Please Don’t Call it Evangelism

Christian radio, Christian music, Christian movies and books, all claim to be evangelistic. Even a congregation putting on a Christmas pageant, choir concert or inviting a Christian band to town is considered spreading the good news to unbelievers. But the only people who come to those things is believers.

blue like jazzLast night I watched the movie “Blue Like Jazz“, a semi-autobiographical movie about Don Miller, partially based on the bestseller book of the same name. I enjoyed the movie, yet something made me uneasy about it. One thing that made me uneasy was the fact that the movie departed so freely from the book, I couldn’t believe the story was true. I looked online for comments and found this one by Jonathan Fitzgerald in Patrol Magazine:

This, of course, is the problem with all so-called Christian art, be it film, music or books: it purports to carry a message for those outside Christianity, while appealing only to those within. Perhaps “Blue Like Jazz” will be the exception, but my guess is that today, and for however long the film is in theaters, it will be attended almost entirely by youth groups and Christian college students. I’m glad they will be exposed to a kind of Christian film that neither ignores nor bemoans the existence of gay people or alcoholic beverages, but I’m afraid pushing the limits of what Christian moviegoers find acceptable may be the film’s greatest accomplishment.

junebugpic1A movie that illustrates the hypocrisy and  clash of Bible belt Christianity with secular intelligentsia better is Junebug (2005). I have seen the movie twice, and discovered there were two versions of the movie: the scene of the pastor praying for the newlywed couple in the church basement at the potluck in the theater version the cosmopolitan atheist wife is affronted and embarrassed by the pastor assuming they wanted a blessing and prayer, whereas in the DVD version she merely laughs in puzzled amusement at the pastor’s patronizing attitude.

I live in a college town in the northeast, in the state with the lowest church attendance of the lower 48 states. Twelve years ago I thought if we started a really hip, cool church with loud music and a 5 minute sermon, with dramatic communion we could really appeal to unbelievers. Not! Unbelieving college students are not looking for a church, no matter how unhappy they are, no matter how hip the church is. I have been a member of four church plants in this area: almost none of the members were natives of this state, and very few were unbelievers to begin with. Yet these church plants raised thousands of dollars from all over the Bible belt to be started here.

I remember interning at a fundamentalist church in Michigan. We mailed out the first lesson of a Bible correspondence course to entire neighborhoods. Those who took the course: unemployed autoworkers, alcoholic divorced lonely people, ALL of them believed in Jesus already. No atheists or pagans took the course. 

Most evangelism efforts are primarily fund raisers for wagon campfireChristians to do what makes them feel good about their faith. But we insist on agreeing with calling these things evangelism. Go ahead, invite one of your pagan friends to one of these outreach programs. Then you will get it that these are not evangelistic. Actually it took me about five or six times inviting pagan friends to outreaches before I got it not to invite them anymore. I didn’t understand why, but I understood not to invite them. The egocentric outreaches were more like circling our wagons and huddling around our campfires. Worse than evangelism, they were huge turnoffs to my pagan friends.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Dishonesty, Evangelism, Manipulation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Please Don’t Call it Evangelism

  1. Another great one.

    In the same way, the emphasis and time and money spent on “worship” (what should be one of the most natural and easy things to do) has always confused me. So much effort, so many meetings, hours of “rehearsing” going toward something that no “normal” person could ever really give two rips about much less understand – and God…well, is he REALLY the focus of worship?

    Circling the wagons is cozy, but you never get anywhere.


  2. Gary Cummings says:

    I think many Christian movies do more harm than good. The worst ones were the LEFT BEHIND series. Those theological pieces of crap entice a lot of people into right wing politics. One of my brother-in-laws saw the movie and read the books, and enlisted in the Army to help fight the battle of Armageddon to bring about the return of Jesus. He had 3 tours in Iraq, saw a lot of death and destruction, and came back with a roaring case of PTSD. He is an alcoholic and a chain smoker, and has had convictions for hit and run. Thank you Tim Lahaye and George W. Bush for your Christian war.

  3. Laura says:

    Been reading a number of your posts. I appreciate your honesty and straightforward manner of communicating. I suppose some might see you as cynical, but I think we need people like you to call it as they see it. Thanks.

    • garycummings says:

      Are you referring to Mark or me or maybe both. I really appreciate Mark. He brings up a lot of good issues. Thanks, Gary

      • Laura says:

        Hmm…I stumbled upon the blog, read one post I liked, and then read several more. I just looked back at the 4 posts I happened to read, and they are all by Mark.

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