It has been a long time since I posted anything, and I doubt many people will find this post very interesting, but it is a topic that has been bugging me for a while. I’m aware that not everyone reading this is intimately familiar with the inner workings of Christian churches in the US, especially in evangelical Protestant churches, but, as the name implies, evangelism is a big deal. For those of you unaware, evangelism is basically the spreading of the Good News, the Gospel of Christ. This is basically the idea that God sent his Son, Christ, the Redeemer, to die as payment for the sins of the world, and that individuals can avoid being damned for all eternity if they but accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Having some way of avoiding eternal torment is good news indeed, and the purpose of evangelism in Christianity is to tell people about this possibility for salvation. Of course, I am sure you’ve heard that story more times than you can count, and that’s the concern of this post.
It should be noted that evangelism is not proselytizing. Proselytism is actively attempting to convert someone on to your view, like your religion. The difference between proselytism and evangelism should be obvious as the former involves providing arguments for a specific position while the latter merely involves a declaration of some state of affairs.
With that out of the way I can get to the issue at hand. I do not think it would be controversial to say that most Christians believe there is a Scriptural mandate to evangelize (Matthew 28:19,20 and Mark 16:15 are common examples of this). But what happens when everyone already knows about the Gospel? Does it make sense to continue explicit evangelism programs when the message completely saturates the society in which the evangelism is happening? For anyone who suggests that the Bible doesn’t say to ever stop, I would suggest that commands generally have such understanding built into them. For example, if I tell you to cook a meal, it would make little sense to continue to cook after the meal was completed. Rather, the notion that you can stop once the ordered task has been finished seems implied in any reasonable interpretation of that command. In which case, I have to wonder why evangelism is still so important.
Here’s the big point: everyone already knows the Good News. And no one has to take my word for it. Check out the picture to the right. It has a single word on it: Jesus. That’s it. No context is provided in the sign itself. Rather, the assumption is that merely saying the name will tell the reader all they need to know. It’s a reminder, not something that communicates new information. And this kind of sign is not unique. On the contrary, it is incredibly common. In my city there are whole billboards that say nothing other than “JESUS” or “PRAY.” That’s it. Just big while letters on a black background. And yet, I think people would be very surprised if anyone seeing those signs asked “What’s a Jesus? Is that some guy? Why is his name up there?” or “Pray for what, about what, TO WHAT?” That would just be unthinkable to those putting up these signs. Rather, they assume that an understanding of the intent of the “message” is available to everyone seeing these signs, else they would have included that information. But, of course, that’s just not something they need consider because everyone already knows the story of Jesus.
And that’s exactly my point. The entire endeavor of evangelizing, at least here in the US, is completely pointless, and those people most concerned about this action are the ones most evidently aware of this fact. It would never occur to them that someone had genuinely never heard of Jesus, and, of course, it should not occur to them. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the purpose behind that are so pervasive in our society that getting through without hearing the details is simply impossible.
That just leaves me with one unanswered question: what exactly do all these evangelists even think they are doing?