At CU the other day we got talking about how we evangelise to those who are already satisfied with their lives and who don’t feel guilt, or the need for salvation or redemption of any kind. I wanted to offer just a few very brief thoughts (I don’t have many more, since I find this very difficult too) on this.
The first is one simply of encouragement. Many of the people I have met who are very closed to evangelism are nevertheless very open about their own insecurities and failings. This openness doesn’t necessarily make anyone easier to evangelise to. On the other hand, many people who have started out perfectly satisfied have ended up recognising their need for God. So the first thing to do, though it may seem obvious enough, is to keep trying.
How can this help? It’s useful here to think about the theology of unbelief. Putting faith and trust in things other than God is what idolatry means. Everyone does this to some extent, even if they don’t call it idolatry. We all have some things which we believe will satisfy us above anything else (it can be helpful to share your own experiences of some of these). And most people will have experiences of being failed by these things. Most people won’t even be fully satisfied when they do achieve those things: they always want more. So, for example, a huge number of people who idolise money still want more, and often fail to be satisfied by it. They will use other people to get it, and if they end up without it they will end up bitter, empty and unforgiven. Similarly, those who idolise intrinsically good things like sex and relationships will often feel less than fully satisfied when they get them. But in the process of getting them, they will often use other people. And when they fail to achieve success in these areas, they will feel bitter, empty and unforgiven. Contrast the gospel: that Jesus fully satisfies when we get Him, that we don’t need to use anyone to get Him, and that when we fail Him we are forgiven. Jesus is the only God that fulfils all these criteria.
So what does this mean for relatively satisfied non-Christians? It means they will often be temporarily captivated by an idol. After all, the reason people go for idols in the first place is the short-term appeal and attraction of idols. So we should expect that some people will have some level of satisfaction with their idols to begin with. But these idols inevitably crumble, and our persistence in evangelism and friendship (real friendships, not just evangelism targets) over many years will be especially evident to our friends when those idols do fall away. When the idol has been there for years and eventually fails someone, they will be in need of comfort, loyalty, satisfaction and forgiveness more than ever. And if we have been loyal comforters to our friends for that whole time, they will be much more open to the forgiveness and peace found in Jesus.
This focus on idols, by the way, can be helpful as a talking point. If they are not so willing to talk about Jesus, you can bet people will be willing to talk about their idols! So asking what kind of things people put their trust and satisfaction in can be a very good way to get them to realise the ultimate futility and emptiness of those things, unless they are grounded in God. Even noble things like relationships, service to the poor or standing up for human rights can become idols, and are empty if God isn’t at the heart of it all. So talking to them about those idols can help to expose the need for God at the centre.
A second piece of advice is to try and get them to see the bigger picture. This can be done in a number of ways, but one helpful way is to get them to consider the perspective of eternity. Francis Chan has a really good illustration of this (watch it; it’ll be better than me describing it here).
Of course, most non-Christians don’t really believe that they will exist for eternity anyway. So this usually needs to be supplemented with some really good evidence for some of the claims in Christianity. So here, it might be worth using the Lord, Liar or Lunatic? argument. Or perhaps sharing with them some of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. If we can make it at least plausible to them that living for eternity might be a real option, then it can help to expose the emptiness of their idols. After all, money is of no use to a dead man:
Here’s another way to help consider perspective, especially if we’re talking to someone who feels satisfied and not guilty. After all, many people appear relatively satisfied and externally good. They might have a nice family, a nice house, a job they enjoy, and so on. And they might not have committed any major crimes. But take an analogy. Suppose there is a man in a small study in his house, who likes nothing more than to study books and browse the internet. And suppose the rest of the house was absolutely revolting – there are rats running all over the floor, the walls are covered in the filthiest mould, there are human corpses lying on the floor. In other rooms there are people being brutally murdered, children being tortured, and so on. And the man, satisfied as he is with his books, and content that he has never murdered or stolen from anyone, sits there blissfully on his desk chair, oblivious to the horrors of the entire house around him. This man is subjectively satisfied and has never killed anyone. But is there not something clearly wrong with him? Is there not a serious problem with someone who could be satisfied while living in such a place, and who does not go to every effort to prevent the evils going on around him?
If there is a serious problem here, then why is there not the same problem for anyone who is content with the state of our world? Sure, most people have never murdered anyone, and many people will say they are satisfied with life (though actually not that many would), but if the thought of sitting satisfied and innocent in a murder-house horrifies them, why does the thought of sitting satisfied and innocent in our world not horrify them equally?
There is another dimension to this, brought up by Tim Keller. Living right isn’t just about being ‘good’ and breaking no rules. It’s also about selflessness and relationship. Think about the analogy he uses here at around 30 minutes in. Again, I won’t explain it here, but listen to the video. The whole video is worth watching, in truth: Keller adeptly talks about the need for being born again and not just relying on external piety, and it is all hugely relevant to the question I’ve tried to answer here. And he brilliant expounds the story of the prodigal son to help explain what’s wrong with simply ‘being a good person’.
I don’t have a profound concluding paragraph, so I hope the above helps, and don’t hesitate to get in touch for further help (or suggestions!).