The above quote was purportedly the Rev. Moody’s response to a woman who criticized his methods of evangelism. He said, “I agree. I don’t like my methods, either. How do you do it?” She said, “I don’t.” “Well, in that case, I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing them.”
I hope he said it—it’s funny, plus it encourages all of us Christians to try to do something rather than nothing when it comes to witnessing.
Just today, I read on Facebook about an 87-year-old retired Methodist minister in North Carolina who handed out gospel tracts that looked like auto insurance cards—except in this case the insurance was related to the eternal life made available through Christ. Yes, it was a little corny, as these things tend to be, but the information was true. And to the man’s credit, he put his name and number on the card for people to follow up with him.
My clergy colleague posted a picture of this card approvingly, and he was criticized (naturally). We contemporary Methodists say we believe in evangelism, until someone actually has the courage to do it. One of my friend’s critics, whom I gather is also a Methodist minister, said that he believes in hell as a reality that people experience in the here and now. He neither confirmed nor denied that hell was an eternal reality. Regardless, our evangelistic efforts, he said, should be first aimed at saving people from this kind of hell. (If you didn’t go to mainline Protestant seminary, you won’t know how common this view of hell is, unfortunately.) Finally, he said that attempting to “scare people” into God’s kingdom is ineffective.
In response, I wrote the following:
Props to this retired minister for living as if he really believes that heaven and hell hang in the balance—and not (mainly) in the here and now but for eternity. If we don’t believe that, as Jerry Walls has said, then it’s no wonder our enthusiasm for evangelism has waned. To whatever extent we experience heaven or hell in the here and now, it pales in comparison to the heaven or hell that we will experience in eternity. And all we know for sure is that we have this life to repent and believe in Christ. Time is running out. Our mission is urgent.
In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all.” Who among us UMC ministers can say that? I am not innocent. I have hardly done all I can to share the gospel with people in my corner of the world. And whatever his shortcomings, this elderly minister’s method of evangelism certainly beats my (usual) method of non-evangelism.
Theologically speaking, I find the fear of “turning people off” to border on Pelagianism. We’re not in charge, ultimately, of whether or not people believe the gospel, or even how they react to it. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that grabbing a bullhorn and a stack of Jack Chick tracts is as good as other methods. But I am saying that It’s clear from scripture that many people will be turned off—no matter how sensitively and lovingly we offer the gospel to them.
Finally, as far as “scaring” people, nothing we say is scarier than Jesus’ own words about Final Judgment and hell. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”