Imagine coming up to a suicide bomber and saying, “If you were to die tonight, do you know you would go to heaven?” He or she would most likely respond, “Yes, of course, why do you think I have these bombs strapped to my chest!”
Can I tell you that our Western evangelistic model is broken? It is. Why? Because, as Steve Gray put it (“My Absurd Religion“), we’re asking the wrong questions.
And if these kinds of questions were actually biblical, I would defend them to the death.
Did Jesus. Peter, or Paul, or anyone in the New Testament, ever ask the lost if they were to die tonight, would they know they’re going to heaven? Of course not. This question was made up much more recently.
Here’s the problem. With all our evangelistic efforts, studies have shown that there’s been no real net growth in evangelical Christianity (in America) since 1965 (a lot of church-swapping, though). Could it be, we’re asking the wrong questions?
As Gray points out, “The Protestant reformation was a Post-Medieval humanistic movement…the whole protestant reformation is based on one subject…it has one root…and that subject is sin and not participation in Christ.”
In other words, the Reformer’s evangelistic paradigm was one based in Roman Jurisprudence–sin and punishment, sinners in the hands of an angry God, going to heaven and not hell—not so much about intimately connecting with Christ and walking by His Spirit. And this focus worked very well…500 years ago…when everyone was obsessed with sin and going to hell.
But, today, we’re posing questions people just aren’t asking anymore.
And why is it humanistic? Because, primarily, this salvation message starts and ends with “me” instead of God. It’s about looking inward…self-knowledge, self-loathing: I’m a sinner going to hell, I need to fix my future.”
People aren’t going to the altar to know Jesus, they’re coming because they don’t want to be punished. And they’re not concerned so much with Who is there…and why (other than He’s very angry and can’t wait to punish them).
It’s very hard to connect with the God who is Love when you’ve come into the Kingdom through fear. Fear is the opposite of Love (1 Jn.4:18), and there is no fear in God’s Kingdom. It’s a very foreign place to Christians who see themselves as worthless sinners instead of redeemed and beloved saints, sons and daughters of their Abba Father.
Oh, you will get a few guilty “churched” souls to respond, but not most. Especially, not many young people. They’re leaving this church in droves. That kind of manipulation doesn’t work on them. Actually, the ones I’ve talked to just make a joke out of it.
Now, before you dismiss our current culture as rebellious and “what’s wrong with this world,” these same people would probably love to know the real Jesus…if they saw Him lived out in us, and could know this Love for themselves.
One serious problem with an “expiation” (payment for sin) message instead of a “participation” message is this: if I am responding so that I can escape hell, I really don’t care who’s there! Lady Gaga or Dr. Phil could be the Savior as far as I’m concerned, just as long as I escape the flames. “Jesus? Cool, as long as I’ll be okay.” Maybe that’s a bit over the top. But seriously, if I’m going to a place instead of a Person, do I deeply care who’s there?
Can anyone see the absurdity of this religious paradigm?
You see, orphan-hearted Christians don’t generally think about Christianity as a relationship with a Father (Jn.14:6). They don’t see themselves seated in heavenly places (Eph.2:6), as current heirs of His Kingdom (Gal.4:6-7), part of a family connected in both heaven and on the earth (Eph.3:14-15). They don’t see their relationship with God and with each other based on mutual love, honor, and devotion.
Don’t think this is so? Okay, let me pose a scenario for you.
Just go into the average church and call for a special worship and prayer night where intimacy with God will be the goal. And, by the way, there won’t be any music. And afterward, we will spend time expressing our mutual devotion for each other. How many do you think will show up?
This is why you have a lot of “Christians” who responded to the altar call but don’t really care much about personally and intimately knowing Jesus. They’ve already punched their “go to heaven” card, so now all that’s left is get others to avoid hell and wait for the rapture. And it’s our fault. We’ve made evangelism about a place instead of a Person.
We need a Reformation upgrade.
The good news is, that isn’t the main point of salvation. Having our sins forgiven is a means to a much greater end. Salvation is knowing and connecting with a Father who is the Source of all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And everyone wants that. It’s just a matter of showing it to them.
So, I think better, more biblical, questions to pose are… “What if you didn’t die today, tonight, or tomorrow…do you know unconditional and everlasting Love? Do you know my Father, in whose presence is always fullness of joy? Who loves you so much He sent His Son to die for you so you could live with Him? Who heals the sick, who touches the most wounded human heart, who sets the captives free? Do you know this God of all hope who makes you feel like you’re living for the very first time? Whose desire is for you to live the fullest life of purpose you could ever imagine…today, tomorrow, and forever?”
And this is not found in going to heaven or escaping hell. For heaven would be hell without this God. It’s about knowing Him and living in connection with Love.
My Bible says “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)