Does Jesus Dislike Evangelism?

(This article was first published on Christian Today)

The former leader of one of the UK’s few mega churches (Abundant Life, Bradford), Paul Scanlon, is now someone who gives ‘Master Classes in Communication’. Recently he communicated a very interesting thought that has caused a bit of a stir and hit a nerve. He Instagrammed: ‘Christians and non-Christians agree on one thing – we both dislike evangelism.’

He explained what he meant: ‘Christians dislike it because we feel awkward and non Christians dislike it because we are awkward. Many of us should’ve received a medal for surviving evangelism… It was more like an assault because it was more about our guilt than their souls. You don’t have to evangelise anyone, just love accept and serve people. I didn’t build my church on evangelism (in fact I banned the word) but on love and service and we flourished.’

PaulScanlon
Paul Scanlon/InstagramPaul Scanlon says Jesus doesn’t like evangelism.

It’s an interesting comment that reveals much about the evangelical church in the West today.

1. We have adopted a post-modern form of communication

The major problem with the statement is that it is an ambiguous piece of communication. If Paul were saying that he doesn’t like the caricature of evangelism which is so often presented (people shouting at street corners, shoving tracts into hands and knocking on doors seeking to make a ‘gospel presentation’) then most of us would be saying ‘amen and amen’.

But the problem is not with the truth behind the statement (because all caricatures carry a degree of truth – otherwise they would not work) but with the distortion that it presents. As in all unclear messages, this post sends out differing signals to different groups, and causes people to argue at cross purposes about disparate things.

2. We have left the news out of the Good News.

Paul Scanlon’s remarks reminded me of the advice reportedly given by St Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.’ The modern equivalent is, ‘You don’t have to preach a sermon, you are the sermon.’ The trouble is that this sets up a false antithesis between preaching and doing. Both surely go together? Indeed the statement itself is nonsensical – how do you communicate without using the primary means of communication God has given us, words? Even more how do we communicate his Word without using his words?

3. We have equated the Good News with being nice.

People are very concerned with how we are perceived. Are we thought to be ‘awkward’ or ‘unloving’? By the standards of our culture we will often be judged as unloving, just as Jesus was condemned by the standards of his. This is because in contemporary Western society to challenge someone’s values, identity and culture is considered to be a great sin (unless you are challenging biblical Christianity!). But that is precisely what the gospel does. It does not affirm us in what we are, but promises to change us into something far better. It’s not nice. But it is real love. Our message is not, ‘Look at how nice we Christians are – you can become like us,’ but rather, ‘Look at how beautiful Jesus is – you can become like him.’

4. We have confused the fruit with the root

 If we believe the gospel we will care for the poor, seek to welcome people and desire to serve. But we don’t do these things in order to earn brownie points in heaven or as some kind of religious penance. We do them because they are the fruit of a heart changed by the grace of Jesus. We don’t do them to virtue signal nor as a substitute for evangelism. Without the root of gospel proclamation, you cannot have the fruit of the Holy Spirit

5. We have forgotten why Jesus came

The important factor is not whether non-Christians like evangelism. It is not whether Christians like evangelism. It is what Jesus thinks about evangelism. He doesn’t like it. He loves it! That’s why he came: ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness’ (Matthew 9:35). He set up his church so that it would be advanced through the proclamation of the message: ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message’ (John 17:20). The early disciples, rather than being embarrassed by the message and seeking to replace it with ‘loving, accepting and serving everyone’, proclaimed the Good News as much as they could: ‘Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah’ (Acts 5:42).

If evangelism is misunderstood, then rather than banning the use of the word, we should seek to reclaim it. I wonder if one of the reasons we are embarrassed by its use is not just the example of poor evangelism, but rather that we are embarrassed by the biblical gospel and would prefer to have our own watered-down, contextualized, safe version. Jesus does not give his people that option.

Christ is not interested in how we build our churches. He is interested in building his church, against which even the gates of hell don’t have a chance. His church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. It is the pillar of the truth. It is founded in truth and grows in truth. Jesus doesn’t need a PR company, spiritual psychobabble, a new communication strategy or evangelism programme. He just needs us to believe what he has said and pass on the Good News about him, ‘adequately, intelligently, enjoyably and powerfully’. We don’t want people to see how nice we are – we want them to see how beautiful Jesus is, and how his beauty overcomes our ugliness. Our society and our churches desperately need more, not less, of that evangelism.

 This is an example of Paul’s teaching….what is fascinating about this is that it is ‘Christian’ teaching with only a cursory mention of Jesus and none of Scripture.  Its just basic secular teaching with a Christian veneer.   Psychobabble…
PS.  Someone commented if “Scanlon could build a church without evangelism, perhaps its something we should look at!”?  But its easy to build a church without evangelism…its just that it will be our church – not Christs….sometimes its harder to attract a crowd when the only attraction is Christ….

17 thoughts on “Does Jesus Dislike Evangelism?

  1. I often wonder about the authenticity of the St. Francis attribution. Seeing that he was a powerful and effective preacher one wonders.

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  2. “….but rather that we are embarrassed by the biblical gospel and would prefer to have our own watered-down, contextualized, safe version. Jesus does not give his people that option.”

    This is so true. Thanks for highlighting this David.

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  3. It always fascinates me when Christians are having a go at each other, no matter how subtly.
    Demonstrates perfectly why this supposed ”message” is little more than man-made nonsense espoused by frightened people. It has no meaningful substance, cannot be supported by any verifiable evidence, and is designed primarily to instill guilt and fear based on a death-cult of gross, and oft times, willful ignorance.

    After 2000 plus years you lot still cannot get it right, and all the Liconas, Craigs, Lennoxs’, Scanlons, Hams and … Robertsons of the world won’t make a blind bit of difference in the long run, as you have correctly informed us regarding the inexorable decline and eventual demise of the Church of Scotland.

    It will be a while, and the likes of you and I probably won’t see it, but it will die with a whisper and become a quaint irreverent oddity. In the same way you might regard worship of Thor or Quetzalcoatl, so future generations will regard the Abrahamic regions, and eventually all religion.
    And you have provided, and continue to provide all the the evidence one needs.

    Vacuous religious nonsense and threats have no place in society.

    Welcome to the future David …

    🙂

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    1. Art,

      How wrong you are. Hope, Liberty, deliverence, confidence, direction and purpose, are all verifiable for the one who will put into effect the words of Jesus.
      You cannot know liberty from guilt, without experiencing guilt in the first place. Ignoring or presenting it doesn’t exist doesn’t change the fact.
      You cannot know deliverence, unless you grasp your captive.

      The gospel is good news, that of course will expose our guilt, shame and bondage. But that is inevitable if we want to find a solution to our problem.
      Pretending the problem isn’t there doesn’t make it so.
      Those who are not sick, have no need of a physician.

      I wasn’t alive when penicillin was discovered. I don’t need to have been. I don’t need to verify how it was discovered or by whom.
      I can know the impact of such a discovery today. By applying what was discovered back then. Then I will know, verified for myself.

      The effect of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are as discoverable today, just as we can discover many other effects of historic events.

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      1. Ah. and the evangelical word-salad sermon. Well done!
        And just how much evidence do you think your comment contained, Gene?

        The gospel is good news? Is it? Really? Good news about what,exactly?

        Oh, and any evidence you have that you care to share concerning the claimed resurrection of the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth I will be gladly look at.

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  4. David,

    “The former leader of one of the UK’s few mega churches………”

    It is perfectly easy to build a “mega” church, as I am sure you know.

    1. Get a band of good looking youngsters all trying to outdo each other in the skinniness of their jeans.
    2. Get them to write and sing their own songs accompanied by lots of lights and strobe effects (and smoke). The pronouns used in the songs should largely be “I”, “me”, “myself” and portray Jesus as a sort of boyfriend.
    3. The preacher must be super-cool like Joel O or Steven F, and must be a great entertaining story teller with a good line in jokes.
    4. Finally, and most importantly, the “sermon” must tell the people what they want to hear – that God loves them just as they are and wants to bless / prosper / heal them. The preacher must never mention the “S”, “J”, or “H” words, but must emphasise that “God loves a cheerful giver” (credit cards accepted).

    Easy!

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  5. Here’s another article demonstrating why we have to use words:
    http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2015/11/st-francis-never-said-preach-the-gospel-always-when-necessary-use-words-2/
    And in his Encyclical, “Evangelisation in the Modern World, published by Pope Paul VI in 1975, he stated: “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness…… Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having ‘your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have’ – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life.”

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  6. J.C. Ryle once said, “Beware of supposing that a teacher of religion is to be trusted, because although he holds some unsound views, he yet ‘teaches a great deal of truth.’ Such a teacher is precisely the man to do you harm: poison is always most dangerous when it is given in small doses and mixed with wholesome food.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very good article. I know atheists who ‘are’ their ‘sermon’ or their ‘evangelism’ or whatever, to a vastly greater extent than I am (as a Christian), basically because they are nice people, whereas I am decidedly not, although I’m still trying. Would it be right for everyone to convert to atheism on the grounds that an atheist can be a nice person I wonder? And the video was truly very strange, the boy is wandering in the post-modernist wilderness.

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  8. Most people don’t grasp the basic principle of evangelism.

    Each day there are people all over the UK who are posting messages through our front doors. They are not the sender. Theirs is not the message. The content did not originate from them.
    They merely take the message/lette/parcel from one person, and give it to another.
    We call them posties. postmen, post women, delivery persons etc.

    This is the basis of an evangelist, and evangelism. The Greek word is simply a messenger. So the real issue is, what is the message that one has, who is it from and who is it for.

    Anyone can don a uniform, collect letters and stick them through a post box. That doesn’t make them a postie.

    The bible has some great evangelists. One of the most successful was a man called Jonah. He wasn’t interested in the message. He wasn’t interested in the recipient. In fact with much reluctance he took the message given to him and delivered it to a people he cared little for.
    But it transformed a nation.
    Why?
    Because the message originated from God.
    It was a message of hope.
    And it was delivered as directed, albeit delayed.
    The success was due to these 3 elements. Not the messenger.

    If the Queen sends an invite, as author she has authority to send the message content, to a person whom she wishes an audience with.
    The evangelist, the messenger, simply delivers it.

    Today we put more emphasis on the messenger, their appeal, their delivery style, their appearance, etc. But such a person cannot manufacture a message of their own, deliver it to who they think it should go to, and think it will have the same result. The best looking, the smartest, cleverest, charismatic person, cannot invite who they see fit to visit HRH at the Palace.

    We need to have a change of mind of what the nature of evangelism is. Discover the author. Understand his message. And deliver as he directs.

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  9. This was a powerful message sent out and I absolutely loved this: “‘Christians dislike it because we feel awkward and non Christians dislike it because we are awkward.”
    Sometimes, the fear of losing the person, makes us water down the gospel, but I guess we need to believe Jesus though it that He will still do His job while we do ours.

    Also I am really happy the way you pointed this out, “Someone commented if “Scanlon could build a church without evangelism, perhaps its something we should look at!”? But its easy to build a church without evangelism…its just that it will be our church – not Christs….sometimes its harder to attract a crowd when the only attraction is Christ…”

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