Today we tend to say:
God loves us.
We humans commit evil.
As a result of committing evil, we are going to hell when we die.
We go to hell because that’s what we deserve for doing wrong.
But God loves us too much.
He sends his Son to take on the blame for the evil we commit.
If we ask God to forgive us for our wrongs, our wrongs instead go onto Jesus.
We are saved from hell and will one day end up in heaven with God.
There are a number of reasons why this doesn’t work:
1 – It’s anti-Trinitarian, thus anti-Christian.
Most of us, I suspect, don’t care too much about whether God is a Trinity, how that works, and what that means. That’s because this formula we’ve been converted by doesn’t take God being a Trinity into account.
Usually in this formula, God is communicated as a different person to Jesus. Usually in this formula, God is angry at us, but Jesus is kind to us. God is going to send us to hell, but Jesus is going to rescue us from hell. These characters become different people in our minds and in our evangelism.
Christians, then, respond to God, not out of love, but out of guilt for everything we do. God becomes someone to loath rather than delight in. Which is highly problematic. Knowing God as the Trinity is about knowing who this uniquely Christian God actually is – the point of being Christian. Knowing God as a divine lover is who this Christian God actually is.
2 – Non-believers simply don’t care what the Bible says.
Nobody out there cares about what the Bible says like their life depends on it, unless they are already a Christian. If we tell people that the Bible says people are going to hell because God is judging them for their wrongs, that the Bible says they need Jesus’s death to save them, they simply won’t care.
But we wipe our hands clean and think, well I did my bit, their loss, and move on again.
We need to ask: Why should others care about what the Bible says in comparison to any other book?
Why do we think it’s convincing to tell people that the Bible is the ‘Word of God’ because the Bible says so? (And actually, the Bible says Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible.)
The Bible is not important to people as a source of truth like it used to be.
Thus, this evangelism formula is insufficient. It assumes people believe that the Bible is the highest source of truth in the same way we did a thousand years ago during St. Anselm’s time, but we don’t. (St. Anselm invented a formula for his time that this formula poorly attempts to replicate for our time). This makes our message very unpersuasive.
3 – By this message, forgiveness is conditional.
Some critics of this particular formula question why forgiveness requires the death of Jesus.
They ask, if humans forgive each other without someone having to be punished in order for the forgiveness to take place, then why does God require Jesus’ torture and death to then be able to forgive? This means that his love isn’t really unconditional any more.
4 – It is void of purpose.
I don’t think this message is Christian because it says nothing about what to do with the rest of your life. Our Churches fall asleep where we don’t really think too much about being Christian outside of a Christian context – aside from maybe feeling guilty about everything.
We have been saved by a method that doesn’t say anything about Christ going about reconciling the whole world to himself – not just me. Nor does it say anything about our purpose in this reconciliation project.
This gospel has nothing to do with people hurting deeply. It has nothing to do with climate change. It has nothing to do with integrating my work week, and my time off, with my Christian beliefs.
Actually, God cares about everything going on in the world, he made this wonderful place to be wonderful and is resolving worldly evil through us. Yet that’s not incorporated into the Christianity we are being sold.
Here, the only option for being Christian outside Christian contexts is going out to repeat this same message to strangers. It doesn’t show us much about Jesus’s desire for the whole of creation to be renewed and for people to become deeper lovers.
This formula focuses more on what God can do for us, rather than how we can give up our live to serve God. That’s the wrong way around.
5 – It does more damage than good.
This message deters more people away from Jesus than bring people towards Jesus – at least for our post-Christian New Zealand context.
I think it deters people, not because they aren’t interested in Jesus, but because they aren’t interested in us. If we told people more about who Jesus is, I think people would listen. The stuff he did and said was mind-blowingly extraordinary.
This character Jesus, who is God in flesh, thus the only one-to-one mirrored representation of the actual character of the Divine Godhead, is truly amazing. We are doing God a massive disservice when we attempt to dislodge a person out of their personhood and into a formula. In my view, we need to preach who we know, not what we know.
If we go out and tell people about Christ they want to know: will you still love me if I chose to not become a Christian, or am I just another number to you? We need to think very hard about that. Do we intend to love people or not?
Our evangelism is deficient. We need to reimagine how to do evangelism in the ever changing world the Church lives in.
Andrew Hill is a true-blue Kiwi, born and reared in Aotearoa New Zealand. He has lived between Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, chasing his passion: Knowing God. Andrew has studied theology through various institutions, served as a Youth Pastor and as an Associated Pastor at a couple of Baptist Churches, and currently spends time with people with disabilities as a Community Support Worker through Spectrum Care. Andrew has just finished writing his first novel which he intends to publish shortly, and for fun, live streams on twitch.tv @theophilus_nz.