Let’s assume for a moment that evangelicals are right when they say that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God and that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to have eternal life. Let’s also assume for a moment that evangelicals are also right about morality. They believe that the Bible reveals a code of moral conduct that covers everything from the meaning of marriage right down to the way we spend our free time.
So, they are right. Now what?
Well, if you are an evangelical and you believe you are right, then the next step is to be evangelistic. You want other people to embrace your faith. Evangelicals want everyone “saved.” And not just for the benefit of the individual sinner. If everyone will get saved many of our social ills will disappear, at least that’s what we evangelicals believe.
So how are we to be evangelistic?
Traditionally the practice of evangelism has involved something called “witnessing.” Evangelicals “witness” to other people by telling them how to become a Christian, often by means of “personal testimony.” Normally evangelicals are trained to be kind and patient, because they understand that people must choose on their own whether or not to embrace the faith.
In fact, many evangelicals believe there is a supernatural element involved at this point. Not only do they believe that “no one comes to the Father but by me,” as Jesus said, but also, “No one comes unless they are called.” In other words, it is not even possible to make the choice to embrace the faith until God enacts a “calling.” This calling is known as “being under conviction,” and often precedes a “conversion experience.”
We could get into the fine points of evangelical calculus by asking if God calls everyone continuously or only at certain times, but that is really of no consequence. The fact is many evangelicals today have given up on both God and free choice. A new evangelical mindset has emerged that intends to force people to live a version of the Christian life whether they want to or not.
We see it everywhere. For instance, apparently frustrated by their failure to convert the world to their worldview, evangelicals use political pressure to try to force public schools to hold prayer meetings. Never mind that prayer is best taught at home and church. Evangelicals want folks to pray and are willing to force it on them whether they want it or not.
Of course they say that godless secular humanism is forced on their children against their will. But the way to avoid secular humanism is to build private Christian schools, not semi-Christianize public schools.
The most egregious example, however, is taking place in our political life. James Dobson, a leading evangelical figure, wants conservative judges appointed that will outlaw abortion and gay marriage—two hot button evangelical moral concerns. He recently wrote his Focus on the Family constituents that any senator who fails to endorse President Bush’s judicial nominees “will be in the ‘bulls-eye.'”
So much for gentle persuasion.
Many Christians are celebrating this get tough approach to spreading the faith, but they should not be too excited. This is not how faith spreads–this is how faith dies. History is littered with the debris of faith communities that have tried to force their way on others.
In fact, it was just such a evangelistic group that nailed Jesus to the cross.
James L. Evans is pastor of First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.