As one of my commenters pointed out, evangelism can be seen as kinda sketchy. Many people go so far as to say that evangelism itself is unethical, as it comments negatively on other religions. So, is it unethical to call our religion unethical for evangelizing? A point to ponder.
The impetus to evangelism is the Gospel (or “Good News”). Many Christians mess up on this point when we talk about it, cause we really don’t understand the Gospel that well. We say things like “Jesus loves you” or “you are accepted by God through Jesus”. Both are VERY important parts of the Gospel, but I submit that they are not in themselves the Gospel.
I think the Gospel is based on something far more foundational to the universe. That we are accepted and loved are not the main show, but supporting threads to the main show. What is that main show? God. A missionary in Mongolia once told me that the upshot of the Gospel is that “Our God Reigns”, even over the sin in our lives, even over hard hearts, and even over the many problems in life, God reigns. He reigns over our sin in that he paid for it with the blood of Jesus. He reigns over our disobedience through Jesus’ obedience on our behalf, and he reigns over death in the resurrection of Jesus, the firstfruits of a new creation which we are part of through faith.
In all this the main actor, the central hero, and the reason for it all is God.
This brings me to the first of the two constraints of ethical evangelism. The love of God.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38, NIV)
Given the above definition of the Gospel, it’s clear why this is the first and the greatest commandment. God is the point. The commandment is first because to a Christian, God IS the Gospel (and Jesus is God, BTW). God is what we were created for, and so the second commandment won’t make much sense for a Christian without the love of God.
This has a few implications for us in evangelism.
1) We must focus the message on God. If Evangelism is ethical, it is based in engendering a different woldview from the one we have, and the basis of the Christian worldview is a knowledge and treasuring of the centrality, authority, and sovereignty of God. When evangelists focus solely on good works or changing the world (as some modern preachers call us to), without appealing to the centrality of God, they are not showing the Gospel. Similarly, when someone calls people to pray a prayer to avoid solely the fires of Hell with no appeal to the greatness of God, they are not bringing the Gospel, they are majoring in minors.
The Gospel is a thing that changes people, it makes all your ideals and goals shift, or it is not the Gospel. It is not about being noble, or about self preservation, or even about acceptance of sinners (though all of it is derivative from the Gospel), it is a change in values. You begin to value God, to love Him with all your heart, and people cannot value a God you don’t tell them about.
2) Evangelists, to be ethical must be Christian. The simple fact is that a person must actually love God to be able to truthfully tell others to love him. We must see God as valuable before we call others to see his value. The problem here is that none of us can love God on our own power. The love of God comes from a change of heart. After all “none seek after God” (Romans 3:11)
3) We can choose the method of evangelism, but we do not have the right to choose the message. Indeed, if you’re a believer, and your heart is moved to actually love God, you wouldn’t want to. In your best times then, you are rather like those annoying hockey fans who can’t shut up about their team. You can’t HELP but talk about how great God is. That said, some think that we can simply avoid the difficult parts of the Gospel (such as the relation of sin and the need for repentance to the glory and holiness of God). That’s ineffective, and it simply avoids the central point, that we must love God.
4) Theology is important. Now this doesn’t mean all Christians have to come to my school and take a class in systematics (though it would benefit many). I mean that people should look at the scriptures and ask “what does this teach me about God?”, remembering that everything said in scripture about God is true (as long as you read it correctly). As I’ve said before, you can’t love what you don’t know, and you definitely can’t help others love what you don’t know. It’s also pointed out by Jesus, as we are called to love God with all our minds.
5) Finally, most importantly and most obviously, God’s action in this is important. Evangelism is working to get others converted to the worldview we as Christians hold, which is centrally related to a God-view. Sinful people don’t see God, as if we did without repentance, we’d die. God is holy, we’re not. God must thus open hearts and minds to actually see him and love him, as God opens the Christian’s mind to do the same. It is God who makes others see Him as valuable, and it is God that they have to see. Not the evangelist.
To that end, prayer is probably the most important part of evangelism, as it is the part most focussed on God. Pray that others may see God’s glory through your words and actions, pray that God would stir your heart and theirs to a passionate love and joy of Him.
It is that joy that we turn to as we deal with loving our neighbour, the next entry.