Evangelism is NOT coercion.
Much of what I know of evangelism comes from being raised in a fairly fundamentalist environment (yes, I think there's room for degrees of severity here), where Evangelism Explosion was our go-to program, and our silver bullet was the line (I know you've all heard this one before):
"If you were to die tonight, and you had to stand before God, would you be ready?"Now THAT is a loaded question. Beneath the already-confrontational surface, there is a bubbling cauldron of assumption and presupposition that essentially turns the question into a choice between two options:
- Be condemned to a place of eternal separation from God, probably everlasting punishment, and where you will probably be conscious as you may or may not suffer in a raging inferno that never destroys your body.
- Love God! Do it! Do it now! Or else (see option 1)
And now, a digression in the form of a story, after which we will, of course, beautifully and succinctly tie the moral of the story into the point of this whole post and our lives will be forever changed...or something like that.
My oldest son and I have really bonded lately. Since the baby has come along, our family has settled into a nice rhythm where mom is putting baby down to bed right around the same time that the E-man needs to go down, so I've had the wonderful privilege of having an hour and a half or so of focused, one-on-one time with the little guy, and our relationship has really blossomed because of it.
The hugeness of these things cannot be overstated.
Now, I'll admit, I've been looking forward to this for a long time. Dad's, you know what I'm talking about. When they're babies, especially if they're nursing, there is just this seemingly impenetrable barrier between you and this new "them," and you long for the day when you can break through and be a part of the "us" again...or maybe that's just me and my raging insecurities as a youngest child...but I digress. The point is, I have very much been looking forward to getting to pal around with my oldest for some time, and now the time has arrived, and it is awesome.
So what does this have to do with evangelism?
Perhaps you already know where this is going, but here it is: if I had to coerce my son into having a relationship with me, if I had to say "love me or I'm going to spank you" is it even possible for that to be real love and real relationship? Or what if, before the baby was born and he was still in the "mommy-time" phase, his mom had begun to tell him that he "had better love his daddy or there will be consequences," indeed the most severe consequences that his little brain could fathom, then could what resulted possible be considered an authentic, loving relationship?
The obvious answer is no. So why do we think that there are different rules for evangelism? Our doctrine says that God is Love, but our practice says that God is primarily an escape from punishment, and oh yeah, also maybe a slice of Love on the side...but mostly the escape from punishment thing.
But what can we do? Well, for our family, it means we have had to rethink our beliefs about God's nature, hell, justice and all of those other preconceived notions that drive this particular flavor of evangelism. It also means that we've had to start looking at evangelism as a lifestyle instead of an event or action. We're still trying to figure it all out, but in any case, I think it's certainly a discussion worth having.
So, mom and the internets, what say you? Am I missing the point? Have I gone off the deep end. Talk to me, interwebs. Don't leave me hanging like you did with the Lent post. :)