I went to church today and we got a sermon from a guest speaker who espouses the standard felt needs / mysticism / Bible-verses-as-incantation-with-magical-powers view of evangelism.
I just thought that I would write it down while it was fresh in my mind. So below I’ll contrast my view of evangelism with what I will call the felt needs view of evangelism.
1) Who is to be evangelized?
My view: anyone, with an emphasis on people who are willing to listen to your evidence and change their mind on that basis
Felt needs view: People who are poor, ignorant, sick or who are grieving a recent death in the family, people who do not make decisions based on truth and evidence, but on emotions and superstition
2) What is the central issue in evangelism?
My view: the truth of the propositions, e.g. – does God exist, did Jesus rise from the dead
Felt needs view: making people feel good by telling them pleasing things that they have no basis for believing
3) How is the gospel preached?
My view: you explain the truth claims of the Christian faith then appeal to objective evidence, especially from science and history
Felt needs view: you knock on stranger’s doors and tell them how you used to be bad and unhappy and now you’re good and happy and you achieved this by reading the Bible, singing songs, attending church and believing things that you are not able to give an answer for
4) Why should we adopt your view of evangelism?
My view: Because this is the same view of decision-making that is used in the business world, the scientific world, or any other human endeavor where we must make careful decisions about things that matter. And what’s more, this method is Biblical – preparing a defense and presenting evidence IS the Biblical method of evangelism.
Felt needs view: once upon a time some Muslims had a death in their family and I baked them a cake and then they were all in my church 2 weeks later – all 13 of them! That really happened! Oh oh, and there was an old woman on a bus and she converted the bus driver when he annoyed at a red light by telling him that Jesus would turn the light green if he believed in Jesus, and then the whole busload of people converted, too! That really happened! You just have to “share” your faith with people who have an emotional need and tell children Bible stories when they are 6 and 7!
I work with a lot of people that I meet through my blog on their skills and evangelism. One of them had a message waiting for me in my inbox when I got home talking about how she had had a discussion with an annoying atheist who disapproved of her spiritual life. She used the following arguments on him: kalam, fine-tuning, moral, intelligent design, resurrection. He responded with no arguments. She was very excited about it and very comfortable in her faith, and he went away without an excuse. Whether he has a need or not, he knows that ought to adopt Christianity because it is true. She presented it as true and his emotional state was irrelevant to the discussion.
In contrast, consider where the felt needs approach to evangelism leads:
Schuller: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?
Graham: Well, Christianity and being a true believer–you know, I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name.
And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.
Schuller: What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?
Graham: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.
Schuller: I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
Graham: There is. There definitely is.
If you don’t think that the gospel is about sin, and a man dying on a cross for those sins and then rising from the dead, then you think it’s about people’s feelings, and all that’s needed is for them to “believe” things that they have no reasons to believe, so that they will feel better about their need. Or, maybe they just have an emotional experience without believing anything about Christianity and that emotional experience helps their need. Being saved means having your needs met through belief in things you haven’t investigated. This is the approach of evangelism used by many today – even by some guest speakers in my church. Read comforting words, tell comforting stories, believe in things you can’t test or prove. Feel better. Avoid discussions and debates with people who have no needs and sufferings for you to exploit. If someone doesn’t have a need to believe things that are true, then you have nothing to say to them. Do you know where atheists get the idea that Christians believe nonsense because they need a crutch in order to feel better about their weaknesses? They get it from us. We tell them that. We do.
One thing this annoying sermon did do was to cause me to pray about legitimate obstacles to evangelism. For example, I prayed that the laws that encourage people to silence and coerced Christians would be repealed. I prayed that people would be less insular about their own religions and be willing to listen to others from outside their faith. I prayed that people would choose their religion on the basis of truth and evidence, and not because of where they are born and what their families and communities require. I prayed that people stopped identifying religion with nationalism, race and culture. I prayed that people would dedicate more of their time to investigating what is really true using logic, science and history. I prayed that people would investigate whether anyone made the universe for a purpose, what happens when they die, and what Jesus claimed about such things when he was here among us. I prayed that the schools and the culture would not spread lies about behaviors and speculative theories that encourage people to get into sinful lifestyles before they have had the opportunity to investigate religion on the merits. And I prayed that the New Atheist caricature of faith as blind belief in order to address felt needs would not be adopted by Christians, and even by charismatic visiting Christian speakers speaking in my church.