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Is It Wrong to Evangelize?

May 23, 2019     Time: 15:42
Is It Wrong to Evangelize?


Many Christian millennials think it's wrong to evangelize. Dr. Craig offers evaluation.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, we are always picking on the poor Millennials about what they are up to. A lot of research apparently is being done on the Millennial generation. Christianity Today says that half of Millennial Christians say it is wrong to evangelize.[1] I thought we would look at some of these statistics here that USA Today reports and what the research is saying from the Barna Group. Maybe you can give us some insight on what it means to evangelize. Maybe there are reasons that they say they don’t think it is right to do it because they have a mistaken notion of what it means to evangelize.

This starts out,

Millennials used to be the group that churches and ministries were angling to evangelize. Now, all grown up and poised to overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generation, they’re the ones doing the evangelizing.

At least they should be.

But new research from Barna Group and the creators of the Alpha course offers some disappointing news regarding the 20-somethings and 30-somethings now on deck to carry on the faith: nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian millennials—churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives—believe that evangelism is wrong.

They’re more than twice as likely as their parents and grandparents—Boomers and Elders, respectively—to say that it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”

What do you think about that from first blush?

DR. CRAIG: I’m just shocked. I hope it is not true. It's important to note that these people are not non-church attenders. It says that they are practicing churchgoers who think that their faith is an important part of their lives. That was a direct quotation you read to our listeners. They say, “It's wrong to share one's personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” That's such an innocuous definition of evangelism. It's hard to imagine why they would think that this is wrong to do.

KEVIN HARRIS: The article continues:

While this statistic could easily bolster stereotypes of a lazy, distracted, and increasingly unaffiliated generation, the minority of millennials who have stayed active in their churches also show higher markers of commitment in other areas, as well as a savvier sense of the religious pluralism and diversity they were raised around.

The recent Barna release found that, despite the reticence around the practice, millennials consider themselves good evangelists and still see themselves as representatives for their faith.

DR. CRAIG: That I found bizarre. They still do think of themselves as good witnesses of Christ despite the fact that they think it's wrong to share your personal beliefs with someone in hopes that they would come to share those beliefs. It must be that they think that they are a good witness to others in the type of life that they live. That they live a life of love and empathy and exemplifying Christian virtues and so forth, and maybe in that way their lives bear witness to Christ even though they think it would be wrong to share with someone what they believe about Christ in hopes that that other person would come to also believe in Christ.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yes, and evangelism has come to be known as proselytizing, and that's just a dirty word. You are not to proselytize.

DR. CRAIG: Look at this last paragraph on the first page:

Nearly all practicing Christian millennials (96%) said witnessing for Jesus is part of being a Christian [so they recognize the importance of witnessing], and they were more likely than any other generation to say they were gifted at sharing their faith (73%).

So these statistics are difficult to reconcile. They recognize that witnessing is an important part of the Christian life, and they have a very high opinion of themselves as being effective in sharing their faith. But if you try to put these together, the only thing I can think of is what I just said – they must think that their witness is nonverbal to these unbelievers, and they don't have to actually express their belief in Christ.

KEVIN HARRIS: The top of the second page:

Barna president David Kinnaman points to the rising cultural expectation against judging personal choices. Practicing Christian millennials were twice as likely as Gen X and four times as likely as Boomers and Elders to agree with the statement, “If someone disagrees with you, it means they’re judging you.”

DR. CRAIG: In the graphic that accompanies this article, they have the statement, “If someone disagrees with you, it means that they are judging you”, 40% agreed with that – that disagreement implies judgement of that other person. That is more than twice as much as these other peer groups which were at 22%, 9%, and 11%. This just shows the way in which these Millennials have absorbed the relativistic and politically correct understanding of tolerance that is so rife in our society today where in order to be a tolerant person you dare not disagree with the other person. That's just a misunderstanding of what tolerance is. The classic doctrine of tolerance is that I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. The very concept of tolerance, when you think about it, implies that you disagree with that which you tolerate. Otherwise, you wouldn't tolerate it; you would agree with it! And yet 40% of these Millennials think that to disagree with another person is to judge that other person in some way, and that would incline one not to disagree.

KEVIN HARRIS: David Kinnaman continues,

“Cultivating deep, steady, resilient Christian conviction is difficult in a world of ‘you do you’ and ‘don’t criticize anyone’s life choices’ and emotivism, the feelings-first priority that our culture makes a way of life,” Kinnaman said. “As much as ever, evangelism isn’t just about saving the unsaved, but reminding ourselves that this stuff matters, that the Bible is trustworthy, and that Jesus changes everything.”

There is a Millennial here who responded to the survey. He says,

“I’m a Millennial, and this is pure evidence of the failure of the church to prepare youths to understand faith/speak out,” tweeted author Billy Hallowell. “Beyond that, it’s also a result of the cultural crisis of secularism bombarding us at every turn.”

“You can’t pin the belief that evangelism is wrong on Facebook, distraction, disenchantment, or recession,” wrote Samuel James, a writer at First Things, on Twitter. “The data here strongly suggests that Christian millennials are being catechized by their colleges, not churches.”

So obviously there are several people who are just lamenting these.

And Barna previously found that millennials who identify as born-again were the most likely age group to share their faith—and that their evangelism habits were growing while other generations’ were dropping. In 2013, two-thirds of millennials said they had presented the gospel to someone within the past year, compared to half of born-again Christians in general.

DR. CRAIG: That is bizarre. I hope that that indicates that this current survey is perhaps somehow skewed or incorrect because the earlier data suggests that they are sharing the Gospel with other people and do so more than these other comparison groups. It also says here that, “practicing Christian millennials have the strongest beliefs in the Bible and read it more than any other generation: 87 percent do so multiple times a week, according to a 2016 Barna survey.” So it is really odd that so many would think that it is wrong to share your beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that that person would come to share that same faith. It just doesn’t seem to make much sense.

KEVIN HARRIS: The article ends up this way,

But evangelism remains a sticking point among a 21st-century crowd which sees tent revivals and tracts as a thing of the past. “Evangelism is often presented as an old school, out-of-style idea with little value or relevance in our fast-paced, urban world,” wrote Hannah Gronowski, the founder and director of Generation Distinct, for The Exchange last year.

Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

She kind of agrees with what you were saying apparently there that you can just live an exemplary life and that will make up for . . .

DR. CRAIG: That’s the only way I can make sense of this data, although it doesn’t make sense of the earlier surveys that said that Millennials are much more likely to share the Gospel; not simply to let their lives be a witness to Christ's reality, but actually share the Gospel. So the data seems contradictory. But if we do believe this current survey, it would seem that they want to be a witness for Christ (which they recognize to be important) by living a Christ-like life, and I suppose hoping then that other people will somehow come to Christ through that. I would agree that certainly living an exemplary life is a tremendously attractive thing for the non-believer. That was what attracted me to Christianity at first – it was the radiant witness of the girl who sat in front of me in my German class who lived an exemplary life, very different from the other high school girls at the school I attended. But when I asked her why she was always so happy, what was the source of this radiant joy, she was ready to share with me the Gospel of Christ and that I needed to be saved. So these shouldn't be thought of as mutually exclusive. We should live exemplary lives that are attractive to those around us, but then, as 1 Peter says, always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you. We ought to be able to do both.

KEVIN HARRIS: They mention tracts – handing out pamphlets or tracts. That is seen by Millennials today – I think, this is anecdotal – they think that that is crazy. They relate doing that to the old Jack Chick tracts – the little Chick tracts that were very, very popular and quite well done as far as illustrations, and they were kind of fun to read. But those are seen as just so out of it.

DR. CRAIG: I don’t know why she even brought up this idea of passing out tracts. That has been out of fashion for fifty years. Nobody has done that for decades as a mass sort of evangelism. I would expect that the sort of evangelism that Millennials who go to college would most be familiar with would be the evangelism done by groups like Cru and InterVarsity on university campuses. That’s not a matter of passing out tracts; that's a matter of being prepared to share with someone the good news of the Gospel. The campus group that emphasizes apologetics today is Ratio Christi. They do have a strong emphasis on providing a rational defense in conjunction with sharing the Gospel.

KEVIN HARRIS: I would hope that the Millennials who are sharing their faith have been privy to the apologetics renaissance that seems to have come about, and are maybe sharing their faith more effectively and making up for the half that aren't.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I think the half that aren’t, frankly, have little knowledge of this. They come from churches where this part of the body of Christ is largely unknown. I experienced this a year or so ago when I spoke at a university in South Carolina, and it was evident that the large group to which I spoke were absolutely clueless about this stuff. They had no idea. For them it was just about emotional worship experiences and fellowship, getting together, and so forth. But I didn’t sense any understanding at all about the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith or giving a defense of the truth of the Gospel.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 15:42 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)