Evangelism: loving necessity or unnecessary evil?

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George Huntley proposes that evangelism is an integral part of Christianity and is motivated by love for one’s friends. 

Whilst attempting today to drag a friend along to one of the ‘This is Jesus’ talks at the Town Hall, I was asked the poignant question ‘why are you bothering?’ I was thinking the same thing – he obviously just didn’t see things the same way as me, and I was wasting my time and probably not helping my friendship with him very much.

 

But, as a Christian, telling my friends about Jesus is an integral part of what I believe. Jesus told us to do so – ‘go into all the world and preach the good news’ (Mark 16.15). But also, on a more human level, if I genuinely believe that my friends can gain eternal life by trusting in Jesus to forgive them of their alienation of God, then I am bound to tell them. Especially since it is something I believe is completely rational, based on a historical event – the death and resurrection of Jesus – which I have investigated and am confident did actually happen. If I don’t tell my friends, the likelihood is that either I don’t like them or I don’t believe it myself. It would just be selfish not to try to explain to them what I believe and why I believe it. Banning evangelism would prevent Christians from carrying out a fundamental part of their faith, equivalent to stopping them from reading the Bible or praying.

Evangelism is about challenging people’s disbelief of the news that Jesus died for their sins. To give it up would be to give up the intellectual fight, and presumably could be prompted by an admission that atheists are unable to debate Christians adequately. Discussions about God are part of a universal education whilst at university. It’s a shame that people are can be too focused on their degrees to think about politics, history, art, philosophy, and God. Banning evangelism would just institutionalise this and our capacity to think holistically would be lost.

I understand anxiety about aggressive street evangelism. It has happened to me and can be pretty annoying. But most evangelism isn’t like that – it is motivated out of love for friends and a hope that those friendships will be able to last forever. Evangelistic events like the ‘This is Jesus’ talks aren’t that bad anyway. There are hundreds of other people there, all with very different opinions, you get a free lunch and you may even get free salvation too.

 

Will Brandler responds that evangelism is a patronising, arrogant and irrational form of spam.

Evangelists seek to inform and persuade others that their beliefs are true. This is a noble pursuit and Christians can evangelise at will, but not for any of the reasons suggested by George. They can do so because we live in a society where people have a right to express their views, as long as they do not infringe on the liberties of others. If evangelists want to hold a talk explaining how their imaginary friend decided 2,000 years ago to send his son down to Earth to be tortured, gruesomely executed, and then resurrected for some mysterious reason necessary to save us from our sins past, present, and in perpetuity – that’s fine. However, George should be embarrassed to have attempted to ‘drag’ a friend against his will to hear about Jesus. Coercion does not fall under the remit of evangelism.

Evangelists claim to be motivated by love for their fellow man. But what they fail to appreciate is how unbelievably patronizing it is to be offered a bottle of water on your way out of Camera and be looked down on and lectured on how you will not receive salvation unless you embrace Christian values and beliefs. How modestly they assert to know the mind of God! I’d rather spend an eternity in darkness than a day in the company of such self-righteousness.

Faith is not rational; it is a belief without, and often in spite of, evidence. There is no virtue in this. Evangelists are free to assault us with emails, Facebook invites, and flyers. But they should expect us to treat these requests in the same way we do other spam such as offers of cheap Viagra and penis enlargement. We should be open to new ideas, but as Richard Dawkins explains: “not so open-minded that our brains drop out”. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the burden of proof is on evangelicals to show that they have not only  ‘investigated’ the resurrection, but also that they have compelling evidence that it happened. Without this such ideas do not deserve our consideration.

Evangelists can hold as many ‘This is Jesus’ talks as they like, offer bribes (there’s no such thing as a free lunch), and explain with breathtaking arrogance why they have been chosen for eternal salvation. But we should no longer allow it the respect we give the evidence-based disciplines of politics, history, art, & philosophy.