Monday, August 13, 2007

A Little More Jesus, A Little Less Amway?

[An overseer] must be well thought of by outsiders...
1 Timothy 3:7

As an evangelical Christian myself, I've often thought that the way many modern evangelicals sometimes try to share their faith has more in common with Amway-style marketing than it does with examples of discipleship taught in the Bible.  I think Joe Carter agrees:

The following are ten fixtures of evangelism that I find particularly harmful. None of them are inherently pernicious (well, except for #10) but they have a tendency to be used in ways that are counterproductive to their intended purposes.

Here is Carter's list with my paraphrase of each point.  Follow the link for much more detailed descriptions of each one:

  1. Making Converts - Shallow conversion vs. deep discipleship.
  2. The Sinner's Prayer - A magical incantation?
  3. "Do you know Jesus as…" - The question that never needs to be asked.
  4. Tribulationism - Why does the general public no so much about the rapture and so little about the gospel?
  5. Testimonies - Why tell your story when you can tell God's story?
  6. The Altar Call - Does genuine conversion require man-made social pressure?
  7. Witnessing - Witness should be a noun, not a verb.
  8. Protestant Prayers - Why don't our prayers sound more like the Lord's Prayer?
  9. The Church Growth Movement - Whatever happened to growing disciples?
  10. Chick Tracts - When was the last time one of these changed a life?

Carter then goes on to say:

The term evangelism derives from the Greek word evangel--"good news." So it's rather odd how so much evangelism appears to be about "selling" Jesus and hoping that you can convince the unsaved heathen to buy into salvation.

We evangelicals don't need tools of evangelism. We don't need fads and fixtures. We don't need anything more than the Gospel. For that is one fixture of our faith that will never go out of style.

To illustrate Carter's point (and my Amway analogy), here is an article representative of how evangelicals are often perceived by the "outside world"(HT to classmate Jason Briggeman for forwarding this article to me.)

'Jesus Love Bombs You' by Chris Hedges

The Christian right refuses to acknowledge the worth of anyone’s religious experience unless—in the words of the tired and opaque cliché—one has accepted “Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

We are instructed to pepper our testimonies with words like love, peace, faithfulness, forgiveness, hope, purpose and obedience and remember to talk about how we have found, in our own conversion, “courage in the face of death.”

Kennedy warns us not to carry a large Bible, but to keep a small one hidden in our pocket, saying “don’t show your gun until you’re ready to shoot it.”

Read the whole thing.  

There is much in Hedge's article that I do not agree with and I think he paints an ugly caricature of Christians and Christianity with an overt anti-evangelical bias.  (Go figure coming from the author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.)  Having said that, I must also confess that part of the picture his article paints is troubling.  It is troubling because he is partly correct when describing the way many Christians are encouraged to share their faith in seemingly shallow, insincere, mechanical ways.  From the standpoint of the church, this creates problems on several levels:

  1. It creates a strong incentive for many Christians to "check-off" and feel satisfied that they followed a certain procedure, rather than engaging in genuine relationships with non-Christians.
  2. It turns many people off from Christianity because they view Christians as insincere and only interested in them as a "project" rather than as a person.  (Sadly, I have had several non-Christian friends share this perspective with me.  After hearing of their experiences, I can't disagree.)
  3. It can quickly shift focus to conforming to visible, external behaviors rather than on changing attitudes of one's heart.  This can lead to conceptualization of Christianity as being peformance-based rather than faith-based, in direct contradiction to the gospel most are trying to share.
  4. It can lead to Christians who follow a "check-list" procedure to think more highly of themselves than of Christians who don't.  (Something I have also seen on numerous occasions.)

There are no examples of mechanical check-lists, high-pressure witnessing tactics, or strong-armed sales pitches in the Bible.  These have far more to do with Amway than they do with the good news of Jesus Christ.  People aren't turned off by this because it's about Jesus.  People are turned off by this because it's cheesy and manipulative.

Whatever happened to Christians believing in the power of the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of men?  Why is it necessary to supplement the gospel with cheesy slogans and blatant manipulation?

For Christians (and others) interested in examples of more thoughtful evangelical thinking, read this article by John MacArthur about how Christians should live in today's world.  Also be sure check out the ministry of Chuck Colson and that of 9 Marks.

Lest I paint too negative a picture of evangelicals, let me say that the vast majority of evangelicals I know are sincere, decent, caring people and most people who know them (both Christian and non-Christian) seem to agree.  Most of my best friends come from among their ranks and I could ask for none better.

I would also say that most of the negative stereotypes commonly believed about evangelicals are simply not true.  Listen to this lecture by GMU's Professor Larry Iannaccone for a detailed discussion on this.  (A lecture Chris Hedges would do well to listen to.)  It is entitled The Myth of the Religious Right:

(click the play button to listen)

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Questions to my non-Christian readers: 

What is your opinion of most of the Christians you have encountered and interacted with?  What is your opinion of Larry Iannaccone's lecture and Chris Hedges article?

Questions to my Christian readers: 

Do you agree with Joe Carter's list of concerns?  What about my Amway analogy?  Why or why not?  What is your opinion of Chris Hedges article?  What about John MacArthur's article or Larry Iannaccone's lecture?

1 comment:

Milehimama said...

A Chick tract changed my life... it made me Catholic! So maybe they do have a purpose...