The godless evangelist: Leading people to a God you don’t really know

When we think of a person who is godless, we often think of a person whose lifestyle is immoral. If we speak of a godless evangelist, we may think in terms of an evangelist whose lifestyle does not match his message – a preacher who does not practice what he preaches. Spurgeon describes such a person,

"It is of no use for any of you to try to be soul-winners if you are not bearing fruit in your own lives. How can you serve the Lord with your lips if you do not serve Him with your lives? How can you preach His gospel with your tongues, when with hands, feet, and heart you are preaching the devil’s gospel, and setting up an antichrist by your practical unholiness?" Charles Spurgeon

While it is important that evangelists demonstrate a character that is consistent with Christianity, this is not what I mean by the phrase “the godless evangelist”.

In a recent blog article shared by The Gospel Coalition – Erik Raymond reflected on the issue of How the Trinity Should Shape Evangelism. His point was simply, 1) It should and 2) It usually doesn’t. Erik observes:

Sometimes we may get caught in a bit of a trap of thinking about God simply in broad, non-precise terms. For example, we may think and pray about how God has saved us from our sins and promises to bring us to dwell with him forever.

This is true. It reminds me of a church I once knew were almost the entire membership spoke about “God” but rarely mentioned the name “Jesus”. It’s not that they didn’t believe in Jesus, they had just grown accustomed to speaking about God in undefined terms.

Raymond’s article paralleled some of my own recent thinking about evangelism. Raymond has highlighted the fact that “evangelism” often speaks about God in unclear terms. Yet, in today’s post Christian culture – this won’t do. What do you mean when you say “God”? How is your God different to the Muslim teaching about God? Is God a force? What or who is He?

Raymond is highlighting the fact that our evangelism, (and our praying for the lost) should be shaped by the Trinity. If evangelism is about connecting people to God, we need to know something about the God that we are attempting to help people connect with. This is why I chose the title, the “godless evangelist” – simply because a number of people – excited because they have come to Christ personally, are attempting to lead others to Christ without taking time to learn about the nature of the God they desire to serve. Raymond continues:

As Christians when we think of God we think in Trinitarian terms. There is one God, one being that is God. At the same time, within the one being that is God there are distinct, coequal, coeternal persons. The distinct persons are: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son. Jesus, the Son, lived and died for us, purchasing our redemption. The Holy Spirit was sent to apply what the Son has accomplished according to the what the Father has decreed. Look, you just went from a “Costco sample sized” prayer or theological thought to a 48 oz ribeye!

The early church was big on the Trinity. They loved God, they loved him so much they were eager to know God and learn about God. 21st century Christians are not so zealous, humble or careful. There is a tendency towards theological impatience, focus on experience and an independent spirit when it comes to doctrine. However, the 21st century evangelist needs to be careful that he doesn’t lose God altogether. Evangelism is inseparable from the Trinity, the more grounded we are in the Trinity, the more God exalting and powerful our evangelism will be.

With that being said, it also has to be said that many modern evangelists are not only godless, they are also church-less; they are sacrament-less, discipleship-less and in some cases gospel-less.

In other words, in my observation (and in many ways I was like this myself in the early days of my Christian walk) it is often the case that those who are the most evangelistically active (always witnessing about God’s love and “leading people to Jesus”) are often the least connected to the church. This is reflected in the fact that they see no problem with “leading people to Jesus” without “leading them to church”. They are happy to “lead people to Jesus” without explaining to people who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. Allow me to illustrate.

There are countless testimonies of modern evangelists meeting people who are in a place of crisis. The evangelist will either share testimony about how has helped them in a similar situation. This emotionally resonates with the people who are in crisis. Sometimes they may begin to tear up. The evangelist (ever the opportunist) will offer to lead the people to Christ. The next thing you know, the evangelist is sharing this glowing report with other Christians who stand back in awe.

Here is the problem. People in crisis are vulnerable. They are often desperate. There is a danger, that some evangelists exploit this vulnerability in order to add another trophy to their cabinet of conversions.  Very often the evangelist moves on, never sees the people again and there is no way of knowing if the people ever make it to church or continue in the Christian faith. The modern evangelist shrugs this off, and assumes that it is over to God to look after them now – he has done his part.

I’ve been involved in that kind of approach. I’ve observed others in action. And I’ve heard countless testimonies. However, it is wrong. It makes the evangelist look and feel good but it is harmful to the people. It does not produce disciples. If an evangelist’s “leading someone to the Lord” does not lead that person to a basic knowledge of God, a basic knowledge of their own sin and need for repentance, a basic knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished – and if “leading people to the Lord” does not lead people to the waters of baptism and into the fold of the local church – you have not “led them to the Lord”, you have led them to yourself.

I’ll hopefully blog some more on this topic. But for now, it is enough to highlight that what often passes as evangelism is not enough and in fact is counterproductive. Many evangelists want to be reapers, but they don’t want to do the hard work of preparing the ground, sowing the seeds and leaving the results in the hands of God. They want to throw up a building in a day without rolling up their sleeves and laying a proper foundation. They want to lead people to God, but they don’t want to take time to discover who God is. They are, with the best intentions in the world, “godless evangelists” who lead people to a God they do not know.

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