truth of the claim of which they’re trying to convince me (“Jesus is the arisen son of God” “Mohammed is His prophet” “suffering can be undone by policing oneself to happy thoughts and reading oneself for Thetans is the way to achieve this.”) is irrelevant to that which they tell me.

    So, my response to the sharing of a testimony is usually “Good for you”, largely because I’ve learned that the testimony sharing method (and this goes back to advocating for Leslie Keeney) doesn’t really care whether or not Christ died for our sins on the cross, washed our sins away, rose on the third day, is either the way or the light, or even existed in the first place.  Any response I have to the order of “Well, that’s a nice story and I’m glad you’re happier, but none of that actually indicates anything about God or Jesus,” gets, at most, another testimony of the same kind.

    All in all, I find testimonies of the like people are told to share to be a matter not of convincing people of the truth of a belief, but instead to convince people to believe regardless of the truth value.

    * I put this in quotes because sharing should be voluntary on both sides and me trying not to be rude for whatever reason is not the same thing as me opting in on this experience.  Sometimes I’m interested in which case it really is sharing, sometimes I’m not in which case I’m trying to be polite and they either don’t know or don’t care, sometimes I’m actually working in a customer service position in which case they have convinced me that they’re still as thoughtless and selfish as they always were.

  • The latter are so fundamental to an individual’s identity that outside
    attempts to change them are almost like replacing the individual

    Haha what.

    Religious opinion is like any other kind of opinion. Some people are open to changing theirs, some aren’t. The issue, both with religion and with anything else, is that if someone makes clear to you that they’re not on the market for a different opinion right now and yet you keep pushing, you’re being an asshole.

    If you listen to the other person and care about what they want/need, you’re at a much lower risk of offending them. If their religious opinion is indeed that central to their identity, then either you’ll respect that, or you’ll press the issue anyway, in which case the main problem is that you’re not listening to them and thus making clear that you care more about talking than about them.

    But this is the same line you have to tread with politics, dietary habits, or any number of other things that some people identify strongly with. In that sense, evangelicalism is no worse or better. You can discuss politics with someone on the opposite end of the spectrum civilly, or you can walk into a room and shout “BOY REPUBLICANS SURE ARE ASSHOLES!” The latter is a legitimate opinion (in my opinion ^_^), but it’s also an unproductive avenue of discussion if you’re interested in anything other than reinforcing your belief that Republicans sure are assholes.

  • vsm

    For Christians, trying to convince others to change their religious beliefs is actually part of their religion. By arguing against that, aren’t you seeking to change their religious beliefs?

    I do sympathize with you, though. I find the idea of trying to replace someone else’s worldview uncomfortable. Then again, people comfortable with theirs probably wouldn’t be very receptive to such attempts the first place.

  • Lori


    The latter are so fundamental to an individual’s identity that outside
    attempts to change them are almost like replacing the individual.   

    I find it confusing when people say this. Religious beliefs are foundational to the identity of some people, but I don’t think those people are the majority, let alone that this statement is true of people in general.

    Most people are simply whatever religion their parents are/were. A very high percentage of people I’ve known in my life can’t even make a start at giving an explanation for their beliefs that’s deeper than “Because”. A very high percentage of Christians I’ve known have clearly never read the book they claim to follow. And of course people do change their religious beliefs and doing so does not “replace” them.

    I fail to see how any of that adds up to “so fundamental to identity” . What I see is that part of the privilege granted to religion in our society is that we’re socialized to think religious beliefs are the one thing we’re not really allowed to question in polite company. As a result they make a handy catch-all for the stuff people don’t want or aren’t able to explain.

  • Carstonio

    The issue, both with religion and with anything else, is that if someone
    makes clear to you that they’re not on the market for a different
    opinion right now and yet you keep pushing, you’re being an asshole.

    You would have a point if we were talking about friends or relatives. My argument is about the deliberate targeting of acquaintances or strangers. That places the onus on the latter to say no. In the case of the missionaries story, these folks traveled thousands of miles uninvited to try to win converts, so it’s reasonable for the target societies to assume that the missionaries won’t be respectful.

    The mindset I’m describing is where a member of Religion A believes that all non-Aians should convert, no matter what the non-A religions are like or how the religions influence the behavior of their adherents.

  • Carstonio


    By arguing against that, aren’t you seeking to change their religious beliefs?

    I suppose I’m really seeking to change their beliefs about me, at least the generic me. What other people believe about themselves or their gods or their place in the universe is none of my business. That’s my attempt to show respect for their personal boundaries and their individual privacy. If they seek to convert me, they’re not showing the same respect.

  • Carstonio

    Valid point about privilege. I would say that religious doctrine shouldn’t be exempt from questioning in polite company, while acknowledging that the boundary between doctrine and individual belief may not often be clear.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t care if Christians try to convert people. Provided that every single person they attempt to convert is someone who has expressed interest in the possibility of converting.

    Most folks aren’t dissatisfied with their present religious beliefs and contemplating the possibility of new ones. And if the person this Christian wants to convert is a stranger, a casual acquaintance, or other personwho doesn’t talk religion with this Christian, then this Christian cannot know whether the person they want to convert is someone who might want to buy what they’re selling, and should therefore not attempt to sell to them.

  • I think too often evangelism is seen as “I’m right and other people are wrong and I have to change them by convincing them.” In reality, everybody is wrong about a lot of things. If I talk to someone coming from a different perspective than me, hopefully I’m going to learn something too. :) Of course I want to be able to tell them about Jesus and the gospel, if they haven’t heard, but I’m sure there’s a lot I can learn from them too.

  • The post of his own that Fred quotes makes very clear that it’s not something to be done to the unwilling, not something to be done to those with whom one does not already have a relationship which is based on a hell of a lot more than, “So I can evangelize them,” and something to be stopped the moment someone wants it to stop.

    Not when they say stop, if you’ve gone so far that they have to tell you to stop then of course stop but that means you’ve failed on so many counts I can’t begin to describe it without quoting the whole post but a key one would be paying attention to the person you’re talking with.  It should be clear long before they feel the need to speak out if they don’t want to be in the conversation.

    Fred’s idea of evangelism seems, to me, to have at its core the unstated belief that given a level playing field and sufficient transmission of information the truth will win out in the end.  So if Fred is wrong about his religious beliefs then the mutual sharing of stories with people of different beliefs will make him more likely to correct that wrongness, and if he is right then the sharing of stories will make more people more likely to be right, which means that whether he has The Truth or a pack of lies only good can come of the mutual sharing of stories provided that the participants are willing, honest, and each as open minded as they want the other party to be.

    All else being equal his “Let’s share our stories” approach (massive oversimplification) does make him as likely to convert as the person with whom he is sharing stories, but that seems more a feature than a bug.

  • Also, at its etymological roots evangelism is about spreading good news, not persuading people to believe it.  The center of the word is messenger, not salesman.

  • Tricksterson

    I’ll be frank the idea of talking to someone about their beliefs for the specific putpose of changing their beliefs is bizaare to me.  Even when I was an Objectivist I never did that specifically.  When I became friends with someone, politics and religion usually came up in the process and then, yeah, I’ll admit I tried to sell them on it.  Nowadays when I ask someone what they believe its because I’m genuinely curious about the subject.  Nowadays though I don’t believe in any one way to be “saved”.  I don’t even believe that’s possible because that would mean a single definition of it for everyone and I think everyone is saved or damned on their own terms.  Then while I learn about their beliefs I’ll share mine in a give and take.

  • Madhabmatics

    Even specifically in terms of religion, not everyone is in a faith that reflects their actual beliefs. If I know a dude who denies the trinity and I go “yo you believe in one God but don’t believe Jesus was god, have you considered unitarianism or islam or judaism or something like that” that’s pretty good, I appreciated it when people did the same thing with me.

  • Madhabmatics

    “Hey dude you believe that attachment causes suffering and that the existence of God doesn’t really matter and that we reincarnate, have you considered looking at buddhism instead of being miserable in a SBC congregation that thinks all those things are heathenous”

    “how dare you try to convert this man”

  • Hth

    The linked article was among the most depressing I’ve read lately.  “After all, if you’re just talking about life — well, it might seem to…to almost anyone that someone who’s just as happy with their religion as you are with yours might…kind of have a sort of point, which — we know isn’t…can’t be….  Well, the point is — this stuff is complicated!”

    I don’t know if it was that 2011 post or not, but somewhere Fred wrote something that I really like, which is that if witnessing is one starving person telling another where he found bread, then “thank you, but I’m not starving and don’t need any bread” is a perfectly reasonable answer — and “okay, here’s where to find us if you ever change your mind” is an equally reasonable response to that answer.   If only it went like that more often.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If the way that conversation starts is ‘dude’ expressing dissatisfaction with SBC for the reasons first speaker outlines, then second speaker is out of line. If ‘dude’ hasn’t said squat (and for first speaker to know all that, ‘dude’ has probably talked about it), then first speaker is out of line.

  • Guest

    The problem with Evangelising in a majority Christian culture seems to me to be that people already know the Christian message. It’s kind of hard not to if you live in a place that’s mostly Christian. It seeps in through osmosis. So, most of the time an evangelising Christian will be telling someone something they already know, and that’s quite an irritating thing to do.

  • Huge difference between seeking to change someone’s opinions and seeking to change his or her religious beliefs.

    Really? Why? What’s so special about religion? My opinions on any number of issues are very important to me. And if any of them are wrong, I want to know about it. Please, discuss ideas. And that includes religious ideas.


  •  The problem is that some Christians will tell that person “Hey, I KNOW your starving, let ME feed you.”. Somewhere along the way we’ve taken on the opinion that WE are the  ONLY ones that can impart salvation. Boy, do we have THAT wrong!

  • ReverendRef

    This is one reason I’m glad I’m a priest.  I am the world’s WORST salesman — “You looking to buy something?  No?  Okay, have a nice day.”

    Not that I’ve ever seen evangelism as a sales pitch, but it does entail talking to people, and that’s a hard thing to do for this introvert.

    However, when I walk into a place wearing my collar, I never have to start a discussion about religion or faith.  Other people will start that conversation, or they’ll wonder if it’s legal for me to have a beer.  And if they don’t want to talk religion or faith, I’m more than happy to talk football.

  • How do you think the doctrine of the Trinity came about?

    (Joking, joking, fairly orthodox Episcopalian here, no offense intended, etc.)

  • Launcifer

    I confess that I don’t really get this. I figure Yes is the answer and I get this. I guess I’m going wrong somewhere down the way, if only because nobody from that side of the argument could be soeaking in favour of something to which I’d willingly listen even on pain of eternal rebirth.

  • Launcifer

    Aaand I’ve done it again. Although the video wasn’t anything particularly informative, I’m a mite sick of screwing up the formatting every time I go anywhere near a keyboard.

  • Many, many years ago, I realized that if I wanted people to listen to my witness and take it seriously, I would have to be willing to return the favor. No more starting from the assumption that what I was being told was untrue or misperceived. No more assuming that the person talking with me was trying to peddle something. Just listen to what they had to say and try to take it at face value just like I would like someone to do for me. What happened, of course, was that I was forced to wrestle with my assumptions and even re-think my ideas about people and how life worked. Too much reality does that to us. But now when it is my turn and I have something to say – it might even make sense or be worth listening to because it is grounded in reality rather than wrong-headed assumptions and presumption.

  • Tricksterson

    Unfortunately too many evangelicals really do operate under the assumption that if you’re not one of them it’s because you have no knowledge of Christianity.  Jack Chick is an extreme example but not as much as you might think.

  • The problem with Evangelising in a majority Christian culture seems to me to be that people already know the Christian message.

    For the most part that’s true, but I’ve been surprised recently to learn that some of my friends really haven’t heard the stuff that most Christians think of as the gospel.  What they’ve learned of Christianity in America seems to involve avoiding unapproved sex, denying scientific consensus about things like the age of the earth and global warming, and trying to prepare for the end of the world.  Not surprisingly, they’re not convinced that they want anything to do with this religion.

  • For some reason, the sentence that bothers me most from the essay Fred linked to is this:  Lives can be changed by any number of things, including anti-depressants, hypnosis, twelve-step programs, and what’s traditionally been called “brain-washing.”

    “Traditionally” called “brain-washing”?  Seriously?  A term that was first used around 1950 is considered traditional now?  I hope the author doesn’t object to the term “Happy Holidays,” because Irving Berlin wrote a song with that title in 1942!

    Of course the author could be a hipster using the term “traditionally” ironically.  In that case, I still hope they don’t object to the term “Happy Holidays,” because you can’t object to “Happy Holidays” without being ridiculous.

  • banancat

    In a way, it’s actually good to tell evangelists that their personal stories won’t effectively convert people.  They really shouldn’t be evangelizing in the first place, but a lot of people do and they’ve been fed a lie that their Truth is so amazing that everyone will be easily swayed. 

    I used to live in an area with too many churches and not enough butts to fill the pews (and therefore not enough money to line the collection plates).  So I got door-to-door evangelists even from denominations that don’t usually do that sort of thing.  And there was one poor boy, probably still a teenager, who just got so flustered when I started asking questions that he had no idea how to answer.  I asked him about his church’s beliefs on evolution and masturbation and he didn’t even know the standard party line tropes to bring out.  I’m fairly certain he was guilted into evangelizing in the first place and I can only hope that he sought answers to those questions and learned that his church wasn’t always right.

    But so many of these evangelizers came to my door with nothing but a personal story and the strong belief that it’s impossible to hear The Truth and not believe.  And they all left frustrated.  I suppose it wouldn’t have been much better for them to come equiped with cliched talking points but at least I might not have felt outright pity for them and it may have served as a starting point for a meaningful conversation.

  • stardreamer42

     Absolutely. My most immediate response to being asked, “Have you heard the GOOD NEWS?” (or any variant thereof) is, “Are you kidding me? How could I NOT, living in a society drenched in Christian privilege?”

  • stardreamer42

    I am convinced that the single most toxic meme-combination in the world is the set of One True Way and Proselytization. It’s astounding to consider how many of the world’s ills trace back to that combination. 

    On a different tangent, people who like to “tell their stories” should be very careful of one particular verbal tic — overuse of the word “share”. I used to have a co-worker who was unable to answer even the simplest question without starting out, “Let me share something with you about that…” and it was blindingly obvious that this habit came out of his religious community. The only reason that I never actually allowed the sentence, “You don’t need to share it, just TELL me,” out of my mouth was that he wasn’t a co-worker for very long.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Agreed. Around 2/3 of Australians are nominally Christian, and I’ve had quite a few experiences where a colleague/acquaintance has straight-up asked me “what’s [basic Christian idea X] about?” Often near Easter.

    @Carstonio:disqus — do you think religious views are such a fundamental part of a person that changing them would replace the individual if said views are “meh”. Because the most common religious view I come across in my peers is that religion is something they hardly ever think about one way or the other.

    I agree with the others who’ve said that religion can’t be singled out from other aspects of your individuality like you suggest. Heck, I’m religious but what you’d call my political views are just as intrinsic to my personality as my more traditionally religious views.

  • Naymlap

    I was on a plane to South America in August when I chatted up the person next to me.  She was a Baptist and on her way to a mission trip.  I told her I was Catholic.  So she tried to make a pitch at me.  And I told her, “no thanks, I’m good.”  We argued about whether or not I truly got the Word of God.  And I pointedly said, I believe that Jesus is our savior.  And she said, right, but…
    I never got people evangelizing to Catholics, but it works out because it gets people who are not doing alright (alcoholics, drug addicts, wife beaters) to turn their lives around and be decent human beings.  I mean, out reach to the people that need help is good.  And anyone willing to go to the worst parts of the world and help people both physically and spiritually deserve recognition, but this woman didn’t seem to get it and it really irritated me.

  • Leslie Keeney

    I have to admit that I’ve never been as totally smacked down
    as in this post. It’s been a huge learning experience for me—and I welcome any
    learning experience. I decided that the respectful thing to do was to respond
    on this blog first rather than to write a rebuttal post on mine.


    First of all, let me say that I went back to read your post
    “Use Words if Necessary” from 2011 and I agree with pretty much all of it.
    (more on that later) The point of MY post was never that we should not use our stories
    (I think I say that stories are a good place to start and that, as humans, we
    are natural story-tellers), but that if we do nothing but tell our stories, we
    are not addressing the underlying issue, which is whether there is one absolute
    truth that corresponds with reality.


    My primary point was that if Christians assume that all they
    need to do is to tell their story and people will believe in Christ—and that
    they don’t need to know the logical and historical support for Christianity—then
    they are implicitly agreeing that there is no one absolute truth that
    corresponds with reality. I happen to have a philosophical commitment to the
    idea that there is one truth that corresponds with reality, but I can see how
    this approach would be problematic for someone who doesn’t.


    If this was not the primary idea that came across, then it
    was a badly written post, for which I apologize.


    I would also like to return to the ideas from your 2011
    post. I agree with every single of the five headings. For the record, I have
    never walked up to a stranger and started talking about Jesus (I’m way too much
    of an introvert to do that) and have written several posts in which I suggest
    that no one can be “argued” into the kingdom of God and that apologetics is as
    much a matter of heart and imagination as it is of intellect. I’m not even
    particularly good at talking to my Buddhist, Wiccan, and agnostic friends (yes,
    I have them) about Jesus unless they ask. I’m also fascinated by what they
    believe often ask them about it (if it comes up naturally in conversation).


    Thanks for opportunity for letting me respond to your post. 

  • Carstonio

    Well, sure, there are many people who don’t think much about religion. With a stranger or an acquaintance, the evangelist cannot really know if this is the case. The person’s stance on religion isn’t the evangelist’s business no matter what the evangelist’s religion teaches. There are basic principles of privacy and personal boundaries that supersede any particular doctrine. The prudent course is to assume that the person wants to be left alone unless zie has said otherwise.

  • Carstonio

    Religious ideas in the abstract, yes. What those ideas mean for a particular believer’s life, that’s not something that one should inquire about uninvited.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    The thing is, you’re not putting yourself in the evangelists’ shoes. If you think there is no consequence whatsoever to a person’s beliefs, of course you would say that it’s none of your own business and that personal boundaries supercede doctrine. But we’re talking about people who believe that someone’s religious views are of great, even eternal, consequence. From their point of view your isolationist position could be seen as cruelly indifferent.

    The question of effectiveness is still completely valid when looking at things from the evangelists’ point of view. But that’s a different issue to whether evangelism is intrinsically wrong.

    I’m not a member of a classically evangelical denomination, so I have no personal dog in this fight. But your statements here fit in with a lot of other comments you make that suggest your moral worldview is one of extreme isolationist individualism. I lean towards the communitarian, so we’re going to have a hard time seeing eye to eye on anything much, I suspect.

  • Carstonio

    Cruelly indifferent to them? As if it weren’t cruel for some religious doctrines to threaten people with eternal suffering if they have the “wrong” religious beliefs. I doubt that the beliefs you describe are held by any more than a tiny minority of Christians. In my experience, most Christians either don’t believe in eternal suffering for non-Christians, or act like they don’t believe in it. 

    The latter exemplify the point that Fred was making about James Dobson. One would think that the hellfire and damnation folks would be clustering at synagogues and mosques and temples, begging people in tears to convert before it’s too late. No, their rhetoric is generally a more articulate version of Nelson’s mocking”Ha Ha” from the Simpsons, amounting to “Aw, you’re gonna be in so much trouble!” 

    If one wants others to accept as fact that their fates after death depend on their stance on the mortality or divinity of Jesus, it would seem reasonable for others to ask for evidence that souls or afterlives even exist.

  • Carstonio

    Also, my moral worldview is more consequentialist than anything else, aiming to balance the rights of the individual with the interests of society. As a general principle, one should condemn an individual’s behavior only when that behavior harms others, and that one should refrain from deciding what’s best for others. The converse of this is the communitarianism that you mentioned – I’m a strong proponent of single-payer health care because individuals in a society have a responsibility to contribute toward a common good. That’s a case where individual action, such as refusing to share in the community’s cost of health care, does affect others. It should be possible to be against paternalism without also being against communitarianism.

  • banancat

    But does converting actually help those people who are not doing alright?  There are tons and tons of religious people who are still wife beaters, and AA doesn’t have a very high success rate in spite of being overtly religious.  This myth of finding Jesus and turning your life around is really harmful, especially when it doesn’t work.  You won’t believe how many times I’ve seen abusers get away with terrible things because their church rushes to defend them, saying they’re good, God-fearing guys who could never do such a thing.

    Alcohol and drug abuse are serious problems and religion isn’t the answer to help people suffering from these things.  Maybe if we stopped perpetuating the myth that it’s all about will-power then people could get the treatment they need.

    As for abuse, that’s a completely different story than addiction.  Religion still isn’t the answer.

    Yes, plenty of evangelicals prey on these people and take advantage of them while they’re struggling.  And that itself is a sign of abuse.

  • Speaking as one of the “nones” (I identify with no spiritual/philosophical label, atheist, Christian, or otherwise), I find the goal to convert others to be incredibly off-putting. When I discover that a friend’s goal is to convert me to their religion (or religion-related philosophy), inevitably, that friendship winds up being damaged. My sense of spirituality and the universe are a deep part of me, inseparable from the core of my being. The goal to convert me to your way of being sends a rather strong message: you are telling me that my way of seeing and experiencing the world, myself, and those around me is fundamentally flawed and you think that I need to be more like you. Regardless of how gentle you are, the message you send is both offensive and arrogant. Once this message is sent, you will loose a part of my trust and recovering from that loss of trust takes a long time.

    Furthermore, I live in a country (the US) where Christianity enjoys a cultural hegemony over all other faiths and philosophies. That hegemony extends to politics, movies, newspapers, schools, holidays, and on and on. Christians have had their world view privileged above all others. I’ve had that hegemony and privilege foisted upon me for most of my life and I’m tired of it. I’ve encountered far too many Christians who think their way of being is the only correct way of being and that those who do not follow this way of being are somehow deficient or defective.
    Consequently, I find an attempt to convert not only to be insulting but also to be an abuse of cultural power. I am reminded of the reflexive, mindless conformity that so much of US culture tries to impose upon minorities who live within its boarders and upon countries with far less power. The attitude which underlies such actions reeks of cultural imperialism and conformist abuse.

    When you are a member of the dominant religion in a society, you don’t need to personally advertise your religion. It’s already all over the place and it has been a part of European colonialism and imperialism for centuries. Christianity hasn’t been a minority faith for ages. It has marched across the globe hand in hand with empire since the Romans ruled.  Conversion by sword and unrelenting social pressure has been a standard feature of Christianity for a long, long time.

    Ironically, I see the same flawed attitudes ported into the perspectives of New Atheists, the majority of whom are former Christians and reside in European-founded western nations. The belief of “I’m better than you and you need to convert to my beliefs” is as rife within the New Atheist movement as it is in Christianity. I see the negative aspects of New Atheism as a reflection of the negative aspects of Christianity. Letting go of power and cultural hegemony is a hard thing to do, regardless of whether you are a Christian or an ex-Christian. Power is sweet and wondrous and serves as the world’s greatest intoxicant. Christians collectively get their fix daily and anti-theist New Atheists wish for the intoxicating rush of power that Christians now enjoy. Anti-theism aspires to achieving cultural dominance and Christianity aspires to maintaining cultural dominance. Both play games of power and superiority.

    So, that’s my 2¢ on the matter.  If you are Christian, atheist, or embrace some other belief system, don’t bother with me unless you want to annoy the heck out of me.  I’m not interested in converting to your “morally beneficial” way of being and I’m likely to respond in a rather negative way (just as I have in this thread).

  • But does converting actually help those people who are not doing alright? 

    Why assume that’s the point?  Plenty of evangelizing Christians just do it because it’s what the religion instructs, not because they want to make anyone’s life better.

    Take the Left Behind books.  Many times some Tribber will get a new notch on his belt, and the new convert will ask, “So, what do I do now?”  The answer is always, “Tell somebody.”  The pyramid scheme starts immediately.

    I once reviewed a Christian movie where two teenage boys are talking about Christianity: Keith tells Frank that he just became a Christian one month ago (Keith is lying, but that doesn’t matter for this point).  Frank immediately asks if Keith has starting evangelizing.  Because it doesn’t matter how the decision has changed Keith’s life, it only matters how quickly Keith can pass along the story.