Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 7, 2010

“This Kind of Behavior is Saving Nobody:” Why Evangelism Requires Integrity

In an earlier post I referred to a book I was reading titled, The Brothers K, by David James Duncan. This is such a profound book that I think it deserves at least one more blog post. Plus, I promised David Freece I’d say more about it!

In one scene, the youngest daughter of the family, Beatrice (or Bet), decides to pray to Allah during her Sunday school class at the local Seventh Day Adventist Church. Influenced by her older brothers, she feels compelled to rebel against the hard line fundamentalism that the church has been forcing upon her. The Sunday School teacher responds by grabbing her off the floor by the ear in such a way that Bet’s ear is damaged and requires surgery.

The mother, in typical fashion, defends the Sunday School teacher by arguing that drastic measures must be taken to save souls. The usually quiet father finally blurts out in frustration, “You don’t get it Laura, do you? This kind of behavior is saving nobody.”

Often the behavior of Christians undermines the very goals they are working toward. In the name of ‘saving souls’ or protecting orthodoxy, the church, in its more fundamentalist forms, has sometimes become pushy, intolerant and even militant. The irony of this behavior is that it turns people away from the church. More than that, the church is creating its own enemies. When you unveil the personal history of many of the critics of conservative Christianity you discover that many of them were wounded by the church themselves.

To be sure, the message of Christianity will offend some. As Dale Bruner points out in his commentary on the book of Matthew, “there will never be such a thing as completely inoffensive witness to the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ.” In a post-modern, pluralistic culture, it is not going to be popular to claim an exclusive hope in Christ. Jesus himself got into trouble for this claim. However, this does not mean that we ought to disrespect or devalue those around us. Bruner goes on to say, “It is a delicate matter, this bearing faithful witness to Christ without bearing faithless witness to other people. It calls for unusual tact to be bold for Christ without being base to others.”

Christian witness, if it is to be effective, must be accompanied by a life of integrity. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are told to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us but we are, “to do this with gentleness and respect.” In John 13, Jesus reminds the disciples that people will know they are his followers if they love one another.

The only way evangelism and outreach will succeed in our pluralistic culture is if the church begins to live out what it believes to be true. If we want to have any credibility in our world we must begin by truly loving God and neighbor.

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Responses

  1. Well said.

  2. I see too often the opposite undermining the goals Christians are working toward. Being too pluralistic doesn’t lead anyone to Christ either.

    Sometimes truly loving your neighbor is telling them you have a better way.

  3. Hey Bruce,

    Good point. I was really challenged by the words of Dale Bruner that I quoted here. Christian exclusiveness is going to be offensive at times. I definitely do not like to create controversy and so I sometimes am too far on the other side and fail to adequately stand up for my beliefs. The point I was trying to make,though, is that we need not be unnecessarily controversial and offensive.

  4. Also, apologies for the typos. The post is now edited. My grammar is horrible at 1 in the morning and my editor (Julie) is in bed by then.

  5. Thanks Phil. I got your point and it’s a good one. I’ve just been pondering the other side of the coin for a while. It’s easy to point to those who are too offensive and turn people away but harder to look at those who are so inoffensive they fail to bring anyone in.

    Maybe we can talk about it this weekend. See you tomorrow.

  6. Hey Bruce,

    You’re right to emphasize your concern. I think that the current generation of the church is probably in more danger of being too passive than aggressive. There is a sort of pendulum effect in Christian culture sometimes. As we react against the aspects of Christianity that we did not like about the previous generation we sometimes go too far to the other extreme.


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