What is the Point of Smashmouth Evangelism?

Via SCCL, I find a post by Mike Duran, an evangelical who approves of AiG’s Times Square signage and disapproves of the Christians who are apologizing for it:

[Chuck] McKnight might think the billboard campaign “does not reflect well on my Savior.” Problem is, Ken Ham doesn’t. And they purportedly serve the same Savior. As far as how this represents “Christianity as a whole,” I’m a part of that “whole” and I kind of like this approach.

Does Ken Ham and AiG reflect me and my beliefs? Sort of.* Is this ad a cheap shot at attention-getting? Absolutely! Are there better ways to engage atheists in dialog? Of course! But if part of that “dialog” includes billboards, soundbites, stickers, T-shirts, logos, and pop cultural trivialities, then by all means — engage!

I suppose the question is: what are you hoping to accomplish by your act of evangelism?

Most of the atheist evangelism that actually makes it to the billboards is pretty mild, “Don’t Believe in God? You’re Not Alone!” Most atheists believe, based on their own experience in the church and during deconversion, that there are a lot of people in the pews who do not accept the truth of their inherited religion. These people continue to be church members because that’s simply what you do, or because they don’t see any other option, or because their afraid of the stigma of being unchurched.

Much of this side-of-the-bus atheist evangelism is intended to encourage these folks to leave the church, where we believe they will be happier. It’s a simple statement, “Hey, we exist, we’re an option, we’re not something strange and foreign, we’re not evil, try us out.” Obviously this will also bolster our numbers and give us more social and political clout. It also helps reduce the “evil atheist” stigma that still hangs around us.

In contrast, what does the AiG sign accomplish? Even if the doom-sayers are right about the collapse of the evangelical mainstream, most Americans are Christians and are likely to remain so. Few would need their hand held in order to remain in the majority faith, and even fewer are likely to find support in this jab at atheists.

As for atheists, exactly what message will this impart to them? That Christians believe we’re wrong? Thanks, we got that. And AiG’s main function, endorsing young earth creationism, is essentially hitting us in our strength. AiG accepts the validity of science and evidence while trying to undermine the scientific consensus, but their arguments end up strengthening the scientific worldview.

So what is the point of “smashmouth evangelism”? My guess is that this type of engagement is really just about point scoring. If you can get in an atheist’s face and tell them they’re wrong, you’ve gained a point for your side over theirs. This kind of counting coup doesn’t actually change anybody’s mind, but it incrementally raises your status and the status of your side.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – and FSM knows we do it enough, particularly in the blogosphere. And I certainly understand the desire for a more forceful approach that doesn’t require constant apologies. But it seems misguided to call it evangelism.

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