Having previously attempted to establish a foundation for the use of apologetics by the Christian, it seems to me appropriate now to give some space to give some thoughts about evangelism and proselytization. Since Christian apologetics is so closely tied to evangelism, perhaps some justification is needed for the evangelism project itself?
For the Christian, I am going to assume this is uncontroversial. Scriptures such as Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 5:14-16, 1 Peter 3:15, Philippians 2:14-16, Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9 indicate that we as a church are to spread the good news of the gospel to the earth. (If you as a Christian disagree with this, feel free to send me a message and we can discuss, if you wish.)
More often though, when I hear the word “proselytization,” it is being used pejoratively to condemn the work of (usually) a Christian sharing about Christ trying to convince someone else to believe. I think it is legitimate to ask, then, if evangelism is really a moral, loving, and respectful thing to engage in with others. Shouldn’t we just let others come to their own conclusions and arrive at their own beliefs without our pressuring them?
To be clear, no Christian I know wants a government-enforced religion; none of us want to force you into a belief. However, we Christians do believe that the Bible does reflect an accurate view of reality, and shows the way to human flourishing and eternal satisfaction. In other words, the implications of the Christian truth claims extend even beyond this life into infinite eternity future. Since we believe this to be true and available for any and all who will accept, what is more moral, loving and respectful of others than to persuasively extend to them the invitation to participate, on the winning side, in the greatest story ever told? To be sure, this great story is not full of bliss from start to eternity for the believer, and so alternate stories told by others may be more appealing. Since flourishing of humanity occurs by embracing, and not denying reality, the views that most accurately reflect reality are the ones that should be pursued, even if those views involve short-term suffering.
Christianity is messy. There are uncomfortable passages in the Bible that I wish weren’t there. God expects things of us that put us in the line of fire of those who refuse Him. But these are because reality is messy and uncomfortable at times. We as Christians need to think and study and have some answers, but also to say “I don’t know” in honest humility when we are stumped. If Christianity truly is the best explanation for the way things actually are, reconciliation of the difficult biblical passages and daily struggles will come.
Since I believe Christianity does best explain reality, what more loving thing is there to do for others than share it with them?
Atheist entertainer Penn Jillette gets it:
I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there is a heaven or hell, or that people could be going to hell, or not get eternal life, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…and atheists think people shouldn’t proselytize, just keep religion to yourself… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?