Evangelizing: a catch-22?


#1

Just seemed wrong that a site called Evangelical Universalist had a thread titled “Evangelism” – that had no posts…

Of all the words and ideas I’ve read here so far, perhaps these are the most sober ones for me. This from Gregory MacDonald’s section called “How Universalism Has Impacted my Life” (one of the best threads on this site so far – in my opinion)

Yet still fresh to, and flush from the excitement of discovering the Total Victory won by Christ as reflected in the reality that ALL will ultimately be saved, now it is suggested that to break such news too early might in fact cause more harm than help to the one I sincerely want to encourage; whose burden I seek to lighten; whose flickering flame of hope I want to revive.

I must confess that this resurrects in me all the guilts and fears of yesteryear that I should be out there warning people of their dire fate unless they …. well, we all know the drill I guess. The idea that, by my inaction, or in this case action, somehow I might be the reason for someone’s future suffering is troubling. Further, causing another to stumble is certainly anathema for me – as it is all of us I’m sure – so that is a line one wants to stay as far away from as possible.

It troubles me to find myself questioning the fairness of a God who would allow someone else’s fate of future suffering to rest in my hands. I mean, the entire universe knows (conceivably) that I’m a flawed sinner, eagerly awaiting redemption, so what would be the purpose of adding to my burden and guilt by being held responsible for another’s suffering? One can drive himself insane with that kind of worry; for where does it logically stop?

On the other hand, I have been thinking lately about a common derisive response from those who ridicule the very idea of Universal Restoration; “well then – guess I can go out and sin with impunity and ‘get away’ with it huh”?!!

This quandary seems to lay bare the reality that not all follow Christ “for the joy set before me” – some may follow to keep their butts from gettin’ kicked! So to speak. Drawn by love and gratefulness – or pushed and pulled by warnings of pain and suffering. I’m just not at all clear how to walk this line. Am I making a false dichotomy? Maybe I should be emphasizing both so all bases are covered?

One of the things that bugs me when being lectured by those trying to convince me how wrong I am about Universalism is when they say that Hell (or annihilation) shows conclusively just how “seriously” God takes sin. “So” I ask in reply “beating the snot out of someone will show them? Is it not possible that a God who was truly serious about sin would HEAL sinners and thereby making sin no more!” Seems to me that mere violence in response to sin is easy; the harder task is to take responsibility for it and HEAL it. More, it seems to me that learning the reality of UR will result in such a relief that people can relax and serve God without all that nagging fear and uncertainty. This presupposes, I guess, that such a one is already serious about enjoying God’s company and living a more Christ-like life.

So I’m just not sure. Is the “Good News” to be put in terms of sufferings to be avoided? (ie Jesus is the Way to minimize suffering; perhaps true, but is it winsome?) Or is it better to simply stay positive and even offer how the book ends – ie Universalism? Then again, salvation really has no context unless one has a comprehension of his need for it; a comprehension that is, of sin. It’s back to that whole law-necessary-to-bring-us-to-Christ dynamic.

The “catch-22” then is tell the Good News of UR – and risk minimizing sin
–or–
try to enable a vision of sin – and risk inducing fear and despair and uncertainty

Wow – I’ve got to think about this some more… seems I’ve got more bias on this issue than I had imagined…

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#2

Bob#3

Speaking as the evangelee (so to speak) here’s my take on it…

As far as the writers of the Gospels go, their portrait of Jesus doesn’t seem to include a whole load of episodes where Jesus berates unbelievers and sinners with fierce talk of punishment. Jesus is more often righteously angry with the religious leaders of the day and says quite clearly that the prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before them (it doesn’t matter whether that meant the sinners would really go in before them or just an exageration to show how impossible it would be for them to enter the kingdom in their self-righteousness). Jesus also tells the disciples not to vent their anger on towns that don’t receive them but to shake the dust off their feet and move on. Similarly when they want to call down fire from heaven Jesus is pretty stern in his rebuke of them.

Also in the rest of the NT (Revelation apart) I don’t see many places where it’s the pagans who are assalted with threats of retribution (again it’s mostly backsliding Christians). When Paul speaks to the Greeks he doesn’t maul them verbally over their multiple gods he just points out that the unnamed god they also worship is the true God and that it was this God who sent Jesus to save them.

By all means tell the unbeliever the good news (in its entirety) and leave it to God to do any work in them. I suppose if the Christian is fully in tune with the Holy Spirit then their own thought processes shouldn’t really interfere with whatever words the Spirit chooses to communicate the Gospel to the unbeliever (I’ve yet to see that happen). I think the difficulty is for the Christian to get out of the mindset that makes them feel responsible for ‘winning the soul’ of the unbeliever they are evangelizing.

By all means tell me the Good News as you see it - but don’t go on and on and on and on at me about punishment or I’ll just avoid you in future (I don’t mean you personally I just mean some generic you :mrgreen: ).


#3

Though even in RevJohn the backsliding Christians get threatened first. :wink:


#4

:laughing: I’ve kept thinking the same thing myself; but I’ve always been busy doing something else somewhere else. (…evangelizing, I hope. :slight_smile: )

And yet, strictly speaking, that happens every moment of every day all over the world. The people I sin against, God help them, suffer because God allows their fate of future suffering (temporary though it may be) to rest in my hands.

I know you were thinking in terms of “final unalterable hopeless future suffering”, but I wanted to take the opportunity to refocus that concern: even if universalism is true (and I strongly believe it is), God still allows people to suffer at my hands (not even to say the hands of sinners much apparently ‘worse’ than I am). God also still allows people to suffer at the whims of a non-sentient natural system.

The truth of universalism doesn’t change any of that. And it’s something we ought to keep in mind, including (maybe especially) for evangelical purposes.

Rather sums up the whole OT in a nutshell right there. :wink: Especially (though not exclusively) in God’s relationship with Israel.

I could write a huge essay on the topic, but I’d only be echoing what George MacD from back in the 19th century has already said. So I’ll be lazy and quote him instead. :mrgreen: :


#5

TotalVictory,

(My apologies that this is my first post, and I haven’t posted in the intro section - I hope to do that later, but this thread caught my eye today - as way of a quick intro - I’m a regular ol’ Christian who goes to a Christian Reformed Church and I have believed that God has plans for all for about the last three years).

Your thread made me pause today, because I share some of your thoughts and feelings. I’ve realized that in coming to believe in the eventual salvation of all there is (for me, at least) an inclination to have a more relaxed view of evangelism. I’m not really sure if that is bad or good. However, even before I believed in UR, I wasn’t all that much of an evangelist and I’ve never had the stomach to throw hell in someone’s face. In the times I’ve shared my faith, I always speak of the God of Love that I have experienced… keeping in mind that God’s kindness leads to repentance.

I suppose that in some circumstances speaking of judgment may be appropriate - but I haven’t been faced with those situations - and I expect that if I did I wouldn’t talk about hell, but about how the sin (or whatever) that someone was dealing with would be it’s own reward, if you know what I mean.

I do believe we have responsibility to give what we have received to our fellow man… however, I think that the responsibility has to fall in line with how the Spirit is working in us. While, by most standards, I’m not much of an evangelist, God has provided me with some very genuine opportunities to share my faith… And I’m very thankful for those.

I think I have a tendency to feel too responsible sometimes… and then the guilt creeps in. But there is evidence in the Bible that suggests to me that running around spreading the gospel isn’t what we’re all called to. People talk about Paul’s urgency to spread the gospel, which I do not deny he had, but he also wrote these words from 1 Thess 4: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

As far as preaching judgment or preaching mercy… I read something by Stephen Jones once that really stuck out to me… He was talking about John 21 - the disciples were fishing and not catching anything… Jesus tells them to throw the net on the right side of the boat and they haul in a bunch o’ fish. According to Jones it is significant that Jesus tells them to throw their net on the right side, because according to the OT (I haven’t confirmed this myself) the right hand of God represents mercy and the left represents judgment… The point being that it’s the love and mercy of God that will bring people to Christ… And from my experience, it is the realization of God’s love that produces fruitful change in me…

Well, sorry for the disconnected thoughts.

Andrew


#6

Now that I am considering UR, this topic has been on my mind. Like some here, I have never been an ardent evangelist. I think it has been because I’ve always had more than a little doubt about aspects of the Christian faith, Hell obviously being one of them. That being said, if I embraced Universalism, I would still strongly hold to the biblical model of evangelism which requires repentance and belief in Christ’s resurrection. Assuming that UR is true, no one is going to be in Heaven without repenting of their sins. What if the nonbeliever responds that he will do that in the next life and will just spend this one being filled with selishness, vain accumulation of wealth, and fornication with young beautiful women? After all, if everyone is saved in the end, can’t he just have as much carnal fun as he can? At that point, I think bringing up the judgment of God both in terms of natural consequences in this life as well as a finite though bad post-mortem experience in Hell would be appropriate. Jesus did speak of Gehenna, and painted it as a place you’d rather not stay for long.

I am very much a doubting person and won’t evangelize unless I believe that what I am preaching is wholly true. I have to see a greater amount of repentance in my own life and be convinced one way or another on the Hell issue. Is this sinful of me? I know of a fundamentalist website that has a counter of how many people are dying every moment with the omnimous implication that many of them will be eternally lost. The guilt of intellectually deliberating and searching while this could be happening to millions of people is overwhelming. In not trying my best now, am I partly responsible for the damnation of others? That would be horrible. Even the milder views of eternal Hell shouldn’t inspire more comfort. All this strikes me a little ridiculous in various ways and is the reason why I have never really believed in the traditional doctrine fully. Still though, it would be contrary to the New Testament if we let a doctrine of UR bring us to indifference about our neighbor’s orientation concerning God.


#7

I don’t think most non-believers on being evangelised take the view ‘well gosh I believe totally what you are saying but I’m going to defer my salvation until after death so I can get in my quota of sinning’. They are much more likely to continue in their sinful ways only because they don’t believe what you’re saying is actually true.

As far as I can see from the NT it’s not the Christian’s job to debate the non-Christian into belief (it being the Holy Spirit’s role to convict of sin) but to give an account of why they personally believe the Good News (and that might include the unvarnished topic of retribution and punishment). As I have said before - I would be far more convinced by seeing a Christian living a Christ-like life than any eolquence on their part in a debate.


#8

I’m always amazed by the ET rebuttal of UR which asks “then why evangelize?”.

I’ve known UR since day one and it had no ill effect on evangelism whatsoever. When you’re reborn and Spirit filled, what else is there? I preached, testified and shared with literally everyone who came across my path. I fasted for days on end just to feel spiritually strong and stay in touch with what I had found. I would not so much as watch a sexually suggestive TV program and stayed away from magazines and even stopped looking at billboards (!) because I did not want to spend any more time in the pig pen of carnal thought.

I seriously wonder if those who ask the “why evangelize?” question have had a very deep encounter with God. I mean, really. :question:


#9

JeffA,

I was just imagining a hypothetical hedonist nonbeliever. It is a good thing that most people aren’t full-ledged hedonists. I respect those who would disagree with me because they don’t believe what I am saying is true. For a while now, I’ve been very interested in apologetics, especially the defense of Christ’s resurrection. While I haven’t spoken to many nonbelievers, the few I have spoken to seem to have deep psychological issues that prevent them from trying to look at the arguments and evidence with an open mind. While I am still very much interested in rational argument, I realize now that sin has a big effect on people’s reasoning abilities. Humanity is grand in that we are thinking reeds, but we are pliable reeds nonetheless. We are not honest seekers of the truth. I think this is why when it comes to searching for religious truth, many people accept the pseudo-solutions of diversion and indifference. Jesus promised that whoever seeks will find. So, I have no fudamental disagreement with the agnostic or atheist who is honestly seeking.

I think we are kindred spirits in a way. I have been hesitant to evangelize much because I feel that my life doesn’t reflect Christ as much as it should. To be fully honest though, it’s not a complete either/or. I can live a completely Christ-like life and have really bad arguments for why I believe what I believe. On the flip side I could have the best, most logically valid and sound arguments for my faith and lead a terrible unregenerate life of sin. Both holy living and good argumentation are good things and are gifts of God.


#10

Interesting comments here on this thread. Much to say about ALL of them.
And several things going on too.
A few comments of my own…

As preface to the description of some particular good work by Christ we often read something like “and seeing their affliction, He took compassion on them.” The suffering of others, as well as the future suffering, should find us in the same attitude it seems; moved with compassion. I think it’s very appropriate for us to be motivated by wanting others to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. So a simply answer to “why evangelize?” is because we are compassionate. Simple, but not complete.

Yet it’s so much more than getting some crucial “facts” correct so we can avoid being whacked into the kingdom. “The kingdom of God is HERE” and “I’ve come that you might have life and have it MORE abundantly” and “MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light” and similar statements surely evokes a positive reason to come back to God (I say back because that is the “place” where we are to be and always were intended to be) for that is where our greatest self-fulfillment and happiness will be. Evangelism then needs to be FAR more positive; any negativity thereby avoided is welcome, but not the main point. The “Good News” needs to be far better than just avoiding the Bad News.

Of course how to interact with the “happy pagan” is going to be an issue if one has this mindset. But respectful and loyal friendship seems a logical place to dive in. Evangelism as verb? – or as adjective describing a constant state of compassionate mind.

And even though I am utterly immersed in the idea of eventual Universal Reconciliation, I remain puzzled by many aspects of it. We’ve all seen the humorous posters or signs or bumper stickers saying:

“The flogging will continue until morale improves”

— but the* reason* this seems comical to us as humans is because we seem to share an awareness that flogging is the last thing that will improve morale! Yet there is a real risk that the evangelism of the Universalist – our evangelism! – comes across not much differently. Sort of a “climb on board now before the flogging begins”!

To be sure, I very much agree that growing awareness of God and God as witnessed in the Christ is somehow coupled with growing awareness of how far we have missed the mark; whether seen as “bad” actions or as estranged relationship. The two seem to go hand in hand. Someone who thinks there is no “problem” is certainly not going to see Christ as any kind of “solution”. So again; present the solution, or the problem, which seems negative but which causes thirst for a solution.

As for the potential guilt we will feel at watching others go through that awful time of remediation and wondering if there was anything we could have done to forestall it, I’m wondering if this is part of our happiness not being complete until ALL is redeemed. Just as God is not “all in all” (in actuality) until then. We will be fully invested in what God is doing and will mirror His emotions and ethos as it transpires. In a way we too will suffer with God as we watch this change evolve.

Just musing…

PS – thinking about JeffA’s love of music, we have, at our church, a men’s chorus and they sing an absolutely wonderful and prayerful song wherein they offer up themselves to be the conduit through which God’s love can flow to humanity; “Love through me…” it’s called. MAYBE we’re making it too complicated? Maybe it supposed to be as simple as letting God’s love flow through us…

Still musing…

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#11

Its always seemed strange to me that It was all Jesus until I got saved and then all of a sudden it was all me. As far as it being my responsibility to get some saved its crazy to think about them going to Hell if I am the one who was responsible for getting them saved. It simply does not add up.


#12

Bobx3

One of my favourite Christian authors the Jesuit Priest Gerard Hughes says something similar. He advocated starting prayer with something like ‘Be the God of love and compassion to me and through me…’