As I mentioned yesterday, Bryan has a post entitled Universalism Tendencies, in which he asks “if the universalism tendencies that many Christians have are at all tied to a dislike of evangelism and witnessing to others about the Gospel?” Today, I want to wrestle a little with that.
Let me say at the outset that I hate witnessing. A lot of it has to do with me not being much of a people-person. I also don’t like the entire weight of people’s immortal souls being placed on my shoulders. And I think that witnessing entails a lot of pretending and manipulation: I have to act as if I’m completely sold out on conservative Christianity and that it brings me personal fulfillment. And I have to try all sorts of tactics to get the prospect to sign on the dotted line (i.e., say the sinner’s prayer).
Some say that we shouldn’t just witness to keep people out of hell. Ferg responded to Bryan’s post, saying, “If I was a universalist I don’t think it would stop me evangelising as I don’t believe Jesus is all about sneaking people in to heaven, it’s about people being set free and the kingdom of Jesus being revealed now so peoples lives can be turned around.”
I’ve heard similar things over the years. When I was at Harvard, my Harvard Divinity School Christian Fellowship was discussing why we don’t witness enough (yawn!). I replied that perhaps we don’t take hell as seriously as we should. That prompted the leader to say, “I don’t think hell should be the only reason to witness! These people have a spiritual thirst, and we should show them that Jesus is the answer to that.”
A while back, Felix said under one of my posts that witnessing shouldn’t be primarily about fire insurance, but should focus instead on freeing people from the power of Satan the devil. And there are good texts backing him up on this. For example, God told Paul that his mission was “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18 NRSV). Colossians 1:13 states that Christ “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son[.]” And Titus 3:3-5 describes what the dominion of Satan was like: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” Sin is a brutal taskmaster, and Christianity is about Jesus saving us from that and giving us a new life.
But I personally have problems with witnessing from these kinds of motivations. For one, I’m not entirely sure what the “kingdom of God” means. If I’m to witness about God’s kingdom, what exactly am I supposed to say? Should my message be that Jesus Christ will come back to earth and miraculously solve all the world’s problems (the Armstrongite approach)? Should I encourage people to do community service or vote Democrat, as if the renewal of the world depends on Christians (the mainline Protestant view)? What is the kingdom of God?
Second, I have a hard time telling people that Jesus is the answer to all of their problems. To be perfectly honest, Christianity doesn’t quench all of my thirst. I myself don’t find it fulfilling all of the time. I still get depressed and angry and bitter and discontent, even though I believe in certain doctrines about Jesus. Why should I assume that evangelicalism contains what people are looking for, especially when they may find other religions or ideas that speak to them?
And, third, I still feel as if I’m under the power of Satan the devil, even though I’ve been a Christian for over a decade. I still have hatred and lust and a host of other sins, which I don’t know how to shake. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think that many unbelievers are better or worse than I am, at least not on an overall scale. Sure, I don’t have sex outside of marriage, and they do. But, when it comes to helping people or being kind or loving one’s neighbor, I find unbelievers to be as decent as a lot of Christians.
Some may say that witnessing should be about proclaiming God’s righteous ways. And, indeed, Jesus tells us to teach others everything that he has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). But I have trouble teaching people to do a bunch of laws, especially when I find them pretty burdensome to keep.
So these four things are not powerful motivations, as far as I’m concerned. But the idea that someone will suffer forever and ever in hell fire, with no hope of deliverance? That would motivate!