We often assume that if we could only find the right way to reach those who are opposed to Christianity that we could win them over to the Gospel. S. M. Hutchens, writing in the Touchstone blog, says that many of these folks don’t lack knowledge of Christ. They are simply rejecting Him.
Good point. But then he says that such overt enemies of God should not be given the Gospel, that they cannot be evangelized.
I would say that we are all by nature enemies of God. And that, by the power of the Word, the Holy Spirit can bring even the worst enemy of God to salvation. (I am thinking of St. Paul, who called himself “the worst of sinners” and was an overt persecutor of the Church and of Christ.) Certainly, a person can’t be open to the Gospel without first being broken by the Law, which can happen in various ways. But that is part of the process of evangelism, and everyone needs to be evangelized. (We Lutherans believe in the universal atonement, that Christ died for everyone, so we cannot assume that any given person is one of the non-elect “reprobates.”)
But is there something in what Hutchens says? Even if those who are purposefully rejecting God should still be evangelized, do we need to approach them and the trouble they give Christians differently than if they were merely ignorant? Read his argument, excerpted and linked after the jump.
From S. M. Hutchens, Don’t Give Them the Gospel – Mere Comments:
One should not assume that the irrational hatred seen so much these days against Christians comes from an ignorance of God, but rather knowledge of him. Europe and North America are not new mission fields but more resemble burned-over districts to which Christ has been presented in nearly every way imaginable to people who in increasing numbers are turning against him. This does not mean there are not many to whom the good news in its purity still needs to be presented, for whom there is always a call to evangelistic work, but it would be a mistake to think that our culture has not been thoroughly evangelized, or that our main problem is ignorance of God rather than a rejected knowledge of him. . . .I have met those who feel that much of the fault here lies in the church not doing well enough–that only if we were more faithful witnesses, our society would turn to God. How can one deny that we are as individuals and churches called to ever-greater faithfulness? But this includes listening to the whole counsel of the Lord and not just confecting new crusades to evangelize the evangelized. It is time to emphasize two points of another side to all this–first, that the world is full of great and unmistakable signs of the faithful witness of the church and its members, to be seized upon, cherished, and entered into, if not in one form, then in another, in ways resonant to every personality and taste, among those who desire to believe. The Church has done extraordinarily well, but will only surrender its fruits to those who desire them.
Second, the success of the witness to God in Christ will not win–in fact, can only be expected to inflame–those who have set themselves against the truth, who seek to deny Christians life in any way they can, to those for whom the confession of Christ alone is enough to make their very existence intolerable to the rejected, for by admitting that association they bear witness to the judgment of God against his enemies.