Something that has bothered me for some time, even when I was in that world, was the way we were taught to think about, and go about, sharing our faith with others. Our “witness” was more a strategy, a plan, a method, than it was anything about just “being” living, and walking through this life in love and service to others.
We’ve all encountered the faux niceness, smile, and eagerness of those who approach us to sell us something. We are used to it when out shopping. And, after all, people are just trying to make a living. The buyer and seller know what is going on. We have credit cards and they have things to sell us. They see us coming; we see them sizing us up. It’s all part of the game.
But what are we to make of this same mentality when it comes to “selling” the gospel to someone? I can hear the objection. “We are not selling anything, we are sharing our faith because we are told to and such is how people are saved.” It is too easy though to turn this around. We could easily have every advertiser, every salesperson, every company tell us they are not trying to “sell” us anything. They are simply sharing their faith in their product, what it has done for them and others, and how it can be our “savior” in this one instance and area too.
It’s hard to differentiate the two in practice. They look like the same thing. The difference though is one is done rather openly, or we are at least not shocked if we become aware of some stealth and deception. However, the other is done with stealth and deception, by design, in what was initially thought by us to be an authentic attempt to be-friend us.
What I mean is that most of us, in most casual social and non-programmed settings, try to be as honest, as open, and as transparent as possible when approaching or interacting with other people. We hope there is a space where neither is trying to manipulate, sell, influence, sway, persuade, teach, preach, or move the other in their direction. We want a space where each can just “be” and simply enjoy the interaction, the company of the other, in mutual respect and peace. There are no hidden agendas or expectations.
There can be no deception in those moments if we truly want to connect with someone beyond the superficial. The problem is that evangelism understood as a mandatory method of verbal presentation undercuts this notion of transparent honest interaction and being with someone. Whenever we see another person as an “opportunity” to tell them something we think they need to hear, we act deceptively if our “friendship” our kindness, our interest in them is only for that reason—a reason that is withheld from them initially.
I call this soft evangelism. Of course, there are harder, more open types. Going door to door. Handing out tracks. Street preaching. Billboards. In a way however, I find these methods more honest. It is clear what is happening. They have something they want to tell us. They are not telling us they want to know us, or be our friend, or help us outside this message (although maybe they do), they just need to tell us something. Once they have done that, their main purpose is accomplished. Have a nice day. At least there is no deception here as far as motives.
Soft evangelism, the type that feigns friendship, that is built entirely on the idea of an “end-game” of “sharing” the gospel- is deceptive. It sees people as, “opportunities” “goals” even if subliminally, or ways to help the sharer feel he is being obedient to Scripture. It becomes something we can scratch off our list, like prayer, Bible reading, or church attendance.
I realize evangelicals will object to my description. Their response might be: If we love people and don’t want them to go to hell, then we should tell them about Jesus, and we are commanded to do so in the Bible. My response: Then be open and honest about it. Tell people upfront that such is the main reason you are talking to them, made contact, approached, or want to get to know them.
In other words, tell them it was as if you were walking by their house and saw it was on fire. You ran in to tell them, so that they might be saved. You didn’t run in to become their friend, to help them with bills, with chores, or the loss of a loved one. It was really just about the fire. And tell them you are doing this because you are commanded to and if you don’t, you are being disobedient. Also tell them if they don’t respond, “correctly” before they die, to what you tell them about Jesus, they will spend eternity in hell.
At least it’s being honest. Now there is no need to become their friend or find out how we might really help in their life, their life in the here-and-now. There is no need now to make conversation, wherein we have to try and move the conversation in a spiritual direction. Our work is done, and both parties know where they stand with each other.
In my view, any attempt to be-friend, or interact with another person for any reason beyond their being another human worthy of our attention, respect, and love, is deceptive, no matter the supposed good intentions as to ends.
Approach and receive people out of an honest and open love, with no agenda or hidden motive. Anything else is unworthy of them, and the gospel.
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