Another thought provoking story from our almost atheist blog manager, Helen Mildenhall. She wrote me with this explainer:
This is part of a post by Rebecca who I met at the Midwest Emergent Gathering in July. –Helen
I suppose this is a reasonable place to talk about how I feel about evangelism.
Generally, I’m against it.
The Christian community has made such disgusting historical display of evangelism and the almost inevitable prostelytization that I would prefer to sacrifice it altogether than risk the harm it can cause to even a few people. Now, this is easier for me to say because I don’t think the afterlife is the payoff for spiritual people. But, I know that there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with my priorities because eternity seems like such a long time and I really respect a lot of those people. Bob Lupton responds to this better than I ever could in his book, And You Call Yourself a Christian: Toward Responsible Charity:
“Do you believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell?” one sharp young theology student retorted. I knew the rationale behind his question. If you believe that either eternal bliss or eternal damnation await every person after death, then the most loving act is to present the truth of the Gospel to as many people as possible and thus save them from everlasting destruction.
It’s a compelling argument. The problem, of course, is that it leads to viewing others as souls instead of people. And when we opt for rescuing souls over loving neighbors, compassionate acts can soon degenerate into evangelism techniques. Pressing human needs depreciate in importance, and the spirit becomes the only thing worth caring about. Thus, the powerful leaven of unconditional, sacrificial love is diminished in society and the wounded are left lying beside the road.”
My church interacts a lot with people who have been wounded by sometimes well-meaning Christians who saw them as a soul rather than a person or who were just looking to add to the notches on their baptismal fonts or who counted how many people showed up on Sunday morning rather than whether the people that showed up were getting closer to Jesus. (Yay to Bill Hybels, by the way, for addressing that last particularly difficult problem in his own church.) Spencer Burke talks about those folks as being inoculated against Jesus by being exposed to only a token amount of Christianity injected by an often cold and sharp needle. Often, what they hear from the evangelism message is that Jesus will only love them if they change to be more like the Christians in that particular church. That is not the Good News. So, if the evangelists’ goal is to save souls, their work is counter-productive in a huge percentage of cases.
However, there are a lot of people out there who are lonely. Who believe they are worthless. Who want to talk to God but flinch because of the previous times the Church has slapped them. They are leading the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau talked about.
I want them to know that God loves them.
I don’t care if they go to my church.
I don’t care if they call themselves Christian.
I don’t care if they say the magic words and get baptized.
I care that they have a community.
I care that they believe that they are valuable.
I care that they be able to talk to God when they need to.
I want for them life in all its fullness and I don’t care how they find that.
November 16th, 2007 · 21 Comments
Categories: OA Stories