The Evangelical Dilemma

The Last Judgment. Vasnetsov

The Evangelical Dilemma

I don’t think Christianity is about converting people.

• Michael Spencer, Wretched Urgency

• • •

I once had a Jewish patient, non-observant, who was one of the most thoughtful, delightful people I’ve met. My ministry to him was the same as it is to all my patients – to provide pastoral friendship, to meet him at his particular location on the homeward journey and to walk together with him in the final season of his life. It was my goal to be someone who would support him, encourage him, let him know that he is loved and regarded as a person of worth and dignity, and to help in whatever way he might ask, as I might be able, to make the end of his life comfortable and peaceful for him and his family.

This patient had a relative who had been converted to Christianity and to a particular brand that was passionately evangelistic. I saw him one day at the patient’s home and he told me, with a look of frustration, that he had tried and tried to get his dying family member to accept Jesus without success.

Later the patient himself, also frustrated, complained about how this relative had been insistent on “sharing” the faith he had found. But it didn’t come across like “sharing” as much as like he was being forced to agree to something. He said he appreciated that his family member had found something meaningful, but he didn’t like that he was foisting it upon him the way he did.

Afterwards, I was able to have another conversation with the evangelist, who asked me if I had had a chance to “share” with the patient – meaning did I try to win him to Jesus. He went on to say something that stuck with me. “In the end it’s about eternity, isn’t it?” he said. “And if a person is open to the idea of eternity, then it’s essential that he must make a decision about what he will do with it.”

Which leads me to ask:

Is it possible to be truly evangelical in this way and ever just simply love one’s neighbor?

If “eternity” is riding on every moment, can any Christian afford to engage in a ministry like mine?

If this is the case wouldn’t the “wretched urgency” Michael Spencer railed against actually be “responsible urgency”?

In other words, if the house is on fire, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can each possible moment to rescue those in danger of burning?

This was the lesson D.L. Moody took from the great Chicago fire. On the night the fire broke out, Moody was preaching to a large congregation. His text that evening was, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” At the conclusion of his sermon he said, “I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sunday we will come back here and decide what to do with Jesus of Nazareth.”

The songleader had not even finished singing when a roar of fire engines rushing by the church ended the service. By morning, much of the city lay in ashes. To his dying day, Mr. Moody deeply regretted that he had delayed in confronting that congregation with a choice. “I have never since dared,” he said, “to give an audience a week to think of their salvation. If they were lost they might rise up in judgment against me. I have never seen that congregation since. I will never meet those people until I meet them in another world. But I want to tell you of one lesson that I learned that night which I have never forgotten, and that is, when I preach, to press Christ upon the people then and there and try to bring them to a decision on the spot. I would rather have that right hand cut off than to give an audience a week now to decide what to do with Jesus.”

I have spent much of my pastoral career in a theological system that maintains that logic, and people like D.L. Moody were held up as faithful examples to us. I have known many people who have tried to follow the logic and the example and some became fervent evangelists, in season and out of season. However, for me it has always posed a logical dilemma. If this were actually every Christian’s gospel responsibility, it would make it impossible to simply live in this world or to have any other priorities that didn’t involve being a spiritual EMT all the time. However, I have observed that most Christians, even the most fundamentalist of them, don’t let this logic stop them from building their lives, saving money, planning for the future, enjoying entertainment, taking vacations, and talking to their neighbors about their gardens across the fence when they could be proclaiming the gospel. Me too. Many of us with the more or less continual sense of guilt Michael wrote about.

I know one pastor who could never do my job. I remember him testifying about how he got kicked out of a hospital room where a patient lay dying because he refused to stop trying to persuade the man to accept Christ. Say what you will, the pastor grasped the logic, and tried to be faithful to it. The tearful testimony he gave to us in the congregation was meant to convince us that to do anything less in such a situation would be unloving to the person and unfaithful to the God who called us to be his ambassadors. After all, Eternity™ is at stake!

This was the air we breathed. The Christian life was a life of urgent rescue, and not a life of wasting time on whatever “Knowing God” was all about. We were all on constant 911 calls. The rapture could come any time, and every Christian was given this day for no other reason than to win souls. If you were not on witnessing patrol or on your knees preparing or following up a witnessing call, you were a useless and bad Christian.

• Michael Spencer, Wretched Urgency

I’ve come to believe that this is the “Christianity” of revivalists and Chick tracts, not the Christianity of Jesus and the New Testament. Click the links to Michael’s classic “Wretched Urgency” post above and follow as he winds his way through the NT without finding any urgent concern for converting people there.

Furthermore, I do not see an apostolic insistence on “eternity” as the standard of valuation for how we are to live our lives or engage our neighbors. Where are all the NT warnings about the choice between “heaven and hell” that stands before every person? In my opinion, whatever sense of impending judgment warned about is spoken in the context of the Fall of Jerusalem (by Jesus) or with the expectation that God would soon deal with the powers of empire that were persecuting the early Christians (Paul and the other apostles). It’s simply not a matter of “eternity” as the fellow I met said.

Otherwise, why would Paul say things like:

But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4:10-12)

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:8-12)

When Paul is advising Timothy and Titus about who to choose for leadership positions in the church, why is there no mention of prime candidates being good at evangelism? Instead, he advises them to look for people of character and good reputation, who take care of things like their families and finances, modeling exemplary attitudes and words, showing experience and wisdom born of faithfulness in daily life.

The root problem, as we’ve discussed many times before, goes back to how people understand “the gospel.”

If the good news is a plan by which individuals can be rescued from their sins so that they will live with God in eternity, then what I’m doing and what most of us are doing equates to fiddling while the Titanic sinks.

We’re letting the house burn, folks, and Joe the Jewish guy is perishing in the flames.


  • If the gospel is the story about how Jesus became King and God began his rule over this world and all creation,
  • creating a redeemed, Spirit-indwelt people who can witness to newness of life and the coming of a new creation through living lives of faith, hope, and love,
  • laying down their lives to serve their neighbors and practicing tikkun olam (repairing the world)…

…then maybe sitting with a dying man and not talking to him about eternity has some real value.

82 thoughts on “The Evangelical Dilemma

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy referred to Ephesians – I recognised the second reference as the 1 Timothy passage but couldn’t work out the other one (there is no untranslated “the” before “woman” n the 1 Timothy passage, that I can see).


  2. Being somewhat more agnostic than Christian, I am inclined to think that, if there is an afterlife, God will know his own, whatever religion they practiced.


  3. Isaiah jumps off a building. If he doesn’t fall within the net, it’s gross. Thus the phrase “net prophet margin”.
    (I heard a version of this joke ages ago, now can’t track it down.)
    P.S. Sorry!


  4. 1) I wasn’t sure where this was in Ephesians.
    2) I don’t get the Artemis reference, and I am not sure the definite article makes a difference. The problem with the “childbearing” verse to my mind is one of number and grammar: the verse is connected directly to the preceding with a “de”, “but”, and Paul says “she” (singular) so he is still talking about Eve, and the ones who are to remain in faith, love etc are plural, so refer to her offspring (I.e. us) saving her, presumably by returning to God and undoing the fall.
    (I am also not at all sure Paul’s use of Eve as an example is because she was a woman, but rather because, as he says, Adam was first and Eve turned up afterwards and tried to tell him what to do, which is exactly what the woman in the preceding passage appears to have done with those she has sought teaching from: what is usually translated as “rule” or “exercise authority” actually specifically means “usurp”.)


  5. Yep. There’s much more pointed criticism (and possibly condemnation) by Jesus of smug, self-righteous blowhards than humble ANYONE else.

    Lord, please help me be humble.


  6. I keep thinking about the scene in the temple where the Pharisee was so smug and thanking God that he was ‘not like that other sinner’ . . . . and the Publican came to ask God for mercy . . . .

    and we know which one left the temple with God’s favor ……

    A lot of people assume they are ‘better than that other sinner’, being saved and all; but I can’t get the thought of that Publican out of my mind:

    he was humbled, he knew he was a sinner, he asked for God’s mercy, and God favored him, not the smug Pharisee

    and then there is that REAL sinner’s prayer: the one said by the Publican now adopted by the whole Church:
    ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner’

    I’m not so sure people should be smug about their salvation and also point the finger and look down on others as ‘lost’ . . . . I’m not so sure what God sees there . . . . . in light of what we know about His favor of the Publican, is it possible that them what is proud and smug are more ‘lost’ than the ones they point to with contempt?????

    Is it possible?

    Once, it was. In a parable told by Our Lord. To those who might hear and maybe understand


  7. I agree with this, except that I would say they act on what’s really important to them, and often beliefs aren’t foremost among their important things.


  8. I will forever be shocked by the large number of white evangelicals who voted for Roy Moore in the recent election in Alabama. I’m glad that lots of black Alabamans, mostly Christian also, came out to the polls despite concerted legal and less than legal efforts to suppress their votes, and defeated Moore and his evangelicals.


  9. That sounds a little like the view that C.S. Lewis put forth in The Great Divorce. I’m not Orthodox myself, but the idea that God’s mercy can reach us even beyond the grave appeals to me a lot.


  10. Stephen , you will find no more unbiased and straight news reporting than the WAPO, It is heartening to see that the WAPO has finally developed an interest in the political activity of evangelicals and it warrants major coverage. Could they not find a niece of Oral Roberts to interview ? Flashback to 2012 election — Romney got 79% of the evangelical vote—- Obama got 95% of the black Christian vote— Romney got 57 % of the total Christian vote.. Where were the headlines of the massive threat of the evangelical vote in 2012 ? Where was all the hand wringing and angst about the bloc voting . That percent of voters for Romney was evangelical overcoming their concerns about voting for a Mormon.
    I am waiting for the articles on liberal mainstream church members who vote for a pro abortion, restrictive freedom of religion and support of secular issues foreign to mainline Christianity and how they are reconciling their political votes with their faith.


  11. StuartB Paragraphs ? You are so right on, I write and unfortunately think in a stream of un disciplined , unstructured , perhaps incoherent thought. Surely my fingers are not faster than my mind, but it is possible. I try to make my comments and write in game show format so the contest is :what does he mean” and where does the thought begin and end . Thanks for the good advice.


  12. –> “‘…if you can follow those two while also having a reasonably good time doing it – never apologize for that’. Two commands with one addendum! ?”

    Yes, indeed. It’s like I tell people: Our walk with Christ is to be enjoyed, not endured.


  13. If God is sitting up there with a calculator and determining your tithe was off net instead of gross…

    We’re all doomed.


  14. I think people act on their beliefs. But they act on their real beliefs. A lot of the times they simply don’t really believe what they say they believe.


  15. Note the singular. God commanded Ezekiel with specific messages at specific times which Ezekiel was to deliver…

    Like the two definite articles in Ephesians that didn’t make it into the ol’ King Jimmy?
    1) “THE woman is to keep silent” — referring to a specific woman who was apparently causing trouble, NOT a clobber verse for anything without a Y Chromosome.
    2) “She shall be saved through THE Childbearing” — referring to Christ in lieu of Artemis, NOT Quiverfull.


  16. “””It makes me think that some dilemmas are only dilemmas because someone tells you it’s a dilemma.”””

    Agree! I have the option to opt-out, or create an option#3.

    “””2a) Ironically,””” – so true. There are many Urgent Warrior Oriented people who have improved by personal life, and my neighborhood; people who have been instrumental it getting me to where I am or even who I am. I am thankful for them. But I do not believe everybody needs to be one; that would be dreadful. Also, sometimes a Mission, whatever it is, is a thing which comes, and then is completed or passes on; that’s OK too, maybe. But certainly not Everybody All The Time.

    “””3) After 31 years of “”” … urgh, those years do pile of. I can recall when 30 years sounded like a veritable eternity.

    “””Love God, love others””” This. And with an addendum: “if you can follow those two while also having a reasonably good time doing it – never apologize for that”. Two commands with one addendum! 🙂


  17. > the Gross vs. Net debate is kinda foolish.


    But I’ve heard sermons about it . . . which I was never able to ‘track’ to my satisfaction.
    Seemed like an oddball topic I could safely just ignore.


  18. Great comments and thoughts today, folks! I’ve much enjoyed reading them.

    Some more thoughts from this wobbly Christian:

    1) The title of the post – “The Evangelical Dilemma.” It makes me think that some dilemmas are only dilemmas because someone tells you it’s a dilemma. We have a choice to say, “No, I’m not buying it. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. But don’t make YOUR wretched urgency MY wretched urgency.”

    2a) Ironically, it was someone else’s sense of wretched urgency (“I must witness to Rick”) that became a piece of my conversion testimony. Would I have begun following Jesus thirty-one years ago without someone sharing the gospel message with me, including the “you don’t want to go to hell, do you?” aspect? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

    2b) Perhaps also ironically, given 2a): Prior to my “conversion,” I also had Christian friends that did absolutely ZERO witnessing to me. When I told them one day that I had accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, they said, “Oh, that’s awesome! We’ve been praying for you!”

    I had NO IDEA they’d been praying for me!

    3) After 31 years of following Christ – some of those feeling the “wretched urgency” tension, some of those not – I’m firmly in the “not” camp now. I’m all about the Good News of the Gospel: Jesus saves and God loves you. And I’m all about the two commands: Love God, love others.


  19. If Jesus tells the story about a vineyard owner willing to pay guys who show up at 5pm the same amount as the guys who showed up at 9am, then I’m kinda thinking God’s accounting is kinda whacky (fortunately for us) and that the Gross vs. Net debate is kinda foolish.


  20. Jon,

    that issue is one of the big ones that made me really uneasy about remaining an Evangelical. Like you, I didn’t believe people who worked evil should get off “Scot-free”. And I was looking for an interpretation of Scripture that presented a God who was better, if you will, than the tyrant whose hands were tied behind his back and couldn’t forgive anyone unless they made a profession of faith. Fortunately, the Eastern Christian theologians of the early Christian centuries came to my aid yet again…

    if you’re willing to buy it (or if not, if you can find it in your library or can surreptitiously read it in your local bookstore – though it takes up a number of pages), I would suggest reading the front and end matter to David Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation. He discusses this and more, taking into consideration what the Greek actually means (as close as we can figure it out from this distance, and he notes the problems) and what textual critics and linguists have to say. Definitely food for thought. So far, what I’ve read of the actual translation is a breath of fresh air as well.



  21. Summed up by these classic lines from Michael Spencer:

    We took classes in how to “witness,” classes that bore an amazing similarity to seminars on how to sell vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias. (“Mrs. Jones, after seeing the amazing usefulness of Jesus, can you think of any reason you shouldn’t buy him right now?”)


  22. Thanks for this piece. It’s always good to be reminded of “wretched urgency.”

    In my own ministry, both to the living and the dying, I’ve always had the strong sense that Eternity is God’s business, not mine, and that if God’s Eternity isn’t breaking into someone’s consciousness, there was no way that I would be able to do it for them. Eternity is God’s business, not mine; I’m only a witness to the hope for eternity in Christ.

    I’m struck both by God’s justice and God’s mercy. Heaven and the alternative are about God’s justice and God’s mercy, which is both a comfort and a warning, so that ultimately no one has the grounds for complaining to God, “That’s not fair!” I take great comfort in that. God is good, God is fair. God is merciful.

    A friend of mine, now Eastern Orthodox, made much the same point as was made here. The logic of “wretched urgency” is intolerable, even for those who believe in it. You cannot live consistently with it, so that real life almost always trumps wretched urgency.


  23. > paid spokespersons for the big business owners of the day

    Yep, the untold story of Evangelicalism. And nothing has changed.


  24. > Gross, not net

    I’ve always wondered how that works. Like – did they even have the concepts of Gross and Net? As if there were employer held deductions? This always seemed sketchy to me – how does it not involved some pretty nice leaps to bridge vaguely correlated notions.


  25. 2 Peter 3.9 and the whole chapter is interesting when you think about the context it was written in. A group of exiled believers seeing the Romans descend upon their country, hoping and waiting for their promised Messiah to return with a sword to drive out their conquerors. Not end-times prophecy in the slightest but very clearly apocalyptic, hopeful for change before the end of “their world”.

    He didn’t come. He was never going to come. They didn’t know that, for sure. And like other great disappointments in the past, people have been wrestling with that ever since. Their promised king and messiah never appeared. Some died. Some kept going on. And they brought with them that hope that one day justice will come.

    That brings me hope. And it also provides such an immense relief to know he didn’t come, wasn’t going to come, and will never come. Amen.

    We should be there to comfort people not scare them but also share our belief in a positive , loving manner as I am sure everyone on this board does when needed.

    Thanks for this reply, john barry. Tho I do wish you’d use paragraphs lol.


  26. As to wretched urgency, no individual has the psychological or emotional stamina to live in a continual state of intervening to direct the eternal destiny of another; that is simply not how humans can live.

    That Way Lies Madness.


  27. Like the trick-question scenario I kept encountering during my time in-country:

    “You’re first on the scene of a major car wreck. There’s a seriously injured guy bleeding out. Are you going to try to give first aid to Save His Flesh or Witness to him to Save His Soul?????”

    My response (which was NOT acceptable) was “What’s preventing me from doing both?”

    (The Acceptable Response is shown in the climactic scene of God’s Not Dead…)


  28. I have had moments of doubt about eternal conscious torment, but with the advent of Facebook, I find the concept altogether plausible. As to wretched urgency, no individual has the psychological or emotional stamina to live in a continual state of intervening to direct the eternal destiny of another; that is simply not how humans can live.


  29. I believe for most the mindset of conversion becomes an unintentional measuring rod for commitment.

    You can also add as additional measuring rods: tithing, church attendance, number of chapters read each morning, number of minutes spent in prayer, number of days “pure”, number of tracts handed out, number of neighbors invited, number of praise songs in iPod, number of christian books read, number of small groups and bible studies belonged to, etc etc etc


  30. stbndct,, this is an easy fix for the mainstream media , blog sites and others in communication organizations, quite using the term evangelicals in a political sense. I voted for Trump on these issues that were important to me 1. immigration concerns, 2 jobs and infrastructure 3. national defense 4. trade policies absolutely nothing to do with faith or religious denomination. Trump got 63 million votes , that is more than the “evangelical ” numbers in America. Trump represented political views with a side order of not being anti religion in his policies. That Trump got the majority of conservative Christian votes is no surprise anymore than Clinton got the majority of “mainline” liberal Christian votes, as she represented their values and political thoughts. Also why is this related to the very thoughtful piece by Chaplin Mike? Lets help by not jumping to labels and injecting political thoughts into every dialogue and venue. I do not think Chaplin Mike ask people about how they voted to comfort them as the things of this world will indeed grow strangely dim, as it is written.


  31. But wait! There’s More! If you sign up NOW, you get a free complementary Rapture Boarding Pass with your After-Life Insurance Policy! (Always individual, never group!)


  32. Which leads me to question, do they really believe it? Because most of them would gladly help a person in need and would never want to see a person go to hell, but seem unmoved by their supposed end time belief.

    It’s funny how for so many it’s more important that they secure their eternal destination than DELAYING THEM FROM GOING THERE. It is so…anti-Creation. Anti-Creator.

    It. Is. Demonic.


  33. Ah, yes. The Wretched Urgency Verses from Ezekiel.

    That exact passage played a key role in the climax of an SF novella I co-wrote. (“Dyads”, small-press publication only.) The theme of the novella was conflict between three different belief systems.


  34. +111

    How different would the world have been, and his own life, if Moody had realized it wasn’t all about him and his conscience. Because he believed poorly and wrongly, he infected so many others. He got in bed with men like Billy Sunday who were paid spokespersons for the big business owners of the day. He wouldn’t have denied men and women their God-given common humanity by first making them listen to his fire sales pitch before feeding them or providing them a bed. His ministry and so many similar ones is such a stark contrast in my mind to the Catholic charities that put others first.

    He is one of the roots of cancer at the heart of fundamentalism, and we all too often give him a pass because of the good that he did despite all the bad.

    Him and Spurgeon didn’t go along. That’s a sign of praise to me.


  35. Same logic applies to so many other things that become troublesome to others.

    The command to be fruitful and repopulate the earth.

    The command to go into the all the world and preach the gospel.

    The command to obey all these weird bronze aged tribal laws.

    The command to tithe 10%. Gross, not net.

    The command that only men should be heard in church.

    That just leaves us ultimately with Jesus and his example, and we know no spirit-filled Bible believing conservative Christian can follow that…


  36. Michael critiqued from within. If he was around today, I fear he would try be recruited and propped up as an ex-evangelical, pseudo-progressive darling. There is quite a platform for ex-evangelicals right now. Conferences to populate, book sales to be had, empires to build.

    And I think Michael would see it, resist it, and pay the price for it. Because his eyes were set on Christ and becoming like Christ, in his real-world context, whatever the cost. Courage is the right word for him.


  37. I believe for most the mindset of conversion becomes an unintentional measuring rod for commitment.

    Which all-too-easily slides into the game of “More Committed Than Thou” one-upmanship.


  38. If your neighbour is truly your beloved treasure, and he is threatened with eternal torment by a wrathful God, how could you do anything but hate and fear the God who is threatening him?

    You break in Room 101, until all that remains is “HE LOVED BIG BROTHER”.


  39. Later the patient himself, also frustrated, complained about how this relative had been insistent on “sharing” the faith he had found. But it didn’t come across like “sharing” as much as like he was being forced to agree to something.

    “Sharing” as in High Pressure Sales Pitch?

    I have spent much of my pastoral career in a theological system that maintains that logic, and people like D.L. Moody were held up as faithful examples to us.

    Was that incident with Moody the origin of the “IF YOU WERE TO DIE RIGHT THIS MOMENT, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU WOULD SPEND ETERNITY??????????” sales pitch?

    The root problem, as we’ve discussed many times before, goes back to how people understand “the gospel.”
    If the good news is a plan by which individuals can be rescued from their sins so that they will live with God in eternity, then what I’m doing and what most of us are doing equates to fiddling while the Titanic sinks.

    THAT is a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Nothing Else.


  40. Also a statement said directly to the apostles. 🙂

    Aside: it is not unreasonable to interpret that verse akin to: If you want to know who the Leaders are, look at who people are following. If nobody is following you… It is rather straight-forward wisdom.


  41. ” …then maybe sitting with a dying man and not talking to him about eternity has some real value ”

    the golden word is ‘WITH’

    I am beginning to have a greater regard for the word ‘WITH’ in Christianity, yes


  42. This wretched Evangelical urgency comes from the teaching that death closes the balance books for everyone for keeps. When I became Orthodox, one of the things that happened was that death became less of a finish line than it had been for me as a Protestant, especially as an Evangelical Protestant. Death was important in that it separated the departed from the materiality of this life, from access to the Sacraments, and from the open communion of family, neighbors, and friends, but it was not the Final Judgement.

    Investigating and evaluating the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant descriptions of the intermediate state by Scripture, I found very little to help me decide which was the most likely to happen three minutes after I drew my last breath and my brain started shutting down. Orthodox lore is highly imaginative; there is the traditional teaching of the toll-houses where the spirits; good and evil, with whom you had concourse during your life approach you and attempt to claim you as their own. You are, after all, on their turf now, a disembodied intelligence. There isn’t any support for this in the Scriptures, but it has what I call the “familiar chime of correspondence” to it. It would make sense that you would sleep where you had made your bed.

    Purgatory, especially as Dante depicted it, always appealed to me. It seemed like an extension in the afterlife of the mortification of sin begun during physical existence. The idea of suffering as “payment” never made much sense to me since God doesn’t require any “payment” for sin. He is a debtor to no man, and our sin affects Him not one whit. Our sin damages us and erases His image in us, and along with Athanasius, I believe that is the motivation of His anger against sin. Unfortunately , there are many parts of the Gospels (Mt. 5:23-36) where Jesus insinuates this very thing.

    I cannot for the life of me see where the particular Protestant teaching that death settles your eternal fate permanently is taught in the Scriptures. When you go looking for it, it just disappears into thin air.

    As an Orthodox Christian, Father tells me that my prayers, alms, and deeds of self-denial which are performed on behalf of my loved ones are efficacious for them, although he cannot tell me specifically how. He says that after death, the trajectory on which we are travelling is set, either towards or away from Christ. As the material world falls away, so does the friction that makes repentance possible, as does the possibility of slaking our unruly concupiscences. A damned soul, thus, is ‘always dying’, always tormented by unquenchable lusts, unless something collides with it and changes its trajectory.

    So, I am a Universalist, but not in the sense of “Hey, I’m OK, you’re OK Jesus died for all of us after all and we’re all open-minded folk around here”. I am expecting the salvation of my family members, friends, and neighbors to cost me something personally, as my salvation will certainly have cost something to someone (I am thinking mostly of my wife and grandmother). That is to say, it won’t be automatic.


  43. Thought provoking topic and goes to the very essence of what we as individuals believe. I know many evangelicals believe that they are following the great commission by spreading the word and must do so with great urgency especially to those passing. . Too many equate their urgent fervor to bring someone to Christ as their personal mission and failure to have someone accept , at any stage of their life, as their personal failure. I am certainly not a Calvinist but in the end God will decide who resides with him eternally not what we think even if we believe the departed person was not “saved”. I am certainly not an everyone is saved guy either and I believe 2 Peter 3.9 sums it up for me. Do not want to get into quoting verses as there are so many more educated and well verse people than I. So as a person that most of you would classify as an evangelical I sum share this with people what I believe and why. I ask them if I can pray for them and ask for Gods will and mercy , to sum it up I guess share the Gospel as I understand it. If the person does not chose to accept Christ that is up to them. The great mystery of life is that we do not know, it is all up to God. So to sum what I share that I think is the one for sure way absolutely for sure way for salvation because it is the Good News is to accept what John 3.16 states as the truth. That some one does not, means that they do not have the “Blessed Assurance” that Christians have of what happens when we leave this world. However I do appreciate the dubious value the old fire and brimstone or heaven approach that many people with good intentions try to “save” people with. I do believe that is changing in the evangelical churches, I hope so. In the end it is what the individual in this world believes that matters, not what I believe, what happens next is up to our merciful God. We should be there to comfort people not scare them but also share our belief in a positive , loving manner as I am sure everyone on this board does when needed.


  44. You dare question the “GREAT COMMISSION”(TM)?!?!?

    Probably the most cherry-picked verse in the entirety of Scripture.

    “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you make more disciples.” (John 13:35, New Evangelical Version)


  45. I feel your pain. I have concluded for myself that there is no better way to address that quandary than to take all the time in the world. If one life could be described in ages I might say I am chewing that cud through the ages. I do have that luxury, not being in any office of the church but if I were in a teaching position I think I would express the truth of my dilemma and let the chips fall where they may. It makes me think of Michael Bell who has, as he has detailed here, paid a price for not fitting neatly in.


  46. > Which leads me to question, do they really believe it?

    I’ve come the long way around to the belief that: people are **not** motivated by what they believe.
    The correlation of beliefs and actions is extremely low.
    Behavior tracks what we fear and what we love.
    This is why Vision trumps Values every time.

    So, sure, maybe then believe in ECT. But that they believe in ECT doesn’t matter.

    People make so much more sense when you stop believing in belief. People really are deeply rational, and often relentlessly consistent: but that reason is deployed to achieve a dream and defend from a nightmare: Visions. It is not interested in conforming to a list of Values.


  47. > Note the singular.


    > If not, not.


    And even so, this singular command was issued at a singular time and place. What I mean is that I have given some Theological admonitions in my day, more numerous moral admonitions, and many – very frequent actually – fiscal admonitions. I do that, if it seems like it needs to be done, and then I move on. What someone else does with a warning|admonition – including determining if it warranted or not – is on them. No guilt. Yes, there probably would be guilt if an Angel Of The Lord had told me to say something I did not have the courage to say – – – but Pastors should not confuse themselves with divine heralds.


  48. “Is it possible to be truly evangelical in this way and ever just simply love one’s neighbor?”
    I would say yes, but only if you hate God.
    If your message to your neighbour is “God will fry you if you don’t do what he tells you.” then if you truly loved your (non-believing) neighbour and didn’t want him to fry, you would be at odds with God, who (should he not believe) is dead set on frying him. For you to truly love your neighbour, you would consider it a dreadful thing for him to fry, and a dreadful thing for God to do to him, even if he did not, in the end, believe.
    If your neighbour is truly your beloved treasure, and he is threatened with eternal torment by a wrathful God, how could you do anything but hate and fear the God who is threatening him?


  49. Note the singular. God commanded Ezekiel with specific messages at specific times which Ezekiel was to deliver (mostly about the immanent destruction of Jerusalem). If you are fortunate / unfortunate enough to be tasked by God to deliver a particular message to someone at a particular time, then I can see how it’s relevant if you refuse to do so. If not, not.


  50. I believe for most the mindset of conversion becomes an unintentional measuring rod for commitment. I think there are a few who truly believe this and are able to genuinely care for others. Personally, I once subscribed to this way of thinking and did, in the end believe it to show how much I not only loved my neighbor, but the Lord as well. (Self-righteous runs deep in me I’m afraid) I often wonder how many I may have chased away in my zeal, there were certainly no converts to my knowledge. Over time my thinking changed as I learned to rest in the love that Christ has for me by getting up day by day and serving my family and neighbor by simply showing up and doing what I’m paid to do. Encourage where needed, sharing when asked, being faithful and leaving the results in His hands.


  51. This is the real dellema for evangelicals :

    The problem is that America’s evangelicalism doesn’t know the difference between America and Jesus.

    Progressive evangelicals are no different. All they want to talk about is Trump.

    We live today in the wake of politicization of evangelicalism and that’s how the term is understood today.

    From Scott McKnights blog


  52. The traditional evangelical doctrine of Hell has certainly been one of the biggest question marks for me over the last few years. If a person believes that at the end there will be a judgment, and the result of that judgment is either eternity in heaven or eternity in hell, with the determining factor being faith in Jesus, then it certainly would make sense to be urgent and constant in evangelism. Most evangelicals I know claim to believe this, and yet nearly all are neither urgent nor constant in evangelism. In fact, most never actively try to share their faith. Which leads me to question, do they really believe it? Because most of them would gladly help a person in need and would never want to see a person go to hell, but seem unmoved by their supposed end time belief. Personally I have my doubts about eternal conscious torment. But it was so ingrained in me that I also have a great deal of fear in letting go of it or teaching others the same. I am still what would be called an evangelical, and I do still want my understanding of judgment and the afterlife to be formed by Scripture and not just what I would like to be the case. I also have problems with the idea that there is no judgment or accountability. But the eternal aspect of it bothers me.


  53. Long response, sorry. When I was working on a Ph.D. several years ago (didn’t finish the thesis, no jobs anyway, etc.), I was sitting in the office of one of Britain’s leading NT scholars and we were discussing my research. During that conversation he made a comment that struck me – so I went home and checked it out. He said (almost as if he hadn’t realized it before) that he couldn’t remember any place in any of Paul’s letters where he ever encourages his churches to ‘share their faith’ or ‘do evangelism’. The professor noted that Paul clearly sees that as HIS mission, and that of his companions, but never tells his churches (or individual Christians) that it is THEIR mission. This is pretty much what Michael said in the original ‘Wretched Urgency’.

    After leaving SBC churches, where I had spent (wasted) almost 30 years of my life, where ‘soul winning’ was the constant message (and source of guilt for all), I finally began to realize how it ‘works’ in the New Testament. God calls particular individuals who plant churches (like Paul, and those with the gift of ‘evangelism’ – like modern-day church planters). They go into a town and gather a small group of converts and establish a church (a community). As that community lives out its new faith (emphasizing the values of the Kingdom – what the ethical teaching in Paul’s letters is all about), including a new way of relating to one another (in what was quite a contrast to Greco-Roman social structures and values) others are attracted to that. Non-believers begin to ‘hang out’ and through that community begin to experience the grace and presence of God. At some point they find that they too ‘believe’. Sociological research on religious conversions shows this is how it really happens today (e.g. Rodney Stark). Stark’s book, ‘The Rise of Christianity’ says this is exactly how the church grew in its first 250 years.

    This is how ‘disciples’ are ‘made’. Unfortunately evangelicals have emphasized making ‘converts’ (to use the proper term) and neglected making ‘disciples’. Making disciples requires far too much time and authenticity than simply getting someone to sign the contract to buy after-life insurance.


  54. > Is it possible to be truly evangelical in this way and ever just
    > simply love one’s neighbor?

    No. “Mission” and “Community” are utterly incompatible. They are two ends of a scale.

    > This was the lesson D.L. Moody took from the great Chicago fire.

    And there is pretty much everything wrong with Mr. Moody’s approach to life, and Evangelicalism. **Everyone else** took as a lesson from the Chicago fire that it is unwise to build dense places out of principally flammable materials. With the era of brick and steel city wide fires became of thing of the past – lesson learned.

    > To his dying day, Mr. Moody deeply regretted that he had delayed…

    This is more than merely bad Theology; there is Narcissism in there.


  55. Yes. And N.T. Wright points out that ‘fear not’ is the most often repeated command in the Bible! Seems like those who peddle fear are contradicting God’s command.


  56. > It took a great deal of courage for him,

    +1,000. That is what did, and does, keep me coming back to IM. The authors, beginning with Michael, have courage – so desperately lacking almost everywhere. They say what they find; and I am very happy to agree or disagree with such people. Courage and honesty are beautiful.


  57. +1. I’ve heard more sermons on those couple verses than possibly all the rest of Scripture combined. Which is (a) extremely unbalanced and (b) those verses don’t so clearly mean what many of those pastors insist they do. And if they did [referencing (b)] . . . why don’t we have that message clearly ringing through all the rest of the new testament? Why does it feel like something constrained to a context?


  58. Also, John the Baptist wasn’t our to win new converts to Judaism, he was sent to call aelf-proclaimed believing Jews to repent in the face of the imminent arrival of their Messiah.


  59. Seneca, I think that verse was given to the apostles. I haven’t baptized anyone yet in my live. I agree with Robert, fear not is a better response than be very afraid. Of course we are to share our faith but it should be shared in asts of love and kindness and few words.


  60. Reading Michael’s original essay was like a breath of fresh air. It took a great deal of courage for him, in the situation he found himself, dependent upon ‘fundamentalists’ for his livelihood, in the ecclesiastical environment he was in at the time, to write those words.

    Most of all, I am struck by how much love Michael had for fundamentalists. They were his people, and he owned them openly and without shame. And how well he knew the Scriptures. The years since his passing have not been good ones. We are much crazier now.


  61. New International Version
    Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

    Then there is John the Baptist who was forever calling on the Jews to repent.

    PERSONALLY, I’m a pretty lousy witness – but I take joy in my salvation and would like those around to share it.


  62. I do believe that Jesus Christ is the redeemer of the world, including Joe the Jewish guy, which means that I also believe that Joe the Jewish guy, along with the rest of the world, needs the redemption that Jesus Christ won for him and the world. But I don’t believe that in order for that redemption to be realized in Joe’s life, or the world’s life, I have to first convince him or it that hell (everlasting conscious torment) exists, and that apart from their own personal decision to believe in Jesus they are now doomed to hell. No. Jesus has already redeemed the world, and Joe; that’s the good news to the many people who are in the grip of fear and guilt, who already experience hell in their lives. It has no need to be forced upon those who do not struggle with that existential burden; it merely needs to be announced by the church as an established fact, and lived out in the lives of Christians by patient, truthful witness and presence to a wounded world. Hospital chaplaincy is the proper vocation of every Christian.


  63. If wretched urgency is what is required by “the gospel”, then the leading words of every Christian to every non-Christian should not be, “Fear not!”, the angelic greeting at Christ’s empty tomb, but “Be very afraid!”, the message of every horror movie that’s ever been made.


  64. I have scary memories of the pressures put on us in my Christian Union (Inter Carsity Fellowship) days – huge amounts of pressure to witness, to become a missionary. As Michael says, there is a peverse logical consistency to it, but it’s hell to live with. The ‘clobber verses’ they used in particular were Ezekiel 3:16-19:

    “16 At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.”

    What a major guilt-trip to lay on people!


  65. Excellent post. Even Jesus’ time here on Earth seemed to be relatively non-urgent. God himself seems particularly non-urgent in most matters. Juat look how long it took Him to replace the old covenant with the new.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: