I’ve realized lately that, as blasphemous as it may sound, I’m not a fan of evangelism, at least not the way I’ve seen it play out. It certainly needs to be redefined. However, whereas the philosophical or theological misgivings I had (and have) with aggressive, oversimplified evangelistic concepts or methods (e.g., the Romans Road, Evangelism Explosion, or any fire-and-brimstone mentality) were once reasonable excuses for me to put off (and be put off by) ‘witnessing’ to ‘non-believers,’ I now recognize that the source of my apprehension ( to my admitted dismay) lies more closely to my heart than my head.For one thing, I know that I am often more concerned with whether people like me than I am with whether they love God (far more than I am probably able to admit). It’s not that I pretend not to be a Christian or that I feign obliviousness to God for the sake of social acceptance. In fact, I’ve found that even in relationships where I haven’t mentioned God or church or religion aloud at all, somehow people still detect it in me. I don’t know what it is—an unconscious, consecrated tic; a rebirthmark on my face; a faint whiff of the Spirit on my breath—but they can tell. God is still evident in me—which is not only an undeserved blessing, but a legitimate testament of His work and presence in me.
And yet, while I don’t outright deny Him when asked, while I don’t overtly try to cover up the fact that Jesus is a key part of who I am, I don’t bring Him boldly into ‘un-churched’ relationships, I don’t reveal Him to be my identity, wholly and completely, to those who might not understand it.
The fact is that, while I don’t have any intention of ever flipping through the Wordless Book with my friends and coworkers who don’t know God, what I really want is for them to like me for who I am and for me to like them for who they are, apart from either of us knowing God, and for that to be enough. It makes me uncomfortable to think about bringing up the ‘God talk’ in almost any situation for fear of creating a rift in the friendship. (Which is interesting because I’m not afraid of conflict when it’s something I feel passionate about—grammar, art, racism, injustice—yet somehow I manage to compromise on Christ.)
It’s almost like Jesus is the unpopular kid, and I genuinely like Him, but I’m afraid to admit how close we really are, so I don’t lose friends or get made fun of. Not only that, but I’m afraid to let Him be the Lord of my heart, to have full reign over me. I’m okay even with Him being one of the most important parts of who I am, but not all I am. When it comes down to it, I don’t want Jesus to come between me and my friendships. I resist His right to rule over all of me, over every aspect, every relationship, whatever my fears may be.
However, I’m able to rationalize all of this through a sort of self-justified, by-proxy pseudo-evangelism. I view it as my duty —subconsciously, usually (sometimes consciously)—to be a bridge between these two perceived worlds, between the ‘Christian world’ and the ‘secular world.’ I figure that, since I identify so strongly with aspects of both worlds, I can be a beacon for Christians to things they are missing on account of their pious blindness, to the ways in which they are ostracizing non-Christians (through the above evangelistic methods, for example), and I can also prove to non-Christians that not all Christians are jaded and judgmental, that not all Christians are holier-than-thou and out-of-touch, that some Christians can be cool. (And then I pat myself on the back for being a cool beacon-guy who manages in his own mind to bridge two worlds without really identifying himself with either one. High five.)
And so, while my aims may even be noble or legitimate, rather than the Gospel of Jesus, I favor spreading the Gospel of Jake Feld—who has no ability (save perhaps in his own mind) to do true good or to rescue anybody, least of all himself.
Another conflict I have with entertaining evangelistic conversations with friends, family members, coworkers, is that (due at least in part to the present, predominant methods of evangelism) my only framework for leading people to encounter God is little more than an advertising scheme.
The basic structure of the ad is this: because of [going to Hell, an inescapable vice, an unexplainable tragedy, or some other lack or need], we need God to [let us into Heaven, free us from sin, console us in our grief, etcetera]. We have an illness, so God will cure us. We have a question, so God will answer it. We have a problem, so God will solve it.
First of all, in none of these cases is God the thing we need, merely the means through which to attain it. And second of all, this ‘problem-solving theology’ only works as a platform for evangelism if the need or lack is glaringly apparent, or if the person being evangelized is able or willing to admit it. This isn’t to say that we don’t truly and deeply need God as humans, because we most certainly do—no need is greater than the unadulterated need for God, even food—but how can one convey a need or lack (for which God is then supposed to provide) when that person’s life (by their standards, or whoever’s) is perceivably ‘good,’ when all perceivable ‘needs’ are being perceivably ‘met’?
As I said, evangelism is a term, a biblical concept, a spiritual gift, which needs to be redefined. But I suspect that this can only happen when we as Christians, as the Church, as the Beloved of Christ, allow ourselves to be given fully over to God, to submit totally to His good rule, His loving discipline, and His complete understanding, and to fall utterly in love with Him. As long as we are preoccupied with ourselves, as long as something (anything) matters more to us than Him, as long as our salvation is the equivalent of tokens to a spiritual vending machine, as long as Jesus is just the kid whose house we hang out at once a week, then evangelism is empty. We have no good news.
But if God our Father amounts to more than what He can do for us, if Jesus Himself is Living Water and the Bread of Life, if the Spirit is present in our friendships and desires to commune with our friends more intimately than we do or can…