Kirk Cameron is probably most famously known as Mike, the teenage son on Growing Pains, a popular sitcom of the mid-80s. Cameron is better known today, however, for his zealous Christian ideas and his association with Ray Comfort, an evangelist who, with Cameron, seeks to convert people to Christianity.
Both Cameron and Comfort call what they do witnessing. It seems to me, however, that while they may be passionate about what they are doing, and they certainly believe they are right in doing it, they are more than anything being confrontational and condemning to the extent that they may do more harm than good. Their approach is certainly not new, for many Christians consider this kind of proselytizing as being faithful to Jesus’ commission for his followers to go into the world and share the gospel with all people.
I don’t doubt the passion of those who believe in this kind of evangelism, and I don’t necessarily want to judge the motivations of the hearts of folks like these. But I am concerned that this kind of witnessing, and the passion that seems to fuel it, is misguided and may not be what Jesus envisioned when he voiced the command for his followers to be his witnesses.
For too long we have believed certain misconceptions that have been energized by our zealousness and our desire to be what we believe to be faithful to Jesus’ call for us to be his witnesses. I would like to challenge a few of these misconceptions in order to lay the ground work for I think is a more faithful definition and description. These are beliefs and strategies that many have practiced in their efforts at evangelism that do not, in my mind, reflect Jesus’ own practice and instruction. Indeed, while these may have limited success in converting people to the Christian religion, they may do more harm to our witness of Christ.
Misconception No. 1: Witnessing is converting people to the Christian religion. This is simply not true for a number of reasons, but two are crucial for us to understand. First, we do not convert people; only God can change the hearts and minds of people. Our Bible thumping arguments, though we think they are eloquent, do not convert people. Second, nowhere does Jesus say for us to convert people to our religion. He says to share the good news and to call people to follow him, but he does not call us to convert people to our religion or to our theological doctrines.
Misconception No. 2: Witnessing is telling people they are morally corrupt without God. First of all, human morality is not dependent on humans believing and following God. People can certainly be moral people without being religious and without believing in God. As well, many people who claim to be Christian have demonstrated that they are not very moral. Second, witnessing is not convincing people that they are sinners. I have heard many purported experts in witnessing say that in order to get people saved, you must first convince them they are morally corrupt sinners. But this assumes that Christianity is morally superior to other religions and the non-religious.
Misconception No. 3: Witnessing is convincing people that Christianity is the only true religion and that all other religions are false. There is no way to prove this. Although religions are different in their belief and practice, we cannot legitimately say that one is truer than the others. In fact, if truth is determined by the goodness of something, then Christianity, as it has often been practiced throughout history as a means of oppressing and subjugating others, is in a bad position to prove it is more truthful than other religions.
Misconception No. 4: Witnessing involves threatening others with the judgment of God, like saying, “If you die today without being saved, you will spend eternity in hell.” First of all, we are not God and we do not determine who and how God judges. Second, scaring people out of hell and into heaven is not very biblical, and it is not faithful to Jesus’ call for us to share the good news. Besides, escaping a place called hell in order to get into a place called heaven is not what it means to follow Christ.
I am convinced that these methods are neither faithful to the gospel nor effective in reaching people with the gospel. But if these are not the ways of being Jesus’ witnesses, then what does it mean to be Christ’s witnesses? While we may shrink away from the practices and methods that those like Cameron and Comfort use, we cannot ignore Jesus’ clear and straightforward command to be his witnesses. Therefore, in upcoming columns, I will seek to lay out a biblical model of evangelism that is harmonious with Jesus’ primary emphasis on love for one’s fellow human beings.