This morning I received an email from Remnant Publications. I don’t usually pay attention to these emails but this one really caught my eye. The subject line reads, “Evangelilsm [sic] by Mass Mailing.” My first thought was, “This is a joke…an eye-grabbing headline to force me to look deeper only to discover the author of the email reminding us that, of course, we cannot do evangelism by mass mailing.”
It did grab my eye, but when I looked deeper it quickly became clear the author is not jesting. The headline inside the email reads, “Hit the streets with soul-saving literature without leaving the comfort of your own home!” (See the email here)
They’re being serious! I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. This is the kind of thing that keeps The Onion in business. I would have written a headline like this as a satire, but Remnant Publications isn’t joking.
The reason I think this is worth pointing out is not to ridicule the nice people at Remnant Publications, but to highlight that this is precisely what is wrong with our theology and practice of evangelism today.
There is nothing about bearing witness to the good news of God’s present and coming kingdom (AKA evangelism) that can be done through the mail or from the comfort of your home. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me!” Follow me! When people who were more interested in comfort than discipleship wanted to follow Jesus, he replied with all the tact of a drill sergeant, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). This is nearly the exact opposite of “the comfort of your own home.” As a friend of my said, “Finally someone is answering Jesus’ call to take up our sofa and microwavable popcorn and follow him.”
Unfortunately, when people question this kind of so-called evangelistic tactic, they are branded as anti-evangelism. But in truth, the kind of evangelism advocated in this email from Remnant Publications is anti-evangelism. It often does more harm than good and reinforces in people’s minds that the gospel is an abstract idea that can be communicated absent relationships. But this is not the gospel. Or, at best, it is a kind of gnostic gospel which teaches a special knowledge that will save you. The gospel Jesus taught and died for was an embodied gospel. The gospel of Jesus took shape in real relationships and in rich social contexts without which his life and teachings make little sense.
The challenge facing the church today is whether we will eschew all short cuts and tactics which proclaim that we can mass mail the gospel from the comfort of our own homes; that the gospel is like drive-thru fast food. There is no way the world will hear and believe as good news that Jesus Christ is Lord over all the earth until his followers get up off the couch, put down their mobile phones and start sharing their lives with people in the their communities.
Let’s do evangelism the hard way! Who’s with me?