Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts

02 September 2020

Witnesses and testimony. And us.

1 John 1.1-4 KJV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

John and the other apostles knew Jesus. Knew him personally; saw him with their eyes, touched him with their hands. He taught ’em bible. More importantly he taught ’em what he meant when he got the prophets to write it.

These experiences with Jesus became their testimony. And yeah, Christians tend to treat this word like it has a special religious Christianese meaning. No it doesn’t. It means the same thing as it does in a deposition or a courtroom: We saw stuff, or we know stuff—we really know stuff, and aren’t just repeating what was told us, ’cause that’s hearsay. We’re a witness to the things we know. And we’re sharing what we know.

Every Christian has a testimony, ’cause every Christian has interacted with God to a certain degree. Many of us have full-on God-experiences. Some of us have even seen Jesus, ’cause he still appears to people. Far more of us have heard God speak back to us in our prayers, had those prayers obviously answered, seen miracles… you know, other God-experiences which are a little more mundane than any special-effects light-show. We witnessed these things. We know what we saw. So that’s our testimony.

Those Christians who claim “witness” and “testimony” mean something different: It’s because they haven’t actually witnessed anything.

Usually because they’re mixed up in cessationist churches, or their favorite preachers likewise believe God stopped doing that sort of thing back in bible times. So even when they do see God actively working in the world, their churches and preachers tell them to ignore those things. Disregard ’em. Don’t share them. Because those other Christians don’t believe in those things, and insist they’re tricks of the devil—even when there’s no reason whatsoever for the devil to trick people into glorifying God.

So for cessationists, their only “testimony” is that once upon a time they said the sinner’s prayer. And ever since, their lives have been good; or at least they feel content about things. (Or they’ve learned to feel content, because they’re successfully suppressing all their angst.) Their “witness” is that story of how they said the sinner’s prayer, and their absolute certainty they’re now going to heaven.

Is that what the apostles meant when they used the word μαρτύριον/martýrion in the bible? Not even close. They saw stuff. And yeah, not everyone believed it, and mocked it, and thought they were nuts. Ac 26.24 So what? Plenty realized these guys were on the level, turned to Jesus… and eventually had their own testimonies of what the risen, living Lord had done in their own lives.

Well, you’re expected to be a witness of Christ Jesus too. You need some testimonies to share of what he’s done in your life. I expect you have some already. If not… start getting some!

01 September 2020

Christian apologetics: Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t!)

APOLOGY e'pa.le.dzi noun. Justification for one’s behavior, theory, or religious belief; usually in form of a logical argument.
[Apologetic'dzet.ik adjective, apologist e'pa.le.dzist noun.]
APOLOGETICS'dzet.iks noun. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

Years ago a pastor introduced me to a visitor to our church thisaway: “He knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him.

’Cause at the time this pastor didn’t really recognize much of a difference between theology and apologetics. In fact a lot of Christians don’t. Theology is what we know about God. Apologetics tends to be based on those beliefs, and regularly argues in favor of them. But ’tain’t the same thing.

Yeah I actually do know a lot about Christian apologetics. Before I studied theology, it’s what my church taught me. Started in high school. My youth pastor (same as a lot of undereducated youth pastors whose job is to babysit the teens, not actually pastor us), wasn’t all that solid in theology anyway. But his youth pastor taught him Christian apologetics, and in college he got into apologetics-heavy ministries. So he taught what he knew. And it turns out lots of youth groups get taught apologetics instead of theology. ’Cause kids already wanna argue and debate… so why not lean into it?

So I learned all the standard arguments in favor of Christ and the bible. And now I can fight anybody!

Let me emphasize that word again: FIGHT.

If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you full permission to indulge. It’s why the practice is so very popular. Apologists even claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re battling false beliefs! They’re striking down lies and half-truths and misrepresentations and faulty logic! They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they’re totally contending. With other people.

St. Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. But that passage about God’s armor is about fighting the forces which lead us to sin. Not fighting other people. Not fighting nontheists and antichrists who have no intention whatsoever of turning to Jesus. Jesus himself told his students to shake the dust off their feet at such people and move on. But Christian apologists don’t obey Jesus: They just keep fighting, and claim maybe some of this arguing is “planting seeds.”

Fighting, argumentativeness, making enemies, quarrels, and factions are works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 Christians should know this already, and back away from any form of Christian apologetics which descends into verbal brawls. But too many Christian apologists do no such thing. They figure the ends—y’might win someone for Christ!—justify their fruitless means.

Hence Christian apologetics is a field that’s full of abuse. Too many apologists can’t keep their emotions and temper in check. Too many of ’em love to belittle their opponents, mock their intelligence, tear ’em down, or call ’em evil and devilish instead of just mistaken or misguided. Too many of ’em love to win a debate—so much so, they’ll ditch the logic they claim to uphold if it’ll make ’em feel they’ve scored a point. Too many of ’em will even claim things that simply aren’t so, or use false testimonies, false information, and bear false witness, just to win.

There’s a lot of unchristlike behavior in Christian apologetics. It’s why I gotta warn you away from getting mixed up in it. It’s produced way too many Christian jerks. Don’t become another one!

We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact engaging in such behavior alienates the people we fight. It makes enemies. Makes ’em more bitter and resentful, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So no, I’m not into apologetics. I’m into theology. I stick to what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, and the importance of being fruity like Jesus wants. And then I take questions.

I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go slap down some naysayers.

11 March 2020

Looking for God. But not 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦.

Some years ago I was listening to a radio host talk about his doubts. He used to be a pastor, but more recently he’d come to doubt God even exists. Mainly—and understandably!—because of his utter lack of God-experiences. If God exists, shouldn’t his kids have God-experiences?

And he’s absolutely right. We should! But he hadn’t. More accurately, he’s entirely sure he hadn’t; whatever he’d seen thus far, hadn’t convinced him. He’d been Christian for years, yet was pretty sure he’d never heard God’s voice, never seen a legitimate miracle, never had any supernatural event in his life. And, he claimed, he wants these experiences, but thus far, nada.

It was a call-in type of show, so a caller responded, “What about the Pentecostals? They claim they have God-experiences all the time. Why not go there and see what happens?”

Oh no,” said the host. “I’m not going there. I don’t wanna get into that whole scene.”

Lemme pause a moment and make clear: I’m Pentecostal, but no I’m not trying to rope you into visiting a Pentecostal church. Or visiting any particular church. You can experience God anywhere.

My point is how the radio host’s knee-jerk reaction was, “I’m not going there.” He claims he wants a God-experience; this caller said, “Here’s a place where Christians have God-experiences on the regular,” and the host’s reply was, “No, not there.” It’s about when people don‘t actually want God that badly.

There are pop songs where the singer claims he’d do all sorts of crazy things of his beloved. (Bruno Mars’s “Grenade” comes to mind…although it sounds less like risking his life for her, and more like violently killing himself over her. But enough about problematic pop songs.) Singers are willing to climb high mountains, swim deep seas, cross dry deserts, and battle legions of horny suitors for their beloved. But what’ll Christians do for salvation? Anything!… well, anything but go to that church.

Anything but go outside our comfort zones.

For pagans, that’d be us Christians.

I’ve met various pagans who were curious about God, although some admit they aren’t looking all that hard for him. Others claim they’re very interested, and are learning whatever they can about him. Others don’t care at all. It’s a spectrum.

I ask the curious and the interested whether they’ve ever had an actual God-experience. Some of ’em claim they have, and point to some profound “spiritual experience.” (Turns out nearly all of them are emotional experiences, ’cause they don’t know the difference between spiritual and emotional. But that was not the time for me to nitpick.) Others say, “No; I’m not even sure God does that sort of thing.”

“He does,” I tell them. “I go someplace where he shows up regularly.”

“You mean a church,” they respond, suspiciously.

“That too,” I say.

Nah. They’ll pass. Not interested. Because they don’t wanna go to church. They don’t want anything to do with religion. They like God, and might even want God… but they really don’t wanna deal with Christians, our institutions, and our expectations.

Sometimes for legitimate reasons; we’ve been awful. Sometimes not; they were told we’re awful… and it’s not like there’s no truth to those rumors. I grew up Christian, so I’ve seen firsthand how awful we can be. And of course I’m gonna insist we’re not all that way, and that’s gonna fall on deaf ears when a pagan is wholly prejudiced against Christians. They need to see we’re not that way, and that’s gonna take time, and a lot of active love on our part. But back to my point.

Christians, and our churches, make people uncomfortable. And if you can’t fathom this, imagine you’re them. Imagine you have questions about God. Imagine there’s this friendly weirdo you know; might be a coworker, or might be some stranger you met in a coffeehouse, and she claims she can get you all the God-answers you want, and all you gotta do is visit her cult. And no, the people there aren’t mean or controlling at all; they don’t want your money; they’re the nicest folks you’d ever meet! Wanna go check it out?

Swap “cult” for anything which pokes you in your own prejudices: Mosque. Ashram. Coven. Strip club. Maybe then you’ll realize that’s why it’s so hard to get ’em to visit. We’re not part of their comfort zone. Not in the slightest.

We need to bear this in mind when we invite pagans to our churches. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s like pulling teeth… well, there y’are.

This doesn’t stop once we’re Christian.

Once we’re in—once we’ve met Jesus, decided he’s Lord, joined a church, and started following him—we often find ourselves in whole new places where we claim we wanna follow God… but we just won’t follow him there. Plenty of people tell God, “This far; no further.”

And just as in evangelism, quite often the Holy Spirit honors our lines in the sand. Problem is, sometimes he doesn’t have a plan B. There’s only one route he intends to take us, and if we tell him no, he’s not taking us an alternate route; he’s gonna sit there and wait for us to step over that stumbling block. If we refuse… well, we’ve come to a dead stop. We stop. So he stops.

I remind Christians of this, and for some reason this surprises them. What’d they think “Stop” meant? “Stop and go another direction”? Often yeah, that’s what we naïvely thought. But all these other directions are merely side trips. Inevitably we come right back to the original stumbling block.

“Stop just this one thing”? For God, our entire lives are holistic. He’s Lord of all, not Lord over just the religious parts. He doesn’t make exceptions for just this one thing. We may only want him to be Lord over spiritual things, like the happy thoughts we have when we sing worship songs, and the sense of self-fulfillment we get from agreeing with Christian memes. But God refuses to be Lord over only a segment of us… especially such an insignificant segment. He must be rule all, or nothing. If that means our happy thoughts are on their own, so be it.

Every real relationship, especially close ones, pushes us out of our comfort zones. Couples gotta learn how to put up with one another’s quirks and irritating habits. Sometimes they gotta drag one another away from their respective comfort zones, and ask, “Do this one thing, just for me.” Sometimes they gotta ride out a crisis together. Sometimes—God forbid, but sometimes—they gotta go through trauma, and learn to support one another instead of pushing one another away… and not all of ’em successfully do.

I’m not saying they need to seek suffering in order to forcibly (and artificially) strengthen their relationships: Unlike God, they can rarely control the outcome. Trials will come on their own. But when they do, “This far; no further” won’t just put your relationship in a holding pattern while your partner tries to figure out a different direction. In nearly every relationship, “No further” kills the relationship. You’re done.

Thankfully God isn’t like that! He’s not abandoning us when we balk. He’s kinder than that. But in any other relationship, “no further” is a deal-breaker. God, in comparison, patiently waits us out. He’s always willing to pick up where we left off, once we repent. But we still gotta follow the Spirit over that stumbling block: When he tells us, “Do this one thing, just for me,” it really does need to be done. For our sake. That’s why God brought us there to begin with.

So when we have doubts, and God says, “Do this, and it’ll help you deal with them,” and our response is, “I’m not going there,” we shouldn’t be surprised when our Christian growth comes to full stop. Nor when, the absence of Christian growth, our doubts grow instead. It’s easy to see this coming. It’s harder to just follow the Spirit. But that’s what we gotta do.

Same as the pagan who has to take that initial leap of faith—who has to put aside their discomfort and false expectations, because God is more important than any of that.

09 March 2020

“Spiritual… but not religious.”

SPIRITUAL 'spɪ.rɪtʃ(.əw).əl adjective. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul.
2. Dealing with religion.
[Spirituality 'spɪr.ɪt.ʃəw.æl.ə.di noun.]

Many pagans like to describe themselves as spiritual. ’Cause they are: They believe in immaterial things, like the soul. Might even believe in other spirits; or God, whom they correctly recognize is spirit; Jn 4.24 or a spiritual afterlife. Or not: They only believe in spiritual forces, like good vibes or positivity, bad vibes or negativity, which can affect not just ourselves, but everyone around us.

Christians call ourselves spiritual too, ’cause we are. We have the Holy Spirit, who’s hopefully working on us—if we let him. We’re taught to pursue spirit, not flesh. Ro 8.5-6 We believe in God and angels and unclean spirits (like the devil) and that we’re part spirit. For the most part, we believe in the supernatural too.

Now, you can tell a pagan all this: “You’re spiritual? So’m I.” But there’s still a dividing line which they insist they won’t cross: They’re spiritual. But not religious. We Christians are religious, and they don’t wanna go there.

This’ll confuse many an Evangelical. ’Cause over the past six decades, many have got it into our heads we’re not religious. (And we might not be, but that’s another article.) When Evangelicals say “religion,” most of us mean dead religion, and we’re not that; we have a living relationship with Jesus, right?

I used to believe this rubbish too, so I’d tell pagans, same as most Evangelicals, “Oh, I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.”

Which confused ’em. To a pagan, if you go to church—and we should!—you’re in an organized religion. You don’t get to determine, on your own, by yourself, what you do and don’t believe: Your church does. Your bishop, pastors, and elders do. They tell you what to think and believe and do. There are rules. There are mandatory rituals. You’re threatened with hell if you don’t do them.

Obviously they’ve never been to church (or if they have, it was kind of a cult), ’cause it doesn’t work that way at all. Yeah, the church has official doctrines, and if you wanna get into church leadership you gotta agree with the doctrines. But the regular members believe what they want, do as they want, and answer to nobody but the Holy Spirit; and they won’t even follow him half the time. Or most of the time. And there’s grace, or at least there had better be; we do have a proper understanding that good works don’t save us; nobody should be using hellfire to threaten one another.

Even so: Whenever we Evangelicals claim, “Oh I’m not religious,” pagans believe either we’re lying, and trying to trick ’em into joining our religion; or we’ve been brainwashed, and don’t realize just how far our religious leaders have their tentacles in us.

Likewise, “No, my church doesn’t work like that.” Pagans won’t believe this either: They’ve heard the horror stories… or, sadly, might’ve lived them. They “know better.”

The religion they prefer is one which permits them perfect freedom. Nobody tells them what to think, how to do things, how to be, where to go. Maybe God gets to; maybe their angels. Maybe they listen to their favorite gurus with fervent devotion, and do everything they’re told, same as any cult member. But to their minds, they can walk away whenever they like; they’re in control. They’re not sure they can maintain this level of control if they set foot in your church building. So no thank you. Organized religion isn’t for them.

Not all disorganized religion is the same.

I’ve heard Christians describe the “spiritual but not religious” as if they’re all the same—as if these pagans only dabble in religion, but have no strong beliefs. Or if they totally do have an organized religion, but like Evangelicals they’re in denial, because they redefined their vocabulary words.

As I explained in my article on eclecticism, humans don’t monolithically all believe the same things. We can lump people into categories, and even then they don’t all believe likewise. You gotta ask ’em on an individual basis.

But generally I find the “spiritual but not religious” fall into six groups.

FAKE CHRISTIANS. By all outside appearances, these appear to be Christians… but they just won’t affiliate themselves with any church. They’re going it alone. They call themselves Christian; they know Christian terms, and have Christian trappings. But in fact they’re incognito pagans—they only think they’re Christian. They have no Holy Spirit within them, and produce none of his fruit.

Nope; they’re not hypocrites; they’re not faking anything. They honestly do think they’re Christian. They have no idea they’re not, or have some idea but suppress those doubts as much as they can. They like Jesus; they just don’t follow him. They like the bible; they just never read it, don’t know it, and are easily tripped up with fake bible quotes. They don’t pray, or they assume their positive attitudes count as a form of prayer. And they certainly don’t go to church, ’cause they never wanna be told they’re wrong.

There’s more than one type of fake Christian. I just mentioned the positive sort, whose idea of Christianity is happy and uplifting and heavenly and friendly. Then there’s the negative sort. All the fears and paranoia of dark Christianity—and the reason they won’t go to church is they don’t trust any church, and think they’ve all been corrupted by Satan. Yours included. They might read the bible, but only to find proof texts for their conspiracy theories. They might pray, but largely they’re imprecatory prayers—“God, smite my foes” and all that. They’re more obviously fruitless than the positive Christianist: No grace, no love, lots of anger.

DEVOTEES. These folks have a religion. But they’re like Evangelicals who’re in denial about how their consistent practices are so a religion. They figure because they’re in no organized religion, they’re not religious. But of course they’re religious: Whatever beliefs they have, they believe in ’em devoutly. They’ll even try to convert you.

’Cause many pagans, though they refuse to join any particular church or religion, really wanna know the truth about the universe, the afterlife, God, and so forth. So they explore, study, learn… and believe. They find things to believe in, and are entirely sure they’re true. They’ll bet their lives (and afterlife) on it.

In any event, their minds are made up, and you’re not gonna convert them till they shake their beloved beliefs.

SEEKERS. And here’s the polar opposite of the devotees: These folks are totally open-minded. They don’t currently adhere to any religion. But if we present ’em with a good one, they’ll join.

These are just the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. ’Cause their minds are open. They’ll visit our churches. They’ll listen to what we have to say. They may not agree with everything, but that’s okay: If they hang out with us long enough, they’ll meet Jesus, and he’ll cinch the deal and make ’em Christian.

DIVORCÉS. They’re a form of seeker: They just left another religion. They used to be devotees—sometimes of their own ideas—but they realized it was all bogus, or it stopped working for them. so they quit. In some cases their gurus and leaders drove ’em away. Regardless, they’re still open to God and spirituality. They just haven’t found a new religion yet.

Like seekers, these are also the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. Although if they just left one branch of Christianity, they’re gonna come with a lot of baggage—a lot of hurts we have to minister to. And they’ll still have a lot of misconceptions about God, held over from their previous religion—some of which they might be really fond of. Gotta be patient with them.

ANTICHRISTS. Regardless of their beliefs, when it comes to Christianity, they want nothing to do with it, and that’s firm. They had a terrible experience with it, or encountered really awful representatives of it. Frankly, they’d like to see it done away with.

Since I’m writing about the “spiritual but not religious,” I don’t mean the non-spiritual: I don’t mean nontheists and agnostics. They tend to be antichrists too; they often want to see all religion eliminated. But when a pagan is spiritual yet antichrist, it means they do believe in God or gods or spirits… just not Jesus of Nazareth, nor his followers. They don’t consider us valid. Antichrists will claim Jesus’s followers made everything up, and even that Jesus himself never existed. They’ll be open to everything but Christianity. Their minds are open to everything else, but not us. They’ll try anything else, so long as it’s not Christian.

APATHETIC. They sorta believe in God, gods, or spirits. But really, they figure there are way more important things in their life than religious beliefs. They don’t wanna explore these ideas any deeper. They figure they’re just fine as-is.

True, sometimes an apathetic pagan evolves into a seeker. When life gets rough or unmanageable, people might point ’em to religion, so they’ll dabble, and see whether it can help ’em any. And maybe nothing more than that: They’ll use meditation to relieve stress, but they won’t examine meditation to see whether it reveals anything more about God. They’ll believe in a higher power ’cause it helps them through their 12-step program, but they won’t try to get to know their higher power, ’cause the important thing is breaking their addiction. The goal is their own well-being. Nothing more.

Help them find their way.

As you can tell, some of the “spiritual but not religious” folks are open to what we have to say… and some not so much. Seekers and divorcés might listen. Devotees and fake Christians will try to instruct us. Antichrists will fight us. And apathetic folks won’t care. So if you wanna share Jesus with pagans, first figure out what stripe of pagan they are.

No, I’m not saying to skip resistant pagans, like the antichrists. God wants to save them too. I’m just warning you: They’re gonna fight us. It’s way harder to share Jesus with someone who hates Jesus. In many ways it’s even harder to share Jesus with the apathetic: They don’t care whether he loves them. And Jesus tells us we ordinarily shouldn’t waste our time and theirs: Once you tried, shake the dust off your feet against ’em. Mk 6.11

But sometimes pagans change camps. Fake Christians repent and become real Christians. Antichrists like Saul of Tarsus run into the living Christ and switch teams in a blink. Devotees realize they’re totally wrong and become divorcés. I don’t care what determinists tell you: Don’t ever write someone off. You never know what the Holy Spirit is doing to ’em.

So as you wait for the Spirit’s next instructions, be available. They may have no questions for you right now, and not even care to hear a thing you have to say. So make sure they know you’re a non-judgmental Christian, whom they can come to once they ever get curious. When the Spirit’s about to crack that walnut, he often turns to the people who made themselves available like that.

And by non-judgmental I really do mean non-judgmental. Don’t judge them! Don’t debate ’em. Don’t rebuke ’em. Don’t correct ’em. They’re not Christians; you have no business holding non-Christians to God’s standards. Not even God does that. Ro 2.14-16 You’re there to be Jesus to them, and Jesus didn’t come to condemn but save. Jn 3.17 When they wanna turn to Jesus, you’re there to point the way. Till then… well, point the way.

04 March 2020

Seeker-sensitivity: Being all things to all people.

SEEKER 'sik.ər noun. One who’s attempting to find religion: God, truth, peace, or self-justification.
SEEKER-SENSITIVE 'sik.ər 'sɛn.sə.dɪv adjective. Caring about seekers’ feelings, hangups, offenses, needs, or lack of familiarity; adapting one’s message in consideration.
2. Compromising one’s message to make it more appealing.
[Seeker-sensitivity 'sik.ər sɛn.sə'dɪv.ə.di noun.]

People are more apt to listen to you if you’re like them.

Yeah, I know there are exceptions to this rule. When I’ve been on missions trips, the locals are kinda curious about the novelty of American foreigners, and that’s why they’re more apt to listen to me a bit. But only till the novelty wears off.

One of the things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century (and it’s a little dumbfounding it took us so long to discover it, but it’s probably ’cause racism) is our missions either grow really slow, or don’t grow at all, whenever we don’t put locals in charge. The fastest-growing churches and denominations are run by natives, not foreigners.

Paul of Tarsus understood this, and when he went round the Roman Empire founding churches, he recognized the importance of adjusting himself to whatever culture he worked in. Still obeying God, of course. Yet he lived within the cultural expectations of the people he preached to. He didn’t want his obvious differences to get in the way of the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9.19-23 KWL
19 Having freedom in everything, I enslave myself. Because I could get many!
20 I become, to the Judeans, like a Judean. Because I could get Judeans!
I become, to Law-followers, like a Law-follower. Because I could get Law-followers!
21 I become, to Law-breakers, like a Law-breaker—
Not breaking God’s Law, but following Christ’s Law. Because I could get Law-breakers!
22 I become, to the weak, weak. Because I could get the weak!
I become, to whomever, whatever. Because however I could save some of them, I will.
23 I’ll do anything for the gospel, so I can be a part of it.

One of the other things American missionaries discovered in the 20th century… is the United States is also a foreign culture. No, this isn’t still because racism: If you grew up in popular Christian culture, you have a mindset which pagans aren’t all that familiar with, don’t understand… and sometimes find wholly offensive.

Ever took your pagan friends to church… only for that to be the week your pastor unexpectedly went off on a rant about the very issues which alienate your pagan friends? Might be politics, or social issues, or even football teams. Whatever it takes for pagans to have the knee-jerk response, “I’m never coming back here.”

Man alive, have I been there. Took months to coax ’em into the building; took all of three minutes to convince ’em hell sounds more fun.

So this is what seeker-sensitivity is about: Trying not to push people’s buttons. Trying not to alienate potential Christians. Trying to share the gospel, not our agendas. Trying to be kind to newcomers.

Thing is, look up “seeker-sensitive” on the internet, and just about all you’ll find are people who are totally against the practice. Why?

Bluntly, and a little crudely, it’s ’cause they’re a--holes.


Whether they got their attitude from dark Christians, or they never bothered to grow fruit and turned dark all on their own, a number of would-be Christian evangelists are not kind like our Lord is, and wants us to be. They feel the gospel has to be presented in terms of “my way God’s way or the highway,” and any lessening of its “righteousness” is compromise. The freedom in everything which Paul wrote about? 1Co 9.19 They feel that’s for them to enjoy, but God’s grace doesn’t extend to anyone else, so they’ll bash every sin which offends them and call that the gospel. It’s really not.

Thanks to them, too many Christians are afraid to adapt the gospel message to new environments. They’re too afraid we might change it, and then it’d no longer be the gospel, and heresy. They’re afraid we won’t create new Christians, but compromise-riddled heretics.

I understand the concern. But for the most part it’s totally invalid.

It’s because a lot of Christians don’t recognize there’s a vast difference between popular Christian culture, and God’s kingdom; there’s a wide difference between every Christian topic, and the gospel. One’s narrower than the other. The gospel is the good news that God’s kingdom has come near. Mk 1.15 It’s that God wants a relationship with us, wants to be our Father, and made it possible through Christ Jesus. It’s not our worship, our religious practices, our ministries and good deeds—you know, the stuff we do to further that relationship. The religion stuff might be incredibly useful to us, and potentially useful to others, but it’s adaptable. Sometimes it’s even disposable.

For Christianists, those people who pursue popular Christian culture but not so much Christ himself, their culture is the gospel, is God’s kingdom. They don’t recognize it as our pathetic human substitute for the real thing. They worry if we compromise their culture, we’ve compromised the gospel. That’s why they’re willing to tear entire churches apart over stupid little things like music style, bible translations, and the color they painted their Fellowship Hall.

I’ve heard a number of ’em claim not only should we not make cultural adaptations to reach pagans: We should double down. We should get even more traditional and hardcore and old-timey. ’Cause pagans won’t respect a watered-down “gospel”: They want all the differences and otherworldiness and old-fashioned trappings. They’re rejecting their culture to embrace Jesus; they don’t want him new and modern and relevant, but ancient and medieval and alien. And if they want to abandon today’s secular culture, why on earth are we trying to make Christianity speak to it?

One Catholic pundit in particular claims this is why more people are turning Catholic: They want these old traditions. Thing is, when you look at the stats, you find he doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Yes, people are turning Catholic because they yearn for tradition. But the people turning Catholic are Protestants turning Catholic. Not pagans. We’re talking about Christians who want to try a new religious tradition, not people with no religious tradition who want to adopt one.

And if you know any Catholic missionaries, you’ll know they’re totally seeker-sensitive. They’re trying to make Catholic tradition relevant to today’s pagans, as well as curious Protestants. But they’re not actually trying to seek and save the found. Neither should we be.

Drop the Christianese.

So if we’re gonna share Jesus with pagans, the first thing we gotta do is eliminate all the vocabulary words they won’t understand. Stop trying to sound like a Christian, and start trying to sound like them.

No, you don’t have to start using their profanities. Nor their slang; you’ll sound ridiculous. (’Cause they sound ridiculous, but they’re clueless.) You just have to drop all the Christianese, the terms we Christians casually fling around which aren’t familiar to newbies or pagans. In fact I’ve found a lot of Christians aren’t sure what they mean either. They’ve been guessing all this time. So eliminate the guess work. Unfamiliar terms get in the way, so learn familiar ones.

Yeah, Christianists act like this is heresy. I’ve watched ’em lose their tiny minds when I use common English instead of the words redemption or atonement or transubstantiation. Usually ’cause once they learn what these words actually mean, it turns out they don’t really believe in them! Turns out they’re the heretics. Whoops.

Other times, I kinda see where they’re coming from. One particular megachurch tries to avoid the words cross and sin and surrender and repent in their literature and website. Wait, aren’t these concepts central to salvation? Humans are sinners; Jesus defeated sin? Sin darned well better be on a real Christian’s website. Otherwise there’s no gospel in that church.

But sin is a Christianese word. Seriously. Pagans don’t use the word! Not that they don’t totally know what wrongdoing is; not that they don’t know God forbids certain things. They certainly forbid certain things. But ask your average pagan, and they’ll think sin means “evil,” not “violating God’s command.” Your average evangelist doesn’t bother to define it either; they just assume everyone already knows what sin is. So when they fling the word around, pagans misinterpret it: To them, “All have sinned” means “All are evil,” and they can’t believe that. And that’s not what we’re trying to teach anyway. (Well, I’m not. I don’t know about certain dark evangelists.)

You see the problem. So the responsible thing to do, believe it or not, is to not use the Christianese word sin. Instead:

  • God told humanity what he expects of us.
  • People either don’t know his expectations—or in extreme cases deliberately violate them, just to show him their contempt.
  • God offers to forgive us everything, and help us reform ourselves.
  • God wants to create a kingdom of such followers, and live in love and harmony with us forever.

Didn’t use sin in any of that gospel presentation. Didn’t need to. And yet some Christians will insist I just taught heresy, because I didn’t use their favorite word—or because I defined it correctly, and they’re convinced it doesn’t really mean that..

Stop using proof texts.

And if they can’t handle dropping Christianese, they especially get outraged when I tell ’em to drop the proof texts.

Most evangelists, when they preach Jesus, quote the scriptures like crazy. As we should. But for some reason they tack on the bible reference to every single quote.

“For all have sinned—Romans 3.23—and the wages of sin is death—Romans 6.23—but Christ has taken our sins and nailed them to the cross—Colossians 2.14—and so we’ve died to sin—Romans 6.10.”

Yeah, that’s some good proof-texting. Now, are any of the pagans you’re preaching at, gonna get out their bibles and look up any of those references? Are they gonna remember those references? Do they even have a bible?

See, pagans don’t care about the bible. Haven’t learned to care about it. To them, it’s a book. “The Good Book,” but still a book. They might own a copy, but they don’t know where it is, any more than I know where my copy of The Book of Mormon is. They already assume all the stuff we’re preaching comes out of the bible—even though sometimes it doesn’t. I once heard some pagan on a radio show express great surprise that the apostles aren’t called “St. Paul,” “St. John,” or “St. James” in the bible. Clearly he never read it, and that’s to be expected.

But for the most part, pagans don’t want to hear us quote a book. Even The Good Book. They wanna know what we’ve experienced. What’s Jesus done for you lately? And what might he do for me?

See, to us Christians, the scriptures might be living and active, He 4.12 but pagans haven’t experienced this power firsthand. To them, the bible’s just another ancient book written by dead brown guys, translated into old-timey English by dead white guys, over-quoted by overbearing old farts. We Christians respect the bible; they don’t. Before this attitude changes, they gotta meet Jesus.

Again, critics are horrified by this idea. Proclaiming the gospel without bible references? It can’t be done. It shouldn’t be done. It can’t be anything but heresy.

Yet evangelism without the bible references is precisely what we see in the bible. Chapter and verse numbers weren’t invented yet, so when they quoted bible, the most they could tell you was “In the prophets” or “According to Isaiah” or “It is written”—and a lot of times they didn’t bother and just started quoting. For that matter, in Acts, the apostles had to share Jesus without a New Testament—they were still writing it!—and couldn’t quote the gospels, nor their fellow apostles’ letters, nor Jesus’s revelation to John.

Even then, quoting the Old Testament only worked on fellow Jews. Gentiles weren’t familiar with it, didn’t respect it (like our present day), and Paul had to resort to quoting Greek poets. Ac 17.28 I’m not kidding. He quoted pagans. It’s as if I tried to share Jesus by quoting Mohandas Gandhi. Which I have in fact done.

Yes, I also quote bible. Lots of bible. Directly and indirectly. I’d better be consistent with the scriptures. But I don’t throw in the addresses. To a pagan, a scripture address means, “I’m quoting an old book; I have no personal experience with this,” and so forth. And they’re not gonna look it up.

To Christianists, the bible is part of the gospel. The very first thing I should be teaching these pagans is to respect the bible as God’s word. ’Cause it’s our foundation for everything we believe about Jesus. If I don’t make that crystal clear to them, it’s like I’ve denied the scriptures.

Okay, first of all our foundation for what we believe about Jesus, is Jesus. 1Co 3.11 The scriptures speak about him, Jn 5.39 but if he’s not valid, the scriptures aren’t valid. Pagans understand this. Christians, particularly those who inadvertently worship their bibles, forget it, and need to be reminded of it.

So our priority isn’t bible, but Jesus. We need pagans to meet Jesus, get to know Jesus, get to follow Jesus—and then they’ll wanna crack those bibles and learn as much as they can from them. Too many people already love their bibles but don’t love Jesus. Turns ’em rotten. Let’s not make more of them.

Don’t drop Jesus!

Thus far I’ve discussed false compromise. Now let’s deal with the real thing.

Every so often I’ll meet spineless Christians who can’t share Jesus without caving in. Sometimes they know this, which is why they never bother to share Jesus. Other times they plow right ahead… but preach a gospel with all the uncomfortable bits edited out. “Come to Jesus and he’ll solve all your problems,” is usually the form this takes. They never warn people that Christianity presents its own set of problems, like fighting our selfishness, struggling with righteousness, dealing with doubt, pushback from antichrists, and evading the devil’s booby-traps. Christianity isn’t easy; it’s hard. But it’s true.

Those who preach Christianity is so easy: Too often they’re avoiding the hard parts themselves. They don’t fight their selfishness, nor struggle with righteousness. They practice cheap grace. That’s their version of the gospel: God forgives all, so believe in him and you won’t have to go to hell. And won’t have to change anything else. Just your beliefs. Which is easy; you can psyche yourself into believing anything you want.

Of course, presented with one of the not-so-easy concepts, some of these folks fold like a defective lawn chair. “You don’t really believe God throws people into hell, do you?” makes ’em sputter, “Uh… yes? But even so, he’s really really nice.” And they try to make hell sound not all that nasty; that it’ll be cold and dark instead of hot and stinky; that very, very few people will go there; that people in hell will be burnt up instead of suffering forever (which, to be fair, is debatable); or that hell is temporary, and after a bit God’ll let everybody into heaven. However they weasel away from the idea, it’s because the peer pressure got to them, and they don’t want God to appear unfriendly, unfair, intolerant, unpopular, or punitive.

Most of the time it’s the individual Christian who lacks a spine. But I’ve run into churches who lack one too: They don’t like the idea of hell. (Hey, I don’t blame ’em; anyone who loves the idea of hell is seriously twisted.) But while there’s nothing wrong with de-emphasizing it, ’cause it’s not a central idea of the gospel, they don’t just de-emphasize it. They deny it. They claim it’s not there, or not so bad. They also wind up ignoring Jesus’s every warning to stay away from it.

There are Christians who are more liberal than the scriptures, and Christians who are more conservative. I’ve met all sorts. They teach the beliefs they like, instead of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

Technically none of this is seeker-sensitivity. True seeker-sensitivity is about being kind to the seeker: If a truth makes ’em uncomfortable, tell it as kindly as we can. But tell it. Tactfully. Carefully. Lovingly. Graciously.

Fake seeker-sensitivity isn’t about kindness. It’s about avoiding our own discomfort. It’s about sucking up to the seeker, telling ’em whatever they want to hear, doing whatever it takes to turn ’em to Jesus. Of course, if we’ve not presented him accurately, are they really turning to Jesus?

The Jesus of spineless Christians is a spineless Jesus. One who’d never have defeated sin and death; he’d have worshiped the devil Lk 4.5-8 and spared himself a crucifixion. Not that the Jesus of graceless Christians is any better: Full of wrath, absent of love.

So as you can tell, I advocate for true seeker-sensitivity. We need to present Jesus like Paul did: Whatever facilitates sharing the true Jesus with others, let’s do. Whatever makes people balk, or run away, let’s handle carefully. And everything else—the cultural differences, our individual practices, our church’s favorite emphases, the popular buzzwords, the junk—let’s set aside. That’s not the gospel. First things first.

20 February 2020

Sealing the deal. Or not.

Most of the evangelism seminars, classes, and books I’ve read, insist our every conversation with people about the gospel, has to end with a decision. They’ve heard the gospel, and either they believe it or they don’t; either they wanna follow Jesus or they don’t; so get an answer. Have ’em make a decision now. Right now! DO IT!

Which is why that’s what I’ve experienced whenever I’ve been on evangelism teams: The high-pressure tactics of proselytizers.

And a whole lot of cringing pagans, who don’t wanna make a decision right now. They gotta think about it! They need time to process. Really, they need time for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em—which is exactly what he’s gonna do. Heck, some of them might have already decided, “No thank you,” but of course the Spirit doesn’t like that answer, so he’s gonna get ’em to realize it was the wrong one, and convince ’em to change their minds. And that takes time. And patience.

Patience which the Spirit has in abundance. Evangelists, not so much.

Hence all our demands for an immediate decision: Let today be the day of your salvation! Don’t put it off till tomorrow; you never know what might happen in the meanwhile; you could die later this afternoon, and wind up in hell! You know, deep down, the gospel is true, and Jesus is the right choice, so quit waffling and choose Jesus! Don’t leave him hanging! Don’t be an ingrate; he died for you! Et cetera, ad nauseam.

Because the evangelists tell us it’s not a successful conversation unless it ends in conversion. And we as evangelists aren’t doing our job unless we seal the deal—to borrow a term from sales. They gotta decide right now: Jesus or hell. There’s no “Can I think about it and decide later?”—that’s just a decision for hell disguised as procrastination. It’s really Jesus or hell.

And if they choose Jesus, the angels will rejoice. Lk 15.10 And if hell, they’re doomed.

But because evangelists expect immediate decisions, whenever they actually bother to take statistics, they find their success rate is extremely low. Even anecdotally, they’ll figure maybe one in 20 will choose Jesus. The actual rate is much lower—and of those people who choose Jesus, about 90 percent of ’em don’t bother to start praying regularly, start reading bible, start going to church, start anything. They’ve not changed at all. Really, they have to be led to Jesus all over again.

So what are we doing wrong? Lots of things.

“The deal” doesn’t make anyone Christian.

This focus on getting people make a definite initial decision for Christ Jesus: Way too many of our efforts are placed on this. In some evangelism ministries, all of it is placed on this. They only want decisions for Jesus; they wanna rack up those numbers, and (according to popular Christian culture, ’cause people are thinking of medieval European crowns, not the leafy ones given at sporting events in New Testament times) get more jewels for the crowns Jesus is eventually gonna give us. Rv 2.10

The rate of recidivism—the vast number of “decisions” which decay into nothing—indicates people don’t really believe the sinner’s prayer when they say it. So why’re they saying it?

  • Heat of emotion. But once the emotions pass, so does their interest in Jesus.
  • False gospel: The evangelist, so desperate to seal the deal, promised ’em outrageous things about Jesus which aren’t so. The would-be convert either comes to realize all these false promises are bunk; or tries them out (“I asked Jesus for a million dollars, but I haven’t seen a dime yet!”), finds them false, and figures the whole of Christianity must be false too.
  • Peer pressure: Their family and friends are pushing them to convert, or have all come forward and said the sinner’s prayer, and they don’t wanna be the only one who hasn’t.
  • Evangelist pressure: “Hey buddy, I’ll say whatever you want; just leave me alone.”

So obviously the sinner’s prayer isn’t enough. Neither is simply saying “Jesus is Lord” Ro 10.9 when he’s never really gonna become our Lord. Neither is raising a hand or nodding one’s head when the pastor calls for it after a sermon. Momentary affirmations, followed up by nothing, mean nothing.

Conversion is a lifestyle. Really, it’s the Christian lifestyle. We live an entire lifestyle of repentance, of realizing we’re wrong and Jesus is right, of adapting our lives to his teachings. That’s what people have to realize they’re getting into, and if our gospel message doesn’t tell them this, we’re doing it wrong. Because if all they think it takes to become Christian is to say the magic words and hocus pocus we’re Christian, it certainly explains all the pagans who believe they’re Christian.

Evangelism isn’t a quick-’n-dirty 15-minute process. We start by finding people who are actually curious about and interested in the gospel. We share the good news about Jesus and his kingdom, and we see whether people are interested in investigating further. Then we help ’em investigate. We help ’em find a church, get ’em into a newbies class or bible study or anything where they can ask questions and get useful answers. This is, after all, what Jesus instructs us to do: Make disciples. Mt 28.19-20 Not converts. He wants more students. A convert only wants to be Christian—for now—but isn’t Christian yet. A student of Jesus is Christian.

Yep, evangelism’s a longer job than you thought.

Clearly, bringing people to Jesus takes time and work. Not that pressuring people into a decision isn’t work, but this is a whole different kind of work: We’re looking for people who show definite interest in Jesus, instead of finding a bunch of randoms who show no interest and we make ’em interested.

Yeah, it takes time to find such people. We gotta share the gospel with a whole lot of people before the truly curious come out. But in my experience, when we share the actual gospel—not the “you’re going to hell lest you repent” story which dark Christians love so much, nor the “Jesus will make you rich” prosperity gospel, nor the “free salvation, no strings attached” rubbish so popular with fly-by-night evangelists—we’re gonna find a lot of interest. People really haven’t heard the actual gospel; they’re more familiar with the bent versions, and rightly find ’em alienating. The good news actually sounds kinda good!

In sales-pitch evangelism, once the deal is sealed, we’re pretty much done; follow-up is for other suckers, and it’s their fault, not ours, if they drop the ball. In proper evangelism, evangelism and follow-up are not two different things. Our job isn’t done till the newbies are in church, getting their questions answered, developing relationships with fellow Christians, getting committed enough to Jesus to want baptism and to become church members. Sometimes not even then.

And I admit, sometimes the results are disappointing. I’ve had people go to church for a month or two, then lose interest and quit. Life got in the way, they claim; things got “too busy.” Which are just lame excuses. When we’re serious enough about something, we’ll make the time for it. In all honesty, they tried Christianity out a little, and decided it wasn’t for them. Sad. But it happens.

Look, when you came to Jesus, was it the result of a quick and near-instant conversion? Or was it a long process which took months, even years? Surveys tell us three in 10 Christians had those sudden conversions to Jesus—followed of course by several months of follow-up. But four of those 10 gradually came to the conclusion Jesus is Lord and they oughta follow him. And the rest grew up Christian. So that means most of us took the long way to get to Jesus. Yeah, the dramatic conversion story makes for exciting testimonies. But it’s not the typical Christian testimony.

Look, if someone wants Jesus right now, says the sinner’s prayer and means it, and from that point onward is the most enthusiastic new believer ever, don’t stop it from happening! It’s always fun to watch. Just make sure they’re with fellow Christians who steer ’em right. But our usual expectation should be the long process, which begins with curiosity and ends with salvation.

And during this process—not necessarily at the beginning, nor the end—the Holy Spirit seals the deal. Not us; it’s never our deal to seal. It’s his.

So get away from this mindset of sealing a deal, making a sale, forcing results, cornering people who are trying to escape; just don’t. Share Jesus, and if people are interested, bring ’em to church. If they’re not, don’t sweat it; shake off their dust and move along.

It’s just that simple… and complicated. Real life is messy, you know. So is real evangelism.

13 February 2020

Tracts: How to share Jesus with handouts.

TRACT trækt noun. Short written work in pamphlet form, typically on a religious subject.

By “tract” I mean any booklet, broadside, brochure, card, handout, invitation, flyer, pamphlet, or poster, which introduces the gospel to people. And there’s nothing wrong with using ’em to share Jesus.

Certain Christians object to tracts. Commonly because of the contents of the tracts themselves. I’ve seen plenty which are ridiculous, inaccurate, or even offensive. I certainly don’t wanna hand out those types of tracts; I don’t wanna be associated with foolishness, error, and slander, or make people think Christ Jesus has anything to do with such things. Plenty enough of that in Christendom as it is.

One argument I’ve heard against tracts, is they’re impersonal. These folks claim the way to share Jesus is to make personal connections with fellow human beings, then introduce them to the person of Jesus. But a tract does no such thing. It kinda reduces a living relationship with our awesome Lord… to an advertisement.

These are valid concerns, so I’ll deal with ’em.

Ridiculous tracts.

There are a lot of stupid tracts out there. No, seriously, a lot of them. Certain Christians think that’s the way to get people to read ’em: Be funny, be silly, or be shocking.

But not every tract-writer has a good sense of humor, and the end result is a groan-worthy tract which isn’t funny, or full of stale and overworked jokes, or makes light of all the parts we probably shouldn’t trivialize. Or they try to use wordplay and sarcasm, but they do it in a way where only they seem to get the joke, and everybody else who reads it is simply confused.

And not every tract-writer knows how to make a good-looking tract. They can’t spell, or have poor grammar. They can’t design, so the text is too small or too large, or they put it on top of an image… but it’s nearly the same color, so you can barely read it. They can’t draw, so the images are childish. Or they pulled their images off the internet… and didn’t pay for them, so you can still see the watermark in all the photos. And of course they don’t know how to resize the images, so they’re all stretched and squashed.

Sometimes it’s much worse. Dark Christians love to make tracts, and of course they don’t present the good news; it’s all bad news. It’s all about how we’re dirty sinners, going to hell, and nothing can save us but the sinner’s prayer. It’s not about speaking the truth in love; Ep 4.15 they really don’t have love to give.

Many a dark Christian tract begins by bashing something. Certain sins which offend ’em, Hollywood and the media, politics, other religions, even fellow Christians who worship too differently. While this sort of tract definitely appeals to dark Christians, it’s wholly inappropriate for sharing Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin. Jn 16.8 Not ours. He convicts ’em in the right way—in a kind way. Whereas dark Christians don’t do kindness either.

Trendy tracts—cards with a pop star or images from a movie or TV show on the front, and the gospel on the back—become out-of-date awfully fast. (Especially since the tract-makers are usually behind the times anyway.) Unless you evangelize teenagers, or parents of teenagers, the percentage of people who are actually up on the latest trends is quite small. I don’t bother with trendy tracts either.

And let’s not forget the deceptive tracts. There’s a tract I came across which, no foolin’, looks like a folded $100 bill. People grab it because they think it’s money, and surprise!—not only isn’t it, but it rebukes you for desiring something as fleeting as money, when you can have eternal life with Jesus. You do realize there are evil people out there who will try to give these tracts instead of tips, and think they’re being righteous. Don’t encourage such behavior.

Don’t use bad tracts. Pick ’em carefully. I prefer any tract which presents the gospel in a straightforward way. I don’t wanna waste people’s time with provocative tracts—with something which appears to be about one thing, and surprise!—it’s religious material. I’ve seen pagans straight-up flinch at such things, and throw them away in disgust. I don’t want that reaction. I want it nice and obvious, on the cover, what this is—because many people will throw out handouts unread, and if I’ve wasted the cover on a hook instead of the gospel, more fool me.

An impersonal handout?

When someone on the street hands me a flyer, I glance at it. I keep it if it seems interesting, and put it in the trash if it doesn’t. Most of the time that’s exactly what people do with a tract. Most of the tracts you hand out will do nothing. Same as any advertising.

In a Christian-majority country, you’re gonna give a lot of tracts to people who already consider themselves Christian. They’ll throw ’em out because they figure they’re good. The rest of the folks: Most don’t care about religion at all, and don’t care to be converted. A small percentage will actually bother to read your tract. A much smaller percentage might allow themselves to be affected by them.

So lots of folks justify tract-passing for this very reason: If they hand out a thousand tracts, and one person comes to Jesus, it’s worth it. And okay, I can’t disagree with that. One person’s eternal life is worth a billion tracts.

But still: Isn’t there anything we can do to improve these statistics any?

And of course there is: Make it personal. When you stand on the street handing out flyers, engage people. If they’re not trying to rush past you, see if you can stop ’em briefly and say, “Do you have a minute?—can I share something with you?” Then share the tract with them. Read it to them. Or, if you have it memorized, tell them the story as they read the flyer. Give them some actual human contact to associate with your tract. Give ’em an experience they can connect with, rather than just a handout which they may or may not read.

If you find out they’re already Christian, see if you can get ’em to pass the tract forward to someone else. If they’re not interested, then okay they’re not interested; you did your job and shared.

But that’s how you improve a tract’s effectiveness. And improve your effectiveness as an evangelist, for that matter.

Free tract!

If you’re wondering, “What’s an example of a good tract?” here’s one I’ve used quite a lot—and not just ’cause I used to work at the ministry which makes ’em. It’s a pamphlet produced by Barnabas Missions Unlimited called “Our Spiritual Journey Together.”

It’s set up so that you can print it on both sides of a sheet of paper, cut it in half, and fold it. You can download the PDF free, in English or Spanish, put your church’s name on the back, and distribute as many as you like. There are directions on their site on how to present it in greater detail at Barnabas Missions’ website.

Likely you’ve seen other good tracts. Most “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts or “Romans Road” tracts are good; and of course there’s no reason you can’t create your own. In fact, if you have created your own, let me know so I can put it on a resource page.

06 February 2020

Evangelism… in a “Christian nation.”

There’s a myth going round the United States that we Christians are a tiny, oppressed minority, shrinking all the time thanks to the insidious forces of paganism and nontheism in our secular culture.

It’s rubbish. And I know; Christians don’t wanna believe it’s rubbish. A lot of us are deeply invested in the idea the world’s only getting worse… and they believe Jesus will intervene once it’s the worst it can be. (Whereas I don’t believe he’s forced to wait for us to get depraved enough; he’ll return whenever he wants.) But statistics don’t confirm their deeply-held beliefs. True, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is going down. The Pew Research Center pegged it at 65 percent in 2019. But that’s just pagans who believed themselves Christian, recognizing they’re really not. They’re coming out of the closet.

As for me, I share Jesus with people, like every Christian should. Most often by chatting with strangers in coffeehouses, but sometimes I’ve gone door to door. You wanna find out how truly secular your community is, try tabulating them like a census worker: Go from house to house, and meet ’em where they live. What you’ll find out is Christians are hardly a minority. We’re the vast, overwhelming majority.

Some towns are more pagan than others. In more devout towns, 99 out of 100 figure they’re Christian. In more pagan cities (i.e. San Francisco or Portland), it’s still more than half. On average I’ve found two out of three identify as Christian… so yeah, about the same as the Pew Center’s findings.

So when you go forth and share Jesus with people, you’re largely gonna find they know him already. Or at least think they do.

Those who think they do.

’Cause a lot of self-described Christians aren’t all that Christian. They don’t go to church, and don’t figure they have to. They can’t tell you the last time they read a bible. They say grace on Thanksgiving, but otherwise don’t pray unless they really want something. They might do something religious on Easter or Christmas. That’s about it. They’re the I-got-baptized-and-that-counts kind of Christians.

So if you’ve ever wondered why American culture looks so pagan, despite all our professed Christians: We’re more Christianist. Our so-called Christians are irreligious and apathetic.

Yeah, when you put their backs to the wall (as dark Christians imagine will happen to us all someday), they’ll probably declare Christ. If they were gonna quit Jesus entirely and become something else, they would’ve done so by now. They didn’t. They choose a comatose sort of Christianity, but it’s still technically Christianity, and still something the Holy Spirit can work with.

This being the case, sharing Jesus within the United States is quite different than sharing him in non-Christian countries. Our job isn’t so much to introduce him to people. It’s to shake ’em awake. It’s to correct their distorted views of the gospel. It’s to get people to stop taking Jesus for granted.

That’s what I bear in mind when I do evangelism. A lot of folks will say, “I’m a Christian,” and I respond, “Good! Where do you go to church?… And how often do you go? weekly, monthly, twice a year?—does your pastor know you?”

Which some of them will take offense at, and say I’m prying. (Which is precisely what I’m doing.) Really they don’t go to church; they’re just telling me they do. They hope by identifying a church that’s “theirs,” I’ll assume they’re practicing, churchgoing Christians, and move along. But I make no such assumptions, and now I’m asking questions which might expose their hypocrisy—and that’s why they’re offended.

I also respond, “Do you pray?… How regularly?” And “Do you read your bible?” And “Has God ever done a miracle for you?” I’m trying to gauge just how Christian they are: Do they have a living, active relationship with Christ, or are they just Christianist? And again, some take offense at this. “I just told you I’m a Christian,” one annoyed man once told me. “I know,” I told him. “But you know how Christ said ‘By their fruits you’ll know them’? Mt 7.20 I’m bobbing for fruit.”

Yeah, sometimes people are bugged by my questions because they’ve encountered evangelists from the faith-righteousness camp: Like independent Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they think we’re saved by correct theology, not grace. Evangelists from those churches always wanna submit people to an orthodoxy test, and make sure people are saved before they move on. They’re not looking for fruit though. In fact a lot of ’em lack fruit themselves. So they tend to come across as jerks. My not-all-that-probing questions might remind people of their questions, and it may make ’em worry I’m another one of those jerks.

But more often it’s because they feel guilty. I’m trying to see how Christian they are, and they know they’re not Christian at all. I’m not trying to convict them, but their own consciences are making ’em squirm.

We’re here to help!

We need to accept Christ Jesus as our lord and savior, and start following him. That’s the usual spiel most evangelists make. It’s absolutely true… for pagans. You wanna be Christian, that’s what you do. But when we’re evangelizing Americans who figure they’re Christian already, they don’t need to re-accept Jesus: They need to follow him!

And they suck at doing it alone. They need help in following him. So that’s our mission: We gotta help.

They suck at prayer. Fine; help them pray. Invite them to your prayer group. Ask ’em what they need, and pray for it. Demonstrate good prayer practices. Encourage. Remind. And so on.

They suck at bible-reading. Fine; invite ’em to your bible study. Go through the bible together. Talk about it. Share. Discuss.

They don’t know any fellow Christians. Fine; invite them to your small group. (Not your church’s worship services; that’s how you worship together, not how you meet people. They should go to that too, but meet their expressed needs first.) Invite them to various interactive Christian functions. Or you can get to know ’em, you know—there’s always you.

They haven’t seen miracles. Fine; show them yours. Share your testimonies. Pray for them, and once God does stuff for them they’ll have their own testimonies.

They struggle with being Christian in this godless world. Well, who doesn’t? Show them they’re far from alone. Like I said, most Americans are Christian—but they’re not sharing that fact, and most Americans will be stunned to discover just how many of their neighbors, coworkers, fellow gym members, fellow coffeehouse frequenters, even random folks they run into at the supermarket, are Christian. The world isn’t as godless as they assume. Once they get to know some of their fellow Christians, they’ll see this.

Our mission is to get our fellow Christians out of their comas, and have them realize they can follow Jesus, can have his abundant life. It’s much harder than starting from the very beginning as a brand-new baby Christian. These folks are more like the moody teenagers who don’t wanna have anything to do with their parents—they’re that kind of Christian. Takes a lot of patience to get through to them. But it’s doable… and these are the neighbors God gave us to love.

30 January 2020

Proselytism: Don’t force Jesus upon people!

PROSELYTIZE 'prɑs(.ə).lət.aɪz verb. (Try to) convert someone from one belief to another.
[Proselyte 'prɑs.ə.laɪt noun, proselytism 'prɑs(.ə).lət.ɪz.əm noun.]

From time to time, when we Christians share the good news of Christ Jesus with other people, we get accused of “proselytizing.”

It’s one of those words which, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride


Properly, to proselytize means as we see in the definition above: You’re trying to convert someone. And you’ve not made it an option: They must become Christian. They will become Christian. You’re gonna try every tactic you can to make it so. You’ll promise outrageous things, you’ll fudge a few details, you’ll threaten ’em with hell. Whatever it takes.

Forced conversions, hard sales pitches, and death threats (and hell threats) are all definitely forms of proselytism. Is that really what we’re doing?

Well… sometimes it is. And it should never be. God’s kingdom runs on grace, and if our presentation of the gospel ever turns into proselytism, it means we took the grace out of it. And a gospel without grace arguably isn’t even the gospel.

I know, I know: Certain dark Christians love to bring up hell. Largely because it terrifies them, so they’re pretty sure everybody needs to be warned about it, and warned away from it: You don’t want to go there! I get that. And it was probably a huge motivator for them, when they first turned to Jesus. But the result is they put it front and center when they preach the gospel, and now their gospel is about hell-avoidance instead of love, joy, grace, forgiveness, and other fruit of the Spirit that we’re gonna find in the kingdom in abundance. Worse, they don’t care about these things: “Get off that lovey-dovey crap and warn people away from hell!” Which just goes to reveal their own fruitlessness—a serious character defect which makes them the very worst people to share the gospel.

Still, when pagans encounter that kind of hostile, negative, fearmongering gospel presentation, in which the good news is very, very bad, they think it’s proselytism: It made ’em feel bad. They define proselytism based on whether it made ’em feel bad. On whether they didn’t like it.

Nope; proselytism is determined by pressure. Was the gospel forced upon you? Then it’s proselytism.

Doesn’t matter whether it was forced upon you in a hostile way or a kind way. I got the kind version: Mom was determined to raise her kids Christian, so church wasn’t optional. I was going, period, whether I wanted to or not. This was never an issue because unless I was sick or exhausted (i.e. valid excuses), I wanted to. In other families it was a huge issue: I had high school friends who absolutely didn’t wanna be there, and left church as soon as they were no longer under their parents’ rules. But parents have every right to raise their kids under their religion; really, they suck at religion if they don’t.

It’s just proselytism has a serious danger built into it: Because it’s not optional, it’s deficient in grace. Which means there’s a very real chance it’ll turn into legalism, or hypocrisy and dead religion. Or, once the kids grow up and leave the dead religion, they may presume all religion is like that… and we wind up with apostasy and nontheism.

So pour on the grace! And when you evangelize, for the love of God don’t proselytize.

Proselytizing Christians.

As I said, it’s okay to proselytize your kids. But if you were proselytized as a kid, or proselytized by an evangelist when you got older, you’re gonna wrongly think it’s okay to proselytize everybody else.

Seriously, everybody else. Certain political conservatives like to imagine the United States is a Christian nation, and as such everybody in it oughta be Christian. So they push Christianity upon everyone. We made “One nation under God” our official national motto (regardless of whether we get under him any), and put it on our money and our pledge of allegiance: If people balk at the motto, we don’t just accuse ’em of being godless, but unpatriotic.

Such people also insist we should be allowed to put up Ten Commandments monuments, crosses, and other religious iconography, in public parks, public schools, or public buildings. Texas even changed the science textbooks so they state God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, and who cares if actual science suggests otherwise.

So when we share Jesus, we don’t ask people whether they’d like to hear about him. Don’t have time for that. We just corner ’em so they can’t go anywhere, and tell ’em—whether they have the time, the curiosity, the interest, the receptivity. Because they need to hear it: They’re going to hell otherwise. Now is their hour of salvation. Now is not the time for kindness, patience, self-control, or grace. Fruit of the Spirit? Only gets in our way.

And instead of fruit, one of our substitutes becomes “evangelism.” You’ve seen these Christians at work: They leave tracts instead of tips for their waiters. They correct us in the workplace break room whenever we do or say something which isn’t Christian enough for them. They who won’t leave our front porches when we insist, “No thank you.” They’re the reason people believe evangelism and proselytism are the same thing.

Jesus doesn’t teach proselytism.

When Jesus first sent his Twelve to practice evangelism on their fellow Jews, he taught ’em to share. Not push. Bless, not condemn. Give, not collect offerings. Do for people, not demand they only receive the gospel from you, ’cause you worry if you give ’em free stuff, they’ll only turn to Jesus for the handouts. (As if the kingdom runs on stinginess, not grace.) You know, like proselytizers don’t do. Like so.

Matthew 10.7-15 KWL
7 “Preach as you go, saying this: ‘Heaven’s kingdom has come near!’
8 Serve the weak. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leprous. Throw out demons.
You received it free. Give it free.
9 Don’t accept gold, silver, or bronze into your moneybelts.
10 No bag on the road. Nor two tunics. Nor sandals. Nor cane.
For the respectable worker merits their provisions.
11 Inspect whatever city or village you enter: Who’s the most respected in it?
Stay with them till you leave, 12 and when you enter the house, bless it.
13 When the house is respectable, your blessing has to go into it.
When it’s not respectable, your blessing has to go back to you.
14 Whoever doesn’t accept you, nor listen to your words:
As you go out of their house or town, shake their dirt off your feet.
15 Amen, I promise you: It’ll be more bearable on Judgment Day
for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than that town.”

Evangelism is about effectively communicating the good news: The kingdom’s near. Jesus is its good and benevolent Lord. He wants us to join his kingdom and be our Lord. Because ultimately he will be Lord, whether we embrace him or not. It’ll be way better if we embrace his rule willingly, than live outside it in misery when he finally takes his throne. Plus there are the many benefits of living under our King early.

True, we want people to come to Jesus. But after we’ve shared him, we’re done. We did our duty. They accept him, or they don’t. And we need to stop thinking it’s our responsibility to keep pushing them to accept him. It’s not. We need to shake that off. It’s why Jesus told his apostles to do so literally: Shake the dirt off your feet when you leave. Leave ’em behind. Not because we don’t care about them anymore, but because we’re done. Hopefully God will give them another chance, as he tends to. But we’re done.

We simply share. Inform. Convey information. That’s all. There’s a place and time for going directly up to people and asking them point-blank, “Do you know Christ Jesus personally?” When our goal is to share good news, to make sure people are informed, and can make rational decisions to follow Jesus, there’s everything right about it. That’s all our job consists of.

Everything beyond that is the Holy Spirit’s job.

  • Quelling nervousness or hesitation: His job.
  • Dealing with objections and concerns: His job.
  • Getting obstacles out of their way: His job.
  • Making sure people come forward at an altar call: His job.
  • Numbers of converts: His job.
  • Making sure the commitment is serious: His job.
  • Finalizing decisions for Christ: His job.

It’s not like we have no job. But as you can see, our job isn’t as big and stressful as your average proselytizer makes it sound.

“But we have to preach the gospel!”

I’ve heard Christians say, “Well, there’s a fine line between proselytism and evangelism.” There is not. Evangelism shares information. Proselytism demands, ignores the Holy Spirit’s timing, and insists the time is now. It takes salvation into our own hands instead of leaving it in God’s. It’s loveless. It’s faithless. It’s wrong.

If a person says no thank you, proselytizers aren’t done. They don’t trust the Holy Spirit enough to leave them in his capable hands. They’re not gonna be patient. They’ll insist on “closing the deal”—on badgering them to say some form of sinner’s prayer, some sort of half-hearted commitment (which usually doesn’t pan out) just so they can put another notch on their belt. Or get another jewel in their crown. Whatever way they keep score.

’Cause that’s what it’s really about: Keeping score. Numbers. Getting converts. Growing their cults. Success rates. Which, because they’re willing to fudge the numbers a bit, tend to be reported as way higher than they really are. But few of their “success stories” are real. Those folks have no plans to follow Jesus in the day-to-day, and were often coerced into making a purely contractual relationship with him: “I said the sinner’s prayer, so I did my part; you just get me into heaven. Okay? Amen.” Don’t have to be religious ’cause they’re under God’s grace. Which means they’re fruitless… which implies they’re not under grace.

Now, had the Holy Spirit actually been involved at all—where he convicts ’em, gets ’em to repent, points ’em to Jesus—you’d see a whole lot more enthusiasm on their part. Without having to manipulate their emotions, play on their fears, promise them things Jesus never would (“Turn to him and all your problems will go away!”) and other sales pitches which spread Christianism instead of God’s kingdom.

Quite often the Spirit will actually lead someone to Jesus despite the sales-pitch tactics. But the fact the Holy Spirit cleans up our messes, is no defense for fruitless, unkind behavior and thinking.

And quite often, the reason a lot of Christians balk at practicing or learning about evangelism, is because of these yutzes and their morally questionable behavior. I don’t blame ’em for being disturbed. They should be. Any form of trickery, misdirection, wordplay, hidden flaws, false arguments, false promises, confusion, anger, hypocrisy, misquoted scriptures, false urgency, bribery, emotional blackmail, threats, temptation, or coercion, has no God in it. Justifying any of this evil, because they might “win souls,” is calling good evil, and evil good. Is 5.20 When people turn to Jesus, when the Spirit has been successful and enters their lives to fix and regenerate them, it’s a miracle. The very last thing Christians should be involved in, is faking miracles.

Some pagans have never met a proper evangelist. Or they have, but they’ve been burned by dark evangelists, and assume all Christians are like that. And to be fair, some pagans are just plain hostile towards Christianity altogether. So they accuse everyone who shares Jesus of proselytism, just to make us go away. All the more reason we need to avoid proselytism. Give them no ammunition.

23 January 2020

So… do you know Jesus?

I know better than to assume everyone who browses TXAB is Christian.

I learned better on other blogs I’ve done. ’Cause nonchristians piped up. There’s a certain personality type—the class clown, the noisy guy in the theater, the guy in the nightclub who wears way too much musk, the Facebook friend who over-comments on everything (which, I gotta admit, is sometimes me) —who can’t go anywhere without making their presence known. If you prefer to go unnoticed, these are the people you never wanna befriend; they’ll always embarrass you. And on blogs, they’re the sort who wanna make sure the blogger (i.e. me) knew they visited. Sometimes with a polite note, and sometimes by flinging poo like a chimpanzee.

On blogs, sometimes they’re the troll who comments, in case any Christians are reading, “You suckers do realize all this religious stuff is [synonym for dooky]: Jesus is dead, the bible is science fiction, and churches are scams to separate the feeble-minded from their money.” Or the guy who emails me 10 pages of out-of-context or non-sequitur “corrections” to the article I posted. Or the pagan who instant-messages me about how she’s struggling to reconcile my statements with the superficial Buddhism which she’s convinced she can practice alongside Christianity.

I get all sorts. If they’re truly interested in Jesus, I’m not gonna drive ’em away. On the contrary: I’m always gonna try to drive ’em towards. Namely towards Jesus.

Years ago I participated in a multifaith synchroblog. (A synchroblog is where a bunch of bloggers write on the same topic. Then most of us read each other’s pieces to see their take on the topic. Or not; some of us only want more people to read our blogs, and are using it to get clicks.) In my piece I stated upfront I was trying to introduce my pagan visitors to Jesus. I didn’t want any of ’em thinking I had a hidden, ulterior motive; plenty enough Christian phonies out there already. My motives are gonna be nice and obvious.

Still are. If you don’t know Jesus, let me introduce you.

Good news, everybody!

Sometimes it’s called the gospel; sometimes the evangel. Both words mean “good news”—either in ancient English or ancient Greek. ’Cause you should consider it good news. If you don’t, either we Christians did a crappy job of presenting it to you, or we taught you some other thing’s the gospel. Or you don’t believe us. Or all three.

The good news, according to Christ Jesus, is God’s kingdom has come near. Mk 1.15

What’s God’s kingdom? (Or heaven’s kingdom?—the terms are interchangeable.) In short, God wants to be our king. He wants a personal, individual relationship with every person on the planet. He wants us to be his people, and he our God. Ex 6.7 He wants us to be his children, and he our father. Yep, exactly like he’s Jesus’s father: He wants to be tight with us, same as Jesus is tight with him.

Most of us humans seriously doubt we can have any such relationship with God. Mostly ’cause we figure God’s so cosmic and alien. He’s an almighty spirit, the creator of the universe, and so absolutely good—most of us figure if we actually encountered God’s power and goodness, it’d blow us up like a hamster in a microwave. Jg 13.22 And y’know, it actually might. Ex 33.20 So we assume we’re too unworthy to interact with him, and go through a whole bunch of convolutions to get ourselves righteous before we dare approach him. Before we pray, we do a bunch of acts of penance. Or we promise a ton of good deeds. Or we vow togive up bad habits, or give up beloved things, or otherwise try to appease God first. We believe we just can’t go to him as-is. We’re too messed up.

So when Jesus tells us the kingdom has come near, what he means is we actually don’t have to bridge the gap between God and us. God already did that. He became human—namely Jesus—and lived among us humans. Jn 1.14 And they didn’t die!

Nope, God’s not distant from us. He’s right here. If you want him, here he is.

“But we’re not worthy!” Not a problem. God forgave you.

Yeah, our evildoing, our sins, mean we owe him big time: He’s had to clean up our messes, and put right what we’ve bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated. We oughta make up for our sins—and we’ve racked up so many. Really, we deserve death, for sin kills. Ro 6.23 But actually, God took care of that. After becoming human, he got killed. (Seems people couldn’t handle how he kept acting as if he’s God or something.) So—in a way we Christians still don’t entirely understand, and debate about—he applies his death to our sin, and considers our debt paid. We might still have to make things right with one another, but with God… we’re good. Having a relationship with him no longer has any hurdles.

Seriously. And it’s a fact that’s hard for lots of people to accept. Including Christians. Across the board, humanity believes in karma, the idea we only receive good (or only should receive good) if we’ve merited it with our good deeds; otherwise the universe is out of whack, and will eventually balance things out. Christians believe in karma too, and some of us still try to make ourselves worthy of God… as if that’s even possible. After a lifetime of buggering up, we’re gonna amend things with God? Not remotely possible.

That’s why we need God to do it for us. It’s where faith comes in: We gotta trust Jesus when he says God really, truly wants relationship with us. If we don’t trust Jesus, it’s our own fault when our relationships with God suck: He’s not the one with the hangups. That’d be us.

So since we can have relationships with God, he can empower us to live productive, fruitful lives. Not materially fruitful, i.e. rich, although in certain cases that’s a side effect. But spiritually fruitful: We become better people. We sin less. We’re more loving, more kind, more patient, more joyful. We can tap God’s supernatural power and perform miracles. No, really. Hang out with the right Christians and I guarantee you’ll see some.

What’s more, by taking out sin, Jesus also took out death. He proved this by himself coming back from the dead: He’s alive. Temporarily in heaven, there’s gonna be a day Jesus comes back to earth, to rule God’s kingdom in person. Not metaphorically; for real. And the day he does, every Christian, every God-follower throughout history, is getting raised from the dead just like Jesus was. 1Co 6.14 And we’re not dying again: This is eternal life.

This is the good news.

Hard to believe? Okay.

Yeah, in order to believe the gospel, there are certain things we gotta believe in the first place. Like God’s very existence: If you don’t believe in any such being, the rest will be pure myth. It’s the world’s nicest bedtime story, with the world’s biggest happy ending, but you won’t believe a word of it.

Likewise resurrection. This was the ancient Greeks’ hangup: Their philosophy, which they were steeped in since childhood, taught ’em matter is bad (it decays, y’know) and spirit is good. So when you die, you become pure spirit—and that’s good. You wanna be pure spirit. You wanna live in Elysium (the good Greek afterlife) forever. And plenty of people nowadays believe the very same thing: When you die, you go to heaven and live with God and the angels. Maybe even become an angel yourself. (Actually you don’t; they’re another species. It’s like imagining you go to heaven and become ponies. I know; now you wanna become a pony. Stop that.) But the last thing people want is to get put back in a body—it sounds so limiting.

Likewise in Jesus being God. Most people easily accept the idea of Jesus being a great man, or moral teacher. Some are okay with him being divine—but only if it’s true we can become divine just like he did. Actually we can become perfect like him, and that’s one of God’s goals. But Jesus didn’t become God; he was God long before he ever became human. Jn 1.1 But if we can’t believe this, it’s hard to accept the rest.

This is where faith comes in. Faith is simply another word for trust: We trust Jesus. We take his word for it that everything he teaches is true. We figure, “I’m not sure I believe all of this. Or any of it. But I’m gonna try it and see what happens. If there’s anything to it, stuff’s gonna happen. I’ll hear God talk to me. I’ll see him do miracles. If there’s not, if it’s all rubbish, nothing will happen, nothing’ll change; it’ll fall apart. So here goes nothing.” And we take the leap.

And stuff happens. Try it. You’ll see.