Maybe it’s because my childhood was still during the time when the most popular tactic for evangelism was to scare the Hell out of people. I tend to shy away from messages of doom. Yes, eternal damnation is a reality that Christians must do their best to help keep others from, but whenever I see God’s people attempting to lure sinners into joining their spiritual clubs in this way I have to wonder what they are thinking. For one, it simply doesn’t work well in the current culture. The people who take that route only feed into the feelings of judgmentalism that repels those we’re supposed to be reaching.
There’s another possibly more obvious error. Many will recall the recent attempt by Dr. Harold Camping to scare people into following God by his prediction of Christ’s return that he claimed would happen last fall. By the way . . . it didn’t. Even worse, it wasn’t his first failed prediction. It wasn’t even his second.
I remember a friend from my days working in finance who was worried about a day in September in the mid 90s when Christ would return – a result of the first of Camping’s prophetic boo-boos. I was far from a biblical scholar, but I told her not to worry because Jesus said that even he didn’t know the times and dates. So this Camping guy must think he’s better than Jesus, I suggested. That doesn’t make for a great prophet of God. Besides, I continued, the punishment for claiming to know the future as God’s prophet and it not coming true was heavy in the Old Testament – the kind that makes you dead. While that may not have the same punishment today, it still shows that God takes it seriously. And, practically speaking, why in the world would anybody listen to a guy who speaks with such authority but gets it wrong by so much (see Far Side cartoon above)? He’s not only making himself a laughing-stock, but God takes a hit in the eyes of the world too.
What steers me from overemphasizing this aspect of evangelism is the ministry of Jesus himself. The Messiah certainly does speak of end times and the punishment of Hell, but he is so much more about the blessings of following him. Freedom from sin, life to the fullest extent, the hope of heaven, peace that passes understanding, the Truth that sets us free . . . so much more is about the great life he is calling us to. And this alternative isn’t just for the next life. We can experience it now, as Jesus says in John 10:10:
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)
Instead of risking the embarrassment of confusing the fuel light from the intercom light and losing the trust of those we’re trying to lead in the right direction, let’s make people want to be Christians because of our love for each other and for them. It worked pretty well for the Apostles, and it will work for us.