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This Evangelism Corrupts Adventism

Watch this promo video from Southern Adventist University’s Evangelism Resource Center:

An adventure that will change your life. . .really?

I am deeply troubled by this approach, especially when it is directed at Adventist youth. As psychologists note, during the teens and twenties, people undergo significant existential anxiety and all too often it seems that marketers from pop culture to pop religion promise instant changes if you just join their team.

Now watch this from some financial services marketing company:

Both promos echo similar themes including the promise of a changed life, low entry requirements, and a detailing of resources. Note too, how both marketing efforts show their link to a larger institution. There are plenty of differences as well, but I found it especially interesting that the evangelistic, not the financial video, ended with numbers. Literally, an accounting of souls per country. That the validation to potential preachers and funders: quick saved results.

This Adventist sales force approach to faith is unbalanced. Like the promises of late night commercials for weight loss or financial success, the ERC promises transformation and deemphasizes effort or learning. Note the girl who says: its take you from “worldly things and studies” to Godly things.

Is this really the Adventist message — a dichotomy between studying and religion? No “experience” necessary. Here’s a DVD that holds the Truth.

There is no other discipline (the closest is politics) which welcomes the ignorant into its upper ranks so warmly. Can you imagine the nursing student handing a laryngoscope over to a theology major for a life-changing week of orotracheal intubation in Africa? Life-changing indeed! But ERC invites nursing students to preach The Meaning of Life and the Truth About God to someone without concern for culture, expertise, or longterm effect.

Watching the video, I can’t help but think of what our publishing houses have become with their “sharing resources” and books like “Gaining Decisions for Christ: A How-to Manual.”

What does this say about how they value the human experience with God? Frankly, this is a lowering of Adventist standards, a symptom of cheapening grace in which Christ is primarily a sacrifice, a name for community entry. We’re in the process of doing exactly what the Jews did, turning a lifestyle for community health and justice (and wider witness) into a process for private expiation and solipsistic salvation.

Granted that ERC is merely a cog in the larger machine of the Folkenbergian mission. But however well-meaning the machine is, we are turning church growth into a lowest common denominator process — both the givers and the receivers. (Can you play a DVD? Read a Finley sermon?) I find this is unethical because the “evangelists” break one of the deepest assumptions between people in a highly subjective theological context, namely that the witnesses are not reading from someone else’s script. If our leadership thinks of us as no better than Circuit City salespeople who memorize the facts from the sheet, they turn the truth into a trick, and create the false impression that faith is just something trans-acted.

Let me be clear here: I’m all for interdisciplinary experiences, and for everyone creatively mixing their faith with their occupations or aesthetic interests. The issue is not sharing the good news. The problem lies in the misleading message that the Truth about God and humanity can fit onto a DVD and be delivered without context, study, or the honorable work of actual theologizing. This type of evangelism teaches Adventist young people to plagerise their faith, don’t study it, just present it and you’ll be fine. That is a lie.

How do I know? Because I have done this, with the Quiet Hour before. Of the young Adventists with me that “preached” in the Philippines in 1997, less than half care about the church anymore. Of course I have no idea about the 70 some folks baptized. I remember visiting a women’s ramshackle house — on stilts over water — and hearing the numbers-obsessed bible worker assure her that she would have a golden helicopter in heaven.

This attempt to run Adventism like a pyramid scheme — turning members into marketers — has got to stop. I’m tired of washed up administrators manipulating my generation into doing their work. It is short term thinking stemming from their fear of creative thinking and the kind of theologizing that can turn Adventism into a community witness.

I can still picture that pew — during an Andrews University field school of evangelism — half full of mentally retarded folks who would be added to the reported numbers each night.

Let’s get out of this insane numbers game; stop treating members as a sales force; and never promise to change someone’s life if they just watch the screen.

Until then that day comes, when enough of the faithful brave change, we’ll just keep throwing our money and amazing facts at the world and blessedly hope that they will come buy our Tupperware.

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