Saturday, October 25, 2014

How anti-intellectualism may impact church's evangelistic effort

In 1 Peter 3:15, we are exhorted to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1Pe 3:15 NIV). Although apologetics should never be the main focus in evangelism, nonetheless, anti-intellectualism has adversely impacted the church’s evangelistic effort in a number of ways:

Anti-intellectualism results in a compromised evangelism
When the church is unable to an intelligent response to doubts raised by unbelievers, the church may compromise by substituting it with personal testimony sharing as a way to evade intellectual questions. While personal testimonies may be a great addition to gospel sharing (an example of a great testimony would be in John 9:25), it should never be a standalone strategy in evangelism because it is not the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, not every Christian would have a great testimony to tell but that does not excuse anyone from playing a role in evangelism.

Mark Dever, in his article What Evangelism Isn't (Christianity Today, Dec 2007) says:
“An account of a changed life is wonderful and inspiring thing, but it's the gospel of Jesus Christ that explains what it's all about and how it happened.”

Anti-intellectualism results in a canned evangelism

Lack of intellectual preparation in evangelism may also lead to the church to resort to a canned strategy, i.e. a “memorized steps” approach to evangelism.  Unfortunately, such approach is impersonal, mechanical and even foolish.

To quote Jonathan Dodson:
“These approaches are foolish because they treat people like projects to be completed, not persons to be loved…Paul says “know how you ought to answer each person.” (1 Pe 3:15). This means that most of your gospel explanations will be different, not canned. It also implies a listening evangelism. How can we know how to respond to each person if we don’t know each person…Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom. Many people don’t know what we mean when we say “Jesus,” “sin” or “cross.

Anti-intellectualism results in a “can’t” evangelism

The worst-case scenario is a complete paralysis of any evangelistic effort. The fear of sharing and the fear of not knowing what to say may overwhelm a Christian brought in an anti-intellectual church environment. This phobia may be especially strong for a Christian who believes in the misconception that the success of evangelism is dependent on the number of soul conversions, forgetting that while it is our job to bring Christ to the lost, it is only God’s job to the lost to Christ.

To quote Mark Dever again:
“The Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion. We don't fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don't faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn't converting people; it's telling them that they need to be converted and telling them how they can be.”

1.     Dever, Mark. What Evangelism Isn't. Christianity Today, Dec 2007.
2.     Dodson, Jonathan. Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn't Working. In Available at URL: Accessed 26 Oct 2014

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