NRA: How not to evangelize, Step 1

NRA: How not to evangelize, Step 1 June 29, 2016

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 340-350

Buck Williams stands in line with the nameless hoi polloi of New Hope Village Church, awaiting his turn to file past the casket during the viewing of Bruce Barnes’ body. This is a bit anticlimactic for Buck — who’s already spent time with the departed earlier during a private, inner-inner-circle Tribulation Force-only viewing — so he finds his mind wandering, pondering the meaning of his faith:

If there was one thing he had learned from Bruce, it was that the Christian life was a series of new beginnings. What had God done for him lately? What hadn’t he done for him? Buck only wished he would feel the same compulsion to renew his commitment to the service of Christ when God didn’t seem so close.

Here, then, we find Buck’s and Bruce’s and the authors’ formula for spiritual revival and refreshment: Regularly ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?” That will keep your mind focused on what’s most important: Maximizing what you’re personally getting out of this relationship.

Buck’s newfound “compulsion to renew his commitment to the service of Christ” comes at the end of a marathon Sunday service in which Rayford and Loretta and Tsion and many other nameless others repeatedly stressed that the main lesson they should take from the life of Bruce Barnes was that “winning people to Christ” must be Christians’ “main, whole, and only goal.”

Happily, then, Buck will have the chance to demonstrate his compulsion and commitment immediately after this final part of Bruce’s memorial. He’s meeting with an unsaved friend, Verna Zee. And he hopes to win her to Christ.

That’s the main point to keep in mind throughout the rest of this chapter: Buck is evangelizing here. He is trying to win Verna Zee for Christ, to save her soul, to invite or persuade or convince her to pray the sinner’s prayer and complete the transaction in which she accepts Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and savior.

It’s a little bit awkward that Buck is meeting Verna at the office where they both work and where he is her boss. That might not seem like the best setting, or dynamic, for proselytizing, so Buck decides to make things less awkward by bringing his wife along.

To Buck, it seemed Verna looked both surprised and disappointed to see Chloe hobbling in with him. …

When Buck agreed to this meeting, remember, he told Verna he would meet her at the office to set up an interview with Tsion Ben-Judah. He shows up without Tsion, but it doesn’t occur to him that this might be why Verna looks surprised and disappointed.

… Chloe must have noticed too. “Am I not welcome here?” she said.

“Of course,” Verna said. “If Buck needs someone to hold his hand.”

“Why would I need someone to hold my hand?”

Buck sounds defensive and petulant. I’m pretty sure Jerry Jenkins didn’t intend for us to think that, but I can’t see any other way of reading that line. And everything that follows in this chapter confirms that Buck is being snippy, hostile and petty. Again, this is how Buck approaches an attempt at evangelism.

They sat in a small conference room with Verna at the head of the table. She leaned back in her seat and steepled her fingers. “Buck, we both know I hold all the cards now, don’t we?”

“What happened to the new Verna?”

“There was no new Verna,” she said. “Just a slightly mellower version of the old Verna.”

Jenkins is trying his best to frame this whole conversation as some steely contest of nerves — a high-stakes negotiation and exercise in brinksmanship, with Buck and Verna staring one another down to see who blinks first. That’s probably not the best way to think about evangelism.

Verna, of course, isn’t yet aware of Buck’s evangelistic agenda here. She’s just trying to outmaneuver her boss who, inexplicably, seems determined to bury yet another story that she, as a reporter, desperately wants to publish for readers. Sure, she wants the Ben-Judah interview for herself, but her dispute with Buck here can’t be — as Jenkins tries to make it — about cut-throat professional ambition. Buck is not arguing that some other writer or reporter should get to do this story instead of Verna, but rather that their newsmagazine shouldn’t do such a story at all. And he never presents an argument to defend this.

Chloe tags in to strike Verna with the first blow of their evangelistic attack:

Chloe leaned forward. “Then nothing we’ve said, nothing you and I have talked about, nothing you’ve seen or heard or experienced at Loretta’s house or at the church has meant anything to you whatsoever?”

“Well, I have to admit I appreciate the new car. It is better than the one I had. Of course, that was only fair and the least Buck could do for me after ruining mine.”

She has a point. She let Buck borrow her car — the only thing she had left after her home and her city were destroyed — and he promptly wrecked the thing. So perhaps they’re not in a position to lecture her about ingratitude.

“So,” Chloe said, “your moments of vulnerability, your admitting that you have been jealous of Buck, and your realization that you had been inappropriate in how you’ve talked with him, that was all, what, made up?”

This is the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” strategy — not the Truman Capote story or the Audrey Hepburn movie, but that awful one-hit wonder Nice Guy anthem from the ’90s. The singer is politely, gently turned away by his would-be lover, but he refuses to accept this. He decides to turn her euphemism into an argument, then to win that argument and thereby compel her to stay with him. “We’ve got nothing in common,” she tells him, and he latches onto it like a prosecuting attorney at trial. “The Defense claims that we have nothing in common, but allow me to enter Exhibit A: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We both kind of liked it. So ha! Q.E.D. We do, in fact, have something in common. I demand a summary judgment in my favor and that this court prohibit her from breaking up with me!”

This is not how relationships work. Semantic technicalities and debate tactics can’t actually compel anyone to enter or to stay in a relationship with you. Nor are they meaningful or effective approaches to evangelism.

Buck and Chloe seem convinced that they can force Verna to accept their point of view by winning a debate. And since the stakes in this debate are eternal and infinite, they seem to think scorched-earth, anything-to-win debate tactics are appropriate. If they’re being aggressively hostile toward Verna, it’s only for her own good. Once they’ve beaten her down and humiliated her into surrender, she can be saved, so it will all be for the good.

The popularity of this evangelistic approach is undiminished by the fact that it has never, ever worked.

This approach to evangelism does not have a very effective track record.
This approach to evangelism does not have a very effective track record.

Verna attempts to appeal to Buck as a journalist. Unlike readers of these books, she doesn’t realize that’s doomed to fail. Verna isn’t aware of how many big stories Buck has spiked and buried over the past two years. She doesn’t know about his quid-pro-quo deal with Nicolae, burying the Stonagal story in exchange for a guarantee of safety. She doesn’t know about the way he de-emphasized the “prophecy” claims in his post-Event story so as not to make his readers take seriously the one explanation he knew to be true. And she doesn’t know about all the other things he has learned and prevented Global Weekly from reporting since then. So she simply doesn’t understand why he doesn’t see an interview with Tsion as news-worthy.

Buck never replies to this journalistic argument. The substance of that dispute gets downgraded, instead, to focus on a weird little power-struggle tangent in which Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye try to convince us that Chloe and Verna read the same terrible self-help/business books they do:

Verna stood. She put her hands on her hips and stared down at Buck and Chloe. “I’m really surprised at how petty this conversation has begun. We’re not talking about office politics here. We’re not talking about personality conflicts. …”

… “Why don’t you sit down, Verna?” Chloe said. “We all know the little negotiation hints from the books that teach you how to look out for number one. I can’t speak for Buck, but your trying to tower over me doesn’t intimidate me.”

“I’ll sit down, but only because I want to.”

I think we just got a little window into the relationship between our co-authors. I don’t doubt that they both read and devour the kind of business books that include this sort of “negotiation hints,” and since Jenkins is a good six or eight inches taller, this probably led to some contentious posturing as they jockeyed for alpha dominance.

Their point here doesn’t seem to be that approaching all of life like a salesman employing negotiation tactics is silly, but rather that we should all follow Chloe’s example and study these books carefully so that we can win against others who’ve been reading them.

That’s the meaning of that little scene: Chloe wins; Verna loses. All conversations are zero-sum games. Evangelism is a zero-sum game. And if you want to be a good evangelist, then you should prepare by studying “books that teach you how to look out for number one.”

 

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