Painting with an admittedly broad brush, I’ve noticed some changes in Christian attitudes and motivations toward evangelism over the years.
A while ago, many evangelized out of guilt. They felt so bad they hadn’t told their friends about Jesus that they just had to “get it off their chests.” This was not ideal.
Then for a while, we proclaimed the good news with confidence in our methods and apologetic firepower. We had answers—lots of them! No one was going to stump us. So we shared the good news of grace with the bad attitude of pride. This was even worse than the guilt-ridden days.
In the past few years, I’ve heard another motivation, expressed in numerous ways as compassion. More and more Christians, I sense, don’t know what to say to their non-Christian friends, but they feel burdened to say something out of love. Their friends’ lives are falling apart, and Jesus can help them. I’m greatly encouraged by this trend. When we proclaim the gospel out of concern for people, they feel a qualitative difference than when we exude pride, guilt, anger, or superiority.
But recently, I’m hearing another attitude creep in: despair. As I conduct evangelism trainings, I’m sensing some pushback that wasn’t there a few years ago. Believers tell me the answers we offer to outsiders might be true and accurate and biblical, but they just won’t work. “People will just think we’re crazy,” they tell me. “They won’t even listen!”
Still a Potent Weapon
I agree the temperature has gotten hotter when it comes to gospel conversations in the late-modern West. And I don’t deny that our task has gotten more difficult. We have to work harder at pre-evangelism and plausibility building than we used to.
If we ever thought evangelism was easy, we failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
But we need to remember something. While the challenges to evangelism may be more formidable than in the past, God’s power to break through hasn’t diminished. Our neighbors may be more resistant than ever before. But God’s “two-edged sword” is as sharp as ever (Heb. 4:12). The prevailing culture may encourage more condemnation of Christians than in recent times (I believe that’s the case in America, at least). But the gospel’s power to save hasn’t lost any potency at all.
If we ever thought evangelism was easy, we failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation. If we ever relied on the power of our reasoning skills or the strength of our apologetic arguments, we succumbed to an arrogance that trusted in ourselves rather than God. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that people are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We thought they were just confused or misinformed or ignorant. We slipped into thinking people needed answers more than a Savior.
But evangelism isn’t just difficult. It’s impossible. And that’s actually liberating.
Because when we remember that evangelism involves talking to spiritually dead people, we ask God to do what only he can—raise the dead. When we recall that the Devil has blinded people, we ask God to lift the veil. When we see that people need more than just answers, we do our best to give them good answers, but we also beg God to soften hearts.
Let’s not ignore the obstacles we face. But let’s not doubt the God who cuts through obstacles for his glory.