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If any single word may be said to sum up the task of Christian mission and lifestyle as seen by Young Evangelicals, it must be "witness." The role of the egalitarian Christian communities is to "witness" to mainstream society that there is a better way. The purpose of demonstrations against CIA torture or nuclear power is to “witness" to the Principalities and Powers of the message of reconciliation. Yet this word is surely familiar to Young Evangelicals not only from their present struggles on behalf of the oppressed, but also from their religious background. For many of today's radical Christians passing out protest leaflets can (perhaps with a wince) recall handing out evangelistic tracts not too many years ago. Such approaches to “witnessing for Christ” were left behind because of their social irrelevance. Jim Wallis recalls his encounters with campus evan­gelists: "What about the Vietnamese, you blessed little Christian peace­ makers? Oh, I see, that's a political issue that might divide the Church. Real peace is through Jesus, eh? Kinda like magic." 1

With understandable indignation, many decided to stop dealing the opiate of the people. And their call to social justice has been heard far and wide, restoring balance to a lopsided American gospel. Yet have they overreacted? Have the Young Evangelicals in fact fulfilled the predictions of the Fundamentalists that social action would only wind up distracting Christians from the task of evangelism? It may be time, then, to take another look at evangelistic witness, to see what sense can be made of it for Young Evangelicals today.

First, we must ask just what objections might be raised against traditional evangelism. We have already referred to its isolation from social concerns, yet this flaw might be corrected easily enough if one, e.g., wished to read through a copy of The Four Spiritual Laws with the non­-Christian next to oneself in a sit-in at Seabrook. But, as most readers know, this is not likely to happen! There must be deeper flaws seen in traditional evangelism.

One important feature of Fundamentalist evangelism theory was its frenzied character. The nonbeliever was often warned to accept Christ right now since after all he might die tonight on the way home from the meeting. The believer was under similar constraint since if he or she passed by any opportunity to witness, someone’s blood might be on his or her hands! J. B. Phillips describes the scene accurately, “’Consider,’ cries the passionate advocate of foreign missions, ‘that every second, thousands of pagan souls pass into a Christless eternity.’” 2 Now anyone who has taken such exhortations seriously will be aware that many Evangelicals do not. "If they did, they would be screaming in the streets, taking daily full­ page advertisements in the newspapers” (Alan Watts). 3 But some do, the group of "soul-winners" held up for emulation in every Evangelical church. Every Christian should aspire to be a soul-winner, but the price is high. For one thing, there will be little time for other pursuits. John R. Rice advises Christians to "be absorbed in [soul-winning] . . . and [to] have all one's powers, all one's energy and enthusiasm harnessed in this great work.” 4 Specifically, one should take quite literally every opportunity to share the faith.

Talk to anyone any time or, better still, talk to everyone every time.... The drugstore clerk, the barber, the shoeshine boy, the beautician, the grocery clerk, the milkman, bread man, service station attendant need the Lord and we should witness to them.... So... make it a habit of asking people everywhere you go, “Are you a Christian?” (Jack Hyles) 5

Wherever we are, we should be looking for ways to spread the good news by talking about Jesus... [e.g.] by greeting people with “God bless you” or “Jesus loves you” instead of just a “hi” or “hello.” (Arthur Blessitt) 6 

The zeal here is understandable, or at least well-rationalized. After all, if you discovered a cure for cancer you probably would immediately rush out, like Archimedes, and tell everyone. But what reaction is such a one­-track approach liable to elicit from the targeted nonbeliever? One of the heathen shares his reactions: "Obviously a Jesus-freak.... The main problem with all [of] ‘em--at least the ones I've met is--they're all fanatics. ... As far as I'm concerned, they're generally a nuisance.” 7 (Ray F. Wood) So if the Christian witness follows the path marked out by Rice, Hyles, and Blessitt, he or she may be perceived as "walking about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."

Witnessing has caused something of a public stir recently because of the techniques employed by Moonies, Hare Krishnas, and other cultists while recruiting or soliciting. They practice "heavenly deception" believing that a sublime end justifies sub-ethical means. What is not so often noted is that several features of traditional evangelism lie open to the same objec­tions. The allegedly disinterested, nonsectarian (but actually evangelistic) “survey” is one obvious example. But even interpersonal “friendship evangelism" often smacks of heavenly deception. High School Evangelistic Fellowship staff train their members in the technique of “turned around conversations.”8 Campus Crusade's Bill Bright elaborates. “Begin a conversation on any appropriate subject and then turn the conversation to spiritual things. Talk about current world problems and ask if they see any likely solutions. They will ask you the same, which will enable you to share The Four Spiritual Laws and your personal testimony." Bright then explains the need to "Listen carefully to the person with whom you are sharing your faith so that you can make specific applications for him in your presentation of The Four Spiritual Laws. Take hints from the things he says.” 9 “It is like rowing around an island, carefully studying the shoreline for an appropriate landing place. We explore our non-Christian friends' religious and family backgrounds, cultural interests, needs, dreams, and fears.”10 (Rebecca Manley Pippert) This is all clearly deceptive, as well as manipulative, since the witness is supposed to feign spontaneous interest in topics he or she otherwise would care nothing about. One may also indulge in flattery: “Every time you go to a home, brag on something. We live in a selfish world. It is good to say, 'You sure have a nice suit,’ or 'Isn't that a precious child?’” (Hyles) 11 Jard DeVille tells readers how to cultivate “the friendship you need to influence them.”12 One good “way to get through a person's defenses is to offer him a sincere compliment." Yet how sincere can such instrumental devices be? We have here a classic example of what Paul Watzlawick calls the "'be spontaneous' para­dox.”13 How can "spontaneous" actions be either commanded, or induced by prior motives? Instead, this kind of flattery represents the "love­ bombing" practiced by Moonies in order to "soften up" a potential convert.

And since what the personal evangelist is engaging in is really not so much a conversation as a sales pitch, he must follow a careful strategy. "Once we have some idea of who we are talking to, we must learn to arouse their curiosity about the gospel," by means including, e.g., being a bit vague initially, so as to prompt a request for clarification. (Pippert) 14 And, "As you ask feeling-oriented questions, phrase them so he cannot answer them with a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer” (DeVille). 15 But most important, "Just stay right on the subject." If any objections are raised, "tell them the same thing: 'That's a good question.' You plan the speech, and don't let anything he says get you off the main line. Don't spend time answering his questions or he will be governing the conversation. You govern the conversation.” (Hyles) 16

And speaking of questions, one may feel free to duck them since they are only a smokescreen. The nonbeliever is simply assumed to have bad faith. "Failing to recognize that faith is a gift and not exclusively a product of the human will, certain conservative Christians refuse to believe in the integrity of a man who says that he cannot believe” (Virginia Mollenkott). 17 Billy Graham voices this common assessment: "Often many so-called intellectual arguments against the Christian faith are actually just excuses for refusing to let Christ take control and rule our lives.”18 Of course, skeptical questions might be mere evasion, but ironically the witness is trained to practice exactly such evasion him- or herself. This is the old strategy of “Say, that's a good question! I don't have an answer, but I'll try to get one for you. Meanwhile, wouldn't you like to convert anyway?” Pippert testifies, "I often tell people I am very grateful that God is using them to sharpen me intellectually when I am stumped by a question. I tell them I do not know the answer but I cannot wait to investigate.”19 She is serving notice to the nonbeliever that while she wants him or her to consider the facts rationally and open-mindedly, she on the other hand assumes automatically that no objection could prove to be of sufficient weight to make her change her beliefs. It is a foregone conclusion that God has an answer and is simply keeping her on her toes. Her beliefs are, then, virtually unfalsifiable and defended by sheer willpower. Who is being evasive here?

Can such evangelistic strategists be oblivious to the manipulative nature of their approach? DeVille anticipates charges like those leveled here. “The methods I teach [are] not... a subtle form of manipulation. Rather they are in the format that a psychologist or psychiatrist often uses to help a client discover both his problems and what will enable him to live a satisfying life.” 20 But this analogy refutes DeVille’s own argument. The psychological counselor’s approach is avowedly "manipulative," with its probing and loaded questions, but no one objects since the devices of the counselor are analogous to surgical instruments or medicines. But to approach an interpersonal exchange in this manner would be intolerably patronizing (as anyone with an amateur psychologist in the family can attest!).

Again, let us ask what the perceptive outsider thinks of all this? "The poor bastards want their beliefs to be true so damned bad they feel anything is justified if it will convince some poor stupid jerk into going along with 'em.” (Wood) 21 And what might the Apostle Paul have to say about it? "We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:2, NIV).

By now it is plain why Young Evangelicals have repudiated evangelism as they were taught to practice it. They have too much respect both for themselves and for nonbelieving individuals. And it is all too clear that a single-minded zeal for evangelism can become a narrow-minded zeal, suppressing and ignoring legitimate cultural and personal interests. Life is more than witnessing, after all. Nor is this concern purely self-oriented. For, if the whole Christian life is a matter of converting others (as Rice, Hyles, et al. teach), then what are those others being converted to? We are then recruiting recruiters of new recruits to do more recruit­ing, ad infinitum?

Still, it might be objected, doesn't J.B. Phillips' “passionate advocate of missions" have a real point? What about all those souls slipping into a Christless eternity? Dare we “waste” time with other pursuits? And do we need to be so legalistic in our honesty if a little manipulation would facilitate someone’s conversion? Perhaps these questions may be answered with an answer often given by the personal evangelists themselves. When asked "What about the heathen in Slobbovia who have never heard the gospel?" the witness replies, "God will deal with them justly, though I don't know what that will mean in specifics. Meanwhile what about you?” Even so in our case.  What about those souls we miss reaching because we are instead enjoying culture or refusing to manipulate our friends? God will deal with them justly, whatever that may mean. Meanwhile we are doing what God wants--living a well-rounded life and being sincere.

If these brief observations help clear the ground for a more balanced and humane approach to witnessing, how might such a new approach look in practical terms? Basically, it would mean that the Young Evangelical would share his or her faith only when circumstances naturally called for it, and of course they might call for it often, if he or she is living a trans­formed life that prompts people to "ask of you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:l5b). But no more sniffing out "opportunities.” Anyone who uses subterfuge to spread his or her belief either knows deep down that there is something wrong with it, or is embarrassed by it and so shares it only out of legalistic guilt.

In addition to renouncing "heavenly deception" the Christian witness need not call every non-Christian "intellectually dishonest," as if the facts pointed self-evidently in one direction. Why not admit that honest minds differ, and leave the person's fate up to God? Bill Bright defines evangelism as "sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God." Why not?

So far I have tried to outline a new strategy for personal evangelism that would respect the honesty and integrity of both the witness and the non­believer. The key was simply to realize that despite the threat of hell for the nonbeliever, other considerations leave "breathing space” for the Chris­tian witness to remain honest and to have normal social relationships. But observation of current trends among Young Evangelicals makes it apparent that these concerns, as important as they are, do not pose the only problem with evangelism. For with increasing dialogue and cooperation between Young Evangelicals and people outside the Evangelical tradition, we are beginning to see a blurring of the traditional "us-versus-them” boundary along which evangelistic strategy was traditionally planned. If it becomes less clear as to precisely who are the sheep and who are the goats, what happens to evangelism? Here, I suspect, is another reason for the decline of evangelistic witnessing among Young Evangelicals.

This melting of the old dichotomies can be observed in several areas of Young Evangelical interest. In the area of theological dialogue (e. g., the Theological Students Fellowship and the Evangelical Theology Consultation of the American Academy of Religion), Evangelicals are beginning to see Liberal theologians not so much as people without saving faith, but merely as Christians whose faith is articulated in a theologically inadequate way. Other Young Evangelicals are currently involved in a move toward greater identification with the larger catholic tradition of the church, and thus find themselves fellowshipping with church people who are unaccustomed to talking about "being born again" and "having a personal relationship with Christ.” Still others find themselves working shoulder-to-shoulder with theologically Liberal or Roman Catholic social activists.

The result? Bill Lane Doulos, 22 after working with the Catholic Workers Movement, has repudiated (some would say climbed over!) "the wall erected by doctrine. Those who believe are in; all others are out. Some are going to heaven, some to hell. A lot of us evangelicals have never quite learned to accept this wall that has been built around the orthodox camp. Some of us have had the good fortune to see Jesus bulldozing his way through the cherished creed of his religious culture, and of our own." 23

The Fundamentalist has no hesitation about witnessing to Catholics and other "nominal Christians" if they cannot claim a personal relationship with Christ. But Young Evangelicals are beginning to suspect that to make such an experience requisite for salvation would put one on the same level with the fringe Pentecostals who say only those who speak in tongues will be saved! Does this mean that the "born again experience" is no longer to be considered important? Not at all. Instead, one need only return to the way in which "personal relationship with Christ" language functioned in German Pietism and the Evangelical Revival in England. There, a "crisis experience" denoted not salvation, but renewal. It was not always assumed that those without a "heart-warming experience" were damned; perhaps they simply needed the Spirit's renewal. In fact, this is precisely the understanding of the "born-again experience" in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal today. And there is no reason that Young Evangelicals could not adopt the same model.

In conclusion, let us take the same question a step or two further. Suppose Young Evangelicals (whether individually or on the whole) came to believe in some kind of doctrine (e.g., Barthian) of universal salvation. In this case, no form of Christian allegiance at all would be necessary for salvation. Incidentally, it is not particularly evident that things are moving his way. But here and there one finds isolated hints, and it would be useful to chart the prospects for evangelism in case universalism should prove the way of the future for Young Evangelicals. At any rate, evangelism would continue to merit a place on the Young Evangelical agenda. It is not uncom­mon to hear it objected against universalism that "there is no point to the Great Commission if everyone is going to heaven anyway!" Really? Such a sentiment reveals a rather low view of the dignity of Jesus Christ. Isn't it fitting to spread the good news of his enthronement as Lord, and of the salvation he has won? He ought to be praised for it here and now, just for his own sake, regardless of whether people are going to hell. The old self­-effacing motto (of the Hopkinsian Calvinists) that one ought even to be willing to be damned for the glory of God might be turned around: for God to be properly glorified, must anyone be damned?

Suppose that dialogue with members of completely different religions led Young Evangelicals beyond a belief in universal salvation, to the belief that in some real sense, all religions are true, and truly salvific? After all, it becomes increasingly difficult to look into the faces of non-Christians whose love or piety is patently as real as one's own, and tell them they are damned, or at least that their faith is all a mistake. Paul Tillich discovered this. “An existential contact with outstanding representatives of non­-Christian religions forces one into the acknowledgment that God is not far from them, that there is a universal revelation.” 24 Wilfred Cantwell Smith also found that "so far as actual observation goes, the evidence would seem overwhelming that in fact individual Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and others have known and do know God.” 25 One wonders if Young Evangelicals will not also begin to suspect uneasily that they have been attributing the work of the Spirit to Beelzebub. If they do, what happens to evangel­ism?

To be sure, there would still be out-and-out atheists and “secular humanists” available, but what of the other religionists? Witnessing to them about one’s experience with Christ would still be appropriate, though the Christian would have to be reciprocally open to the edifying testimony of the Buddhist or Muslim. We might imagine the situation on the analogy of an Evangelical testimony meeting. At such a gathering one joyfully shares "what God’s been doing in my life,” with no thought that such a witness of faith contradicts or competes with the analogous reports of others. Instead, the believer rejoices to hear that God has been at work in different ways in the lives of the others present. If he has worked in different ways with the Jew or the Hindu, praise the Lord!

Keep in mind, nothing in this discussion has indicated whether these theological shifts toward greater openness would be a good idea. The point is simply that if Young Evangelicals eventually make such changes, the task of evangelistic witness, though changed in implications, will by no means be made void. And if our argument has been cogent, it will be apparent that, though Young Evangelicals have rightly rejected some forms of traditional witnessing, evangelism still can and should form part of their agenda.




1 Jim Wallis, in Dennis MacDonald, "The New Left Student Movement and the Christian Liberal Arts College," pp. 84-114, of Mark Tuttle (ed.), About School (Houghton, N.Y.: Lanthorn Publications, 1972), p. 97.

2 J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small (New York: Macmillan, 1973), p. 55.

3 Alan Watts, Beyond Theology (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), p. 83.

4 John R. Rice, When a Christian Sins (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), pp. 122- 1 23.

5 Jack Hyles, Let’s Go Soul-Winning (Murphreesboro, Tenn.: Sword of the Lord Foundation, 1970), pp. 9-10.

 6 Arthur Blessitt, Tell the World (Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1973), p. 84.

 7 Ray F. Wood, “The Visitation,” pp. 20-24, of GALA Review, vol. 3, no. 12, December 1980, pp. 20, 21.

8 HiBA Manual (Tenafly, N. J.: High School Evangelism Fellowship, 1971), n.p.

9 Bill Bright, Sharing the Abundant Life on Campus (San Bernardino: Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1972), pp. 43, 42.

10 Rebecca Manley Pippert, Pizza Parlor Evangelism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p. 25.

11 Hyles, p. 22.

12 Jard DeVille, The Psychology of Witnessing (Waco, Texas: Word Books Publishers, 1980), pp. 66, 75.

13 Paul Watzlawick, How Real is Real? New York: Vintage Books, 1977), pp. 19- 2l. “It occurs whenever somebody demands of another person behavior that by its very nature must be spontaneous but now cannot be because it has been demanded.” (p. 19.)

14 Pippert, pp. 25-26.

15 DeVille, p. 77.

16 Hyles, p. 27.

17 Virginia Mollenkott, Adamant & Stone Chips (Waco: Word Books, 1967), p. 88.

18 Billy Graham, “My Answer,” Oxford [Mississippi] Eagle, January 23, 1981, n.p.

19 Pippert, pp. 23-24.

20 DeVille, p. 15.

21 Wood, p. 23.

22 Oh what self-effacing humility, that a radical Christian, once known simply as “Bill Lane,” should add “Doulos” (Greek for “slave”) to his name, advertising his Christlike kenosis for all to see! I am reminded of the mid-Seventies gag button the Wheaton College Chaplain’s Committee issued on campus: “I’M HUMBLE—AND PROUD OF IT!”

23 Bill Lane Doulos, “Mere Orthodoxy,” in Sojourners, December 1976, p. 25,

24 Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 170.

25 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Faith of Other Men (New York: New American Library,1965), p. 123.


 By Robert M. Price


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