A couple of months ago, I came into two books by a minister that tickled me pink. I wanted to show you one of them today! In a lot of ways, this book reveals so much about Christianity. Come with me for a romp through Soul-Winning Made Easy!
(Quick Christianese lesson: soulwinning, or soul-winning as this guy writes it, means evangelism. The Christians who talk like this are usually evangelicals, but not always. They mean it literally like in a battle sense, like they are out there fighting for souls and winning or losing them like they’re captured flags or poker chips.)
Everybody, Meet C.S. Lovett.
C.S. Lovett was a prolific evangelical author, as well as the leader of his very own ministry, Personal Christianity (often he spells that ministry name with all capital letters). As you likely suspect, he was very much a basic evangelical. He died in 2012, after a career as a minister that began, as he tells it, in 1951.
His biography page reveals the usual stuff we expect out of Christian testimonies, including a near-brush with murder and a stint in street evangelism. “Street evangelism” means he bothered people going about their business, just in an urban setting.
The first book of his that I read was Help Lord… The Devil Wants Me Fat! It still stands as one of the weirdest Christian books I’ve ever read out of a veritable ocean of contenders. Lovett wrote himself a “weight-loss” program that unabashedly focuses on appearance and suggests an absolutely mind-boggling 10-day fast for everyone, including pregnant women, as a great way to conquer the demons of comfort-eating.
So when I caught today’s book for sale cheap, I leaped on it. And let me tell you: it doesn’t disappoint at all. If anything, it’s even weirder than a Christian suggesting extended fasting like WHOA as a handy-dandy weight-loss regimen.
Soul-Winning Made Easy.
C.S. Lovett wrote Soul-Winning Made Easy in 1959. Then he updated it in 1978, and then he did it again in 1981. I’ve got the 1981 edition. For the life of me, I can’t tell what he updated or changed.
At 144 pages of sparse text, diagrams, and illustrations, it’s a quick read. It’s also a surprising one at times.
See, in the 1950s and even in 1981, think about where American culture was with regard to this guy’s brand of evangelism-focused Christianity. How likely was this guy to run into people who weren’t Christians? Probably not very likely. In my own life, in the mid-1980s I’d never met someone I knew for sure was a non-Christian until college! If anything, a would-be evangelist would be encountering the wrong kind of Christians for the most part.
His evangelism, then, focused on people who probably had attended church before in their lives (or attended right then, even), or who had heard the basics about Christianity already. Maybe they even were Christians. But they weren’t his kind of Christian, and that was The Big Problem Here.
Like most would-be evangelists, Lovett’s book generally assumes that his techniques will work to convert people. He offers very few provisions for failure.
The Beginnings of the Trope.
More than that, even, we can see in his book the very beginnings of a style of evangelism that Christians seem curiously attached to even today: the fundagelical cattle-chute, also known as courtroom style. Lovett makes this comparison very directly, near the end of his book. He’s downright giddy in his schoolkid crush on courtroom dramas.
In this style, the Christian begins a decidedly one-sided conversation–or non-versation–with someone who may not even want to engage right then. The Christian feeds the other person questions, leading this victim down a very carefully-delineated path to a pre-decided ending. At the end, the Christian springs the final AHA! J’ACCUSE! statement.
Having successfully sprung the trap, the Christian at last invites the victim to convert. Since the victim has gone all this way more or less cooperatively, the Christian expects (or at least appears to suspect) to see the prospect start sobbing aloud the Sinner’s Prayer.
When that doesn’t happen, the soulwinner generally retreats, flinging threats of Hell and insults to cover their tracks. Once safely away, our brave widdle warrior rushes off to their friends (or social media) to complain about how this generation has truly fallen away–surely Jesus is coming back any day now!
Ray Comfort fans will also be thrilled to note that Lovett suggests asking victims that tiresome “Have you ever told a lie?” line of questioning. (Did anybody really think Ray Comfort was original enough to come up with that tactic on his own?)
A Twist on the Usual Suggestions.
Nowadays, most of these sorts of evangelism guides sound glaringly non-concrete. They offer nebulous suggestions that are next-to-impossible to visualize, much less to put into action.
For example, this large Bible study site offers a listicle about how to become a soulwinner. Not a single one of these items has any specific action suggestions–except for one example at the end that doesn’t sound terribly applicable! This large ministry site suffers the same shortcoming. Here’s a pastor who offers “7 Tips for Training a New Soulwinner” that doesn’t actually contain many concrete ideas; mostly he punts to two books that he thinks contain some good ideas.
And so on and so forth. I’m not cherry-picking. I literally couldn’t find a single online resource that provided concrete instructions to Christians desiring to win souls for Jesus! No wonder so few Christians even try to score any sales. Authoritarian followers, I’ve noticed, need very clear instructions and directions, especially about stuff that could end in their own rejection and embarrassment.
Well, you won’t find those problems in Lovett’s book. He takes readers by the hand through the entire cattle chute. Not one single step lacks concrete, easily-visualized, easily-practiced techniques. They don’t work, but you can’t say he wasn’t crystal-clear about them.
Speaking of which:
What really stood out in this book were the occasional flashes of honesty that show up sometimes.
For example, often through the book Lovett specifically mentions that yes, he’s teaching some hardcore psychological manipulation as evangelism techniques. But he’s happy and proud about doing so. He writes:
God has given us a superb tool in psychology. It plays an important part in soul-winning today. In the past, many were afraid of the term, thinking it was a science opposed to the Word of God, but now they know this is not so. (p 116)
Anybody else thinking of Winnowill in Elfquest? She justified her horrifyingly-evil actions very easily: “All forms of power should be at the disposal of the powerful.” For a totally-for-realsies god and a totally-for-realsies bunch of claims, Christians sure stoop to dishonesty a lot to get their way.
So as we proceed through his script, I’ll be mentioning those shady, sketchy tactics he suggests.
The Soulwinner’s Toolkit.
Of course, every soulwinner needs the right tools for the job! Lovett describes the ones needed in order for his plan to succeed:
- A small Bible that is not marked up–except for four
highlightedunderlined-in-red verses and tabs, OR his special booklet that already has the verses printed and ready-to-recite to prospects.
- Either a blank 3×5″ card tucked into the Bible/booklet so the soulwinner can write out the necessary diagrams, OR his specially-printed fake $5 printed cards. (It doesn’t look anything like a real $5 bill, so at least it’s got that going for it. The back side is printed with a Christmas-ribbon-and-bow image.)
- His specially-printed booklets to leave with the new convert after the soulwinning battle has been won.
A catalog at the back of the book provides ordering information for his products but no prices, so I have no idea how much this stuff cost in 1981 (or in 1959 for that matter).
Incidentally, if you feel a sudden urge to get right out there and SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY, you’ll need to scare up this stuff on your own. His site no longer offers any products for sale directly.
The Coveted Triple Facepalm.Oh! Almost forgot!
Last but not least, mentioned well after this official list of necessary tools, Lovett tells us that to get started, a soulwinner needs something that’ll provoke a prospect into breaking from the herd to initiate the confrontation.
The provocation can be anything–a weird pin worn on the jacket, a painting of Jesus in the foyer, whatever. Its sole function is getting the prospective victim to say something–anything–about it. So yes, this qualifies as one of those weird similarities between would-be evangelists and pickup artists who wear goofy hats.
Once a victim says anything whatsoever about the provocation, the non-versation can begin. The soulwinner proceeds with the assumption that the victim invited the forthcoming non-versation. In fact, the soulwinner need not worry further about gaining permission. So yes, this is another of those instances of willful ignorance about consent present in both would-be evangelists and pickup artists.
But these are both far from the very worst of those similarities.
The X-Ray Approach Technique.
I’ve read a lot of apologetics nonsense in my day. But I don’t think I’ve ever read an apologist who is as thoroughly delighted with himself as this guy is.
C.S. Lovett summarizes his technique thusly:
- Provoke a question or comment.
- Ask, “Are you interested in spiritual things?”
- Then, whatever the answer is, ask, “Have you ever thought of becoming a Christian?”
- And then, whatever the answer is, ask, “If someone were to ask you what a Christian is, what would you say?”
That’s it. That’s the X-Ray Approach Technique. The first two questions don’t matter in the least; the soulwinner is angling for the last step.
For that last step, Lovett devotes several pages to outlining how to needle and pester the prospect. If the prospect says “Well, a Christian does such-and-such,” then Lovett wants the soulwinner to say “Yes, yes, Christians DO that, but what IS a Christian?”
The only valid answer Lovett accepts is “A Christian is someone who has accepted Christ.” If the prospect cheated and knows the answer already, then at that point the soulwinner can ask if the prospect has done that. If so, then obviously the prospect is already soul-won and they can break to head for Luby’s Cafeteria for lunch.
The Goal of the X-Ray Approach Technique.
The goal of this strategy, Lovett tells us, is to “exhaust” the victim:
And most important, your prospect is exhausted. This will keep him silent as you present your plan. Psychologists agree that it is best to let people “run down” before attempting a presentation.
I have trouble even imagining a more frustrating experience than this. No matter what the victim says, the soulwinner accepts almost no answer as correct or ignores whatever answer is given.
(Incidentally, I decided to let Mr. Captain talk more at length on Saturday. I’m sorry if I disappoint anybody, but I laughed so hard I pulled something.)
Lovett takes for granted that the prospect won’t just tell the soulwinner to do something biologically impossible to himself and leave. At that point, he launches into his four pre-arranged Bible verses.
From here, the author takes a hard right into deeply-manipulative psychological territory. He provides illustrations for how exactly to stand and talk, when to lean forward or back, what hand gestures to make, and when to touch the prospect without permission.
Oh, wait, what?
DON’T Toucha Toucha Touch Me.
When Lovett’s soulwinner reads the Bible verse about Jesus standing at the door and knocking, Lovett says the soulwinner must physically tap male prospects right above their hearts, on their chests.
Reach with your finger and tap him firmly just above the heart. . . The Holy Spirit anoints that finger tap to make it the most dramatic event in the prospect’s life.
If the genders are mixed and it’s a man witnessing to a woman, he should touch her arm. Lovett assures readers that everything will be fine:
Ordinarily a man should not touch a woman, but the Holy Spirit will bless this action.
That’s a funny way to spell “unless he wants to get arrested or see bits of him bending in directions they’re not supposed to go.” He continues,
Physical contact is needed here, for it shifts the conversation from theory to reality. However, I will leave it for you to decide the appropriateness. Situations can vary.
The Threats Always Lurk Close By.
On p. 82, Lovett tells us how he’d respond to a fellow TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who objects that his strategy sounds “like a high pressure tactic.” Why yes, it is, he concedes. But that’s a good thing. I mean, look at Paul in the New Testament! Look at what this “loving” god did to Paul to force him to convert!
And here I thought the oncoming bus gambit was bad!
Some of us have had the shocking experience of having a Christian literally tell us they’re praying for something horrible to happen to us so we’ll convert. I’ve had that experience myself. It always reminds me to avoid like the plague any group containing large numbers of members who think that this sort of abusiveness is loving. Lovett sure hops on board that fail train:
I submit that while this method makes use of psychological pressure, it is administered gently and lovingly. If people resist this gentle approach God has other ways of reaching them… and they won’t like that pressure. When your critic understands that, you should get no more protest.
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to continue a conversation with an abusive prat either.
The Appeal for Soulwhingers.
I can see why Lovett’s approach has survived in various ways through the years. Christians’ sales techniques shifted just like common household recipes do over generations.
The parts that totally never worked–the specific instructions and action steps–melted away. They only added to the time and trouble involved in the process, much like how today’s quick soup recipes usually omit browning vegetables and meats first. Meanwhile, the essential steps–the trampling of boundaries, the desire to run down and exhaust prey, the sheer condescension–stayed, much like how those same soup recipes retain steps like bringing the liquid to a quick simmer before lowering the heat and covering the pot.
Today’s soulwinners don’t make a lot of sales. They don’t sound like they did even in Lovett’s day, but it’s hard to imagine any of the listicles and earnest exhortations from modern Christian leaders these days having any more success than Lovett’s acolytes would have had. In both cases, though, the evangelists accomplish a couple of things that mattered then–and matter even more now.
The Secret Game.
See, these Christians are playing a secret game, one whose rules they do not share with those they importune and inconvenience. It’s a secret game that’s been going on for a while.
First, soulwinners drill down more solidly on their own faith and beliefs. I’m sure a lot of ex-Christians could say, as I can, that as we got to the end of our own time as Christians, we hit our final form in chirpy obnoxiousness. As shaky and timid as a soulwinner might feel, that rush of adrenaline and whatnot probably feels a lot like a jolt of confidence straight from
Unca Jeebus’ loins no honey, I’m not writing that Jesus.
Christian leaders know very well that when laypeople perform evangelism, they often come out of the experience with stronger faith. That’s why they’re all over short-term mission trips, when they (and many others, like us) know perfectly well that these trips don’t accomplish any real good for the people in the host countries and communities.
Second, these evangelists establish the dominance of their own tribe over whatever tribe the prospect might belong to. And this, too, is important. A soulwinner can walk up to someone and start a conversation about religion without caring at all what the other person thinks about the idea. Lovett could even write a suggestion to touch a stranger without permission with perfect confidence.
I’ve seen a lot of Christians freaking out over the idea that they need to start caring about consent from their evangelism victims–yet again, we’re seeing a dominant group’s members losing their minds over having to follow the same rules that everyone else must follow. And I’ve seen a lot of Christians who used to deliberately ignore consent who now greatly regret that period of their lives, as this sweet-sounding lady does.
Fortunately for us, that game is rapidly coming to an end.
If evangelism really was anywhere near as easy as C.S. Lovett makes it sound, the religion would never have begun its decline. No, the real easy sale here is Christian books to Christian flocks who believe whatever patter Christian salespeople give them.
NEXT UP: C.S. Lovett clearly doesn’t realize it, but his whole book hangs on an evangelism victim not realizing that a secret game is in play. And I’ve noticed Christians today do this a lot as well! So join me–and Mr. Captain–next time, for fun, trash talk, possible martial arts descriptions, and dealing with pushy Christian salesbots. See you soon!
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