Friday, June 24, 2011

Friendly Evangelism: Slacktivism

For those coming in late: a while back I did a series of posts on how Christians can talk to ex-Christians without being obnoxious or giving offense, under the heading of Friendly Evangelism. Shortly after that, I was pleased to discover Alise Wright - who, as it happened, had just finished making a lot of the same points in a much more succinct fashion.

Now I find that Fred Clark, author of Slacktivist, has posted his own suggestions for effective evangelism. They aren't making the same points - he's working from the more general topic of how to evangelize effectively - but in some ways I think he does a much better job of answering the question positively than I managed in my own essays.

On a related note, Steve Sanchez (over at Stone The Preacher), mentions a would-be evangelist who tried to give Lady Gaga a Bible tract. He notes, "As Christians, we ought be the most gracious, most polite, most tactful of people when we share our faith. Sadly, not everyone feels or acts the same way. Our team sees this man quite often when we go out to big events—and we stay on the other side of the street so as not to be associated with his unloving methods." While I appreciate the sentiment, as far as I can tell Pastor Steve and his group are also there to hand out Bible tracts - so the fact that they're on the far side of the street (and presumably smiling at the time) doesn't do much to distinguish them from the fellow he criticizes. Handing out tracts is a fundamentally unfriendly means of evangelism. Mote, meet beam.

Pastor Steve also explains, in his post on how he got started evangelizing, the following:
One point stuck with me: In the New Year we should evangelize more.

How many times have you heard that as a Christian? Easily, a million times. And what did you do about it? Same thing I did probably: you listened, nodded your head (probably pursing your lips as you did), made a half-hearted commitment to start sharing your faith, somehow, somewhere, but ultimately let it pass by the wayside, along with your other vows, like reading through the Bible in a year, or losing twenty pounds.

That morning, however, I chose to do something about it. I sat in my chair at church (we don’t have pews), and said to myself, “I’m going to share my faith everyday.”
I'm sure Pastor Steve would disagree, but this seems to me like a radically[1] misguided approach. It's precisely the sort of decision that leads people to extreme (and extremely ineffective) means of evangelism, usually the ones that require you to accost innocent strangers in public settings.

So how is it misguided? I mean, sharing the Gospel is a Good Thing, right?

Glad you asked. Here's the thing that came to me while I was reading this: Are you living your faith? Do you interact with people? Then you're sharing the Gospel. Preaching at people you don't know (whether with words or with tracts) isn't going above and beyond; it's missing the point.

By all means, preach the Gospel. But only use words if necessary.

[1] From the Latin root, Radix, "at the root."


  1. At the foundation of all evangelistic efforts is the notion that people have something wrong with them and I have what they need to fix what is wrong with them. Evangelism by design is exclusionary and divisive.

  2. I've enjoyed this (newly found for me) series. Steve Sanchez is...well, I'll quote you, "They do it because they are commanded to, but if you happen to convert... well, that has nothing to do with them."

    I think most of those associated with Ray Comfort are Calvinists, but they don't seem to come straight out and admit that.

  3. @ Bruce - Maybe that's what keeps bugging me about this. Because the Christianity I grew up with also encouraged evangelism, but in a very different way. The feeling was more like, "We have this wonderful thing: our faith, the surety of our salvation. So our job is to let people see how wonderful that is, and then tell them how they can have it, too."

    That's wildly different from, "Everyone is a sinner and deserving of an eternity of punishment, but this message can get them into eternal paradise instead. Go! Now! Spread the message! Or else they burn!"

    @ perdita - Yes, that seems to be the case. Pastor Steve indicated to me that he felt like his efforts could make a difference - at least, I think he did; "100% us and 100% God" could be Embracing the Paradox or Dodging the Question, or a bit of both. But, generally, I think he does give some thought to the impression his efforts make, which sets him apart from the really hardcore Calvinists I've run into.

    I'm currently working with the hypothesis that extreme Calvinism attracts the sort of people who are much more interested in being right than in being kind, generous, open, charitable, or any of those other things that Jesus spent his time on.

  4. "I think he does give some thought to the impression his efforts make, which sets him apart from the really hardcore Calvinists I've run into."

    That's what I've seen. There's been a lot of back-and-forth on where the line for jerky evangelism falls, but at least he recognizes that there is a line and he's not afraid to call out fellow Christians when he thinks they're definitely over the line. He also doesn't demand that you agree with him before he'll listen to you - which is very refreshing in Living Waters circles.

    "...extreme Calvinism attracts the sort of people who are much more interested in being right than in being kind, generous, open, charitable..."

    You know, I'm never sure if it's the chicken or the egg. It seems there may be a point they reach - where people aren't hanging on the word of God like they should be and where they aren't pulling in the crowds like Spurgeon or whoever else they admire, and they either need to drop out or get Old Testament on everyone.

  5. "You know, I'm never sure if it's the chicken or the egg."

    To be honest, I'm not sure about the direction of causality either. I just see a lot of overlap.


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!