Monday, February 22, 2010

Should We Use "Good Things" to Attract Unbelievers for Evangelism? part two

Someone recently uttered this plaintiff cry regarding unbelievers:

How will they hear without attraction?

But this is what Paul wrote in Scripture (Romans 10:14b):

How shall they hear without a preacher?

Does the Bible teach that we must attract unbelievers for them to hear the gospel? Especially if we will use "good things" to do so?

I contend that, according to Scripture, not only does attraction have nothing to do with the unsaved hearing the gospel, but that God is against it. Jesus or the Apostle Paul didn't use it and both of them opposed it. The Antichrist and the False Prophet, however, during the tribulation period will use attraction as a means of propagating their message. I also believe that the use of attraction is symptomatic of shame for the gospel.

To start, let's consider 1 Corinthians 1. There were divisions in the church at Corinth, not based upon scriptural matters but upon unscriptural and non-scriptural ones. People were accustomed to chasing after men with either wisdom or who did signs, both of which were extra-scriptural attractions. And so these were implements that men used to attract men---they worked. The Greeks popularized philosophy, what is called wisdom in the second half of 1 Corinthians 1. Of course, it wasn't the wisdom of God, true wisdom, but the counterfeit wisdom of Greek philosophy. Schools revolved around men who people thought were really smart, impressive talkers. And they attracted people with their impressive sounding speeches. Someone might be tempted to use wisdom as a basis for tickling the ears of those who were mainly allured by intellectual bait.

On the other hand, some needed experiences, signs, what was more feeling or emotionally oriented. They wanted to be 'wowed,' shocked, or awed by the unexplainable. The Jews were uniquely susceptible to this kind of attraction, perhaps because God Himself had used signs as a basis of identifying Himself to the Jews as a fulfillment of prophecy. God would say, "I'm going to do this." And the 'this' was something that only God could do. So they would look for that particular event, and it would be a way for God to verify that it was indeed His man or the promised Messiah. The real signs were of varying degrees of arousal to the senses, from a heavenly host singing and praising God as they hovered in the Palestinian sky or a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Tongues were one of these signs, and so Corinthians started speaking in a kind of gibberish to impersonate actual unknown languages. We see the same in the Charismatic movement. However, it could be any kind of experience to garner attention, like a statue of Mary with tears or a sculpture that bleeds. Fake healing. Whatever.

It isn't as though these two categories, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:22, were all that could be comandeered for the use of attraction of people. Men are vulnerable to deceit because of depraved hearts. They are prone to the pride that wisdom attracts and the lust that signs entice. That's not all there is to the teaching of 1 Corinthians 1, however. Paul spends a long section dealing with the subject at large from 1:18 to 2:16. He confronts more than just division, but he goes after the particular methodology that is used that preys upon men's selfishness.

The only permissible, God-ordained attraction for men is the gospel itself. Paul explains that in 1 Corinthians 1-2. Why only preaching the gospel, despite the fact that it "won't work"? And Paul essentially says that. He says that the gospel is foolishness to men. And we know that too, which is why we often act like we're ashamed of it ourselves by reverting to the natural attractions that Paul denounces in these two chapters. He knows that men will continue to favor their own techniques and strategies because of their successfulness. Paul answers the question. Preaching glorifies God and it is all that really does change natural men.

To the Jews, preaching was a stumblingblock. Why? It was weak. They wanted a strong looking, Saul-like conqueror, somebody taller than everybody else, who could whip up. To the Greeks, preaching was foolishness. Why? It was stupid. You had to make an intellectual leap to think that the way out of your sin and difficulties was through someone dying. Death was not a likely way to save anyone.

So preaching doesn't work. It's not attractive. We know that. And so we've used our own kind of wisdom and signs to attract. And now preachers are saying, "How can they hear without attraction?" They're right. People won't be attracted by preaching. So God chose it. Why? Because it is the power of God.

Preaching in the end glorifies God, and that's why we shouldn't use attractions, even if it is a Messiah sing-a-long, the particular promotion that we used as an illustration in the first post in this series. The Messiah sing-a-long makes sense. It's got Christian connections. So does a conservative speaker. Get Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin to make a conservative speech with conservative values, draw a crowd, get them on your side, and then spring the gospel on them. Or maybe a popular sports figure who is respected for his heroic athletic prowess. He could bring in people who love sports and make it easier to see people saved. All of those ideas make sense to people for various reasons.

But God has chosen the weak things of this world. We shouldn't then choose the things the world is impressed with as a means of moving it. God isn't glorified in that. He wants an unexplainable success. That's what all the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 is about. But you might say, "I'll praise God for the good results after the sing-a-long; I mean, I'll give Him credit." Right. And what will it all mean? More sing-a-long promotions and it will be the latest fad to be packaged and put into a conference workshop---another manmade concoction for you to try.

Because Paul wanted to avoid attractions, he came to the Corinthians without excellency of speech (1 Corinthian 2:1). Excellent speech seems about the most innocuous attraction that someone could utilize. He was in Greece. Corinth was in Greece. And so he went the opposite of what attracted them. They liked impressive speech, so he gave them bland. He spoke the right content, but he wasn't trying to spice it up. He wanted God to receive the glory, so he was careful not to use a human strategy, even something that to us is as innocent sounding as excellent speech. Instead, he came in weakness, fear, and trembling. Wow. That's attractive.

Some might say, "Well, Paul used attraction on Mars Hill, you know, with the Athenians." No. Wisdom hadn't worked for the Athenians. They still didn't know God. They had an altar built to the unknown God. Wisdom had gotten them nowhere. So what did Paul do? He went and gave them more wisdom, just doubled down on the wisdom. No. Paul gave them revelation. He preached. That's what he did. With preaching, they could know the God that they didn't know. And in the end, preaching gives glory to God.

The Athenians didn't need wisdom. They were natural men. They needed the strategy of God. They needed what the Holy Spirit alone could do. And that's preaching. We don't do better to mix some human technique with God's methods. The medium will change the nature of the message and the results will stand in the power of men.

We don't want to provide what Jesus said a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after (Matthew 16:4). And wicked and adulterous could go for Greeks or Jews, when they seek after something other than God. We want our methods to stand in God's Word, so that He gets the glory.

I thought the Messiah sing-a-long was a perfect opportunity to talk about this, to ask the question that is the title of this post. And then we should go from there, thinking about all of the workshops and seminars in conferences on every program there is in churches to lure people in. And some of the people that are publishing most in principle against this kind of thing are some of the big violators of their own teaching, like John MacArthur. Some may think I have something against Him. I don't. I've read and been helped by his materials. However, this among other errors, needs to be pointed out, because he is very influential. And this is also an inconsistency in practice. What he tells everyone else to do he needs to do himself. And these kinds of programs are not just the domain of Rick Warren, Jack Hyles, and revivalist fundamentalists. So does John MacArthur and so do fundamentalists who say they are death on Jack Hyles.

How is using these different strategies and new measures being ashamed of the gospel? We are ashamed of the gospel any time that we don't preach it when we should. And it should be preached to unbelievers instead of using these techniques. Someone might say, "Well, we do preach it later." But it shouldn't be later. It should be the technique and the strategy. Not doing so is to show shame for it, and I'm basing that on what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. On top of that, God doesn't get the glory. If that's what we're living for, God's glory, then that will matter to us.

More to Come.


d4v34x said...

I don't think one can necessarily call 'ashamed of the gospel' on those who engage in cultural outreach. I don't think you would be against a single lady (who cannot preach, mind you, only witness) inviting another lady in the neighborhood over to her house for dinner in hopes of an opportunity to witness to her.

If we are not against individual bridge building/barrier removal I think "corporate" bridge building with the community cannot be immediately dismissed. Especially if the church is frank about their ultimate desire to minister to the souls of those they contact.

These type of things--Messiah Sing Along or free medical screenings--seem different to me than the pack-a-pew-get-a-prize or come-watch-the-parachuting-evangelist-land-on our-steeple. We're not trying to attract with "wow", we're trying to build bridges and meet real (if temporal) needs.

I will say that the Messiah thing does raise issues peculiar to worship philosophy, so that one is, I guess, in yet another category.

Good series here, though. Preaching has got to be preeminent.

Larry said...

Again, you have clearly missed the point of the comments to which you are referring. If there was any doubt about that in the last post, you have completely removed it in this post.

This is proven by your comment that And it should be preached to unbelievers instead of using these techniques. The fact that you (appear to) think that my comments are somehow addressing a technique to be used "instead of" preaching the gospel, you simply don't understand.

I will take responsibility for my words written in haste and perhaps somewhat unclear (though most seemed to have no problem understanding them). But now I have repeatedly clarified. And yet you continue with the same incorrect understanding. I can't take responsibility for your stubbornness and refusal to let someone determine the meaning of their own words. It's not only bad hermeneutics; it's a bad way to carry on a conversation or attempt to make a point. It's unfortunate, Kent.

I have given both biblical examples and biblical teachings (and could give more) to indicate that what I say is the approach of Jesus, Paul, and the apostles. You don't have to like it, but the idea that I am somehow contradicting biblical teaching or example is plainly ludicrous.

Kent Brandenburg said...


We have basis for inviting an unsaved person to our house for the purpose of evangelism. I believe women can preach (euangelizo) to women and children.

I would agree that the sing-a-long and medical screening are of a different character than other promotions. Men will have to judge what and why they do what they do.

Two things I don't understand: "engage in cultural outreach" "build bridges."

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't mind giving in here. I deal with you without prejudice. I judged it as I saw it. Let's say that you weren't clear in your writing and what you meant in your context of writing it, wasn't something like Messiah sing-a-longs even though that was the context, but air conditioning and padded seats as attractions. I still have a problem with those. Maybe an unsaved person wouldn't come to hear a gospel invitation if he understood that the temperature would be too hot for him. Or maybe he couldn't bury his father or have anywhere to lay his head.

I haven't heard that everyone plainly understood you, Larry. I can't imagine there were many that understood what you first wrote, if what you meant was something like air conditioning and a friendly smile. Or what about excellency in speech?

It's true. People will have to judge the exegesis found in your comments as to whether you have proven your point. That is a major benefit of this exercise.

Thanks for coming over again.

d4v34x said...

Bro. B., By bridge building I simply mean letting our light shine before men so they can see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. This can have the effect of setting aside bariers that would obscure the gospel.

When we do good to all men as we have opportunity, either individually or as a local body, those in our culture reach out to those in the world's culture, ultimately for the purpose of reaching them with the preaching of the gospel.

Yes some will come simply to eat and be filled. They treated Jesus the same way.

Terry McGovern said...

I would like to make a comment concerning the Gospel itself. The fact is, to a sinner under conviction, the Gospel is the most attractive thing possible, or the Gospel is a stumbling stone and he finds it very offensive. I see no middle ground here. When we try to make the gospel more attractive with worldly ideas we downgrade the Gospel, and make it less appealing.

There is NO WAY to make the gospel more attractive. It has the answer to mans problems. Of course, the argument here would be the attraction being used is just to allow for opportunity to preach the Gospel. Keep in mind, the only way the Gospel looks attractive is a result of the Holy Spirit conviction, which comes through preaching. If we use false pretenses to draw someone (regardless of how we try and justify it) to preaching, do we not belittle the importance of the Gospel itself? Can the Gospel not stand on its own merit?

I heard an illustration once that explains my point: Let’s say you are on an airplane, and a man walks up to with a beautiful parachute. He tells you of all the benefits and how great it is. He will even give you a free CD, if you will just put it on and wear it. You look around and see that no one else is wearing a parachute, and you have flown many times on an airplane and been just fine. Although, perhaps tempted by all the fine speech, and attraction, you ultimately refuse to wear it. Or perhaps you do decide to put on the parachute, after all you really like that CD. However, as you go to put it on others begin laughing and mocking you, so you quickly put it down. It just wasn’t worth it.

Now, let’s say the same man comes up to you with a parachute and simply tells you the plane is going to crash, and without this parachute you will die. That’s it! He says nothing else! You simply have a choice to make, do you believe him or not. If you believe him, there is no way to make the parachute look any more important or attractive. You will quickly take it and put it on, not caring what others think or do. You don’t care how stupid you look with that parachute on; because you know you need it. As a matter of fact, you feel compassion for those laughing at you, because they have either failed to believe the plane is going to crash or they have not heard yet.

The truth is worldly attraction is not used to provide opportunity to preach, as is the claim. The opportunities are already there!!! Just go outside! Leave your office! Open your eyes! The worldly attraction is used to try and make the “gospel” more appealing, and as I have tried to illustrate, the Gospel cannot be made more appealing.

Phil said...

There was a preacher who came as a canidate for the pastorate to my church. He has a couciling ministry he offers to both believers and unbelievers. He told us when his people go out evangelizing they also pass out flyers that say" Need Help? We'll help you" and then people come for couciling on a certain day of the week He said that they have gotten people who were not interested in the gospel before t ( his people still do tradtional) door knocking) Is this biblical? I think you touched on it breifly it in either Concern over God's glory in Evangelism or How did Jesus Evangelize.

d4v34x said...

Brother Mcgovern, Unless you can explain what deception there is in scheduling a Messiah Sing-Along on a friday night and advertising it as such along with an explanation of the history of the piece and theology of the text, I think 'false pretenses' is awfully straw mannish.

I agree with you to a point about having endless opportunities around us to give the Gospel to folks. However, I'm not sure anyone's made a clear case as to what's wrong with targeting a group made up of Messiah fans and asking them, "understandest thou what thou singest?"

Terry McGovern said...

I see your point D4. I will try and explain how I see it.

First, I see nothing wrong with giving ourselves every opportunity to preach the Gospel. It is, however, wrong to use any type of bait and switch. My guess is, you would agree with that. Too often today, we think the end justifies the means, and that is not true (Romans 2).

In regards to the concert/sing-along, I see a case of bait and switch. Many people enjoy Handel's Messiah, but as you pointed out, many who enjoy it, have no true concept of the Messiah. They simply like it for the "artistic" qualities. Therefore they are drawn (baited) in by Handel's Messiah. Handel's Messiah is the "lure". The Gospel is not the lure in this case. The church doing this has a good motive and I applaud that. However, Uzzah had a good motive as well when he put his hand to the ark, and we all know how that ended. Proper motives are important, but they are not enough. Proper motives must be in line with God's word.