Evangelism used to be a religious word. But then computer scientists borrowed the term. After all, lots of their disagreements were being called religious. Remember vi and emacs? We started to use evangelism to describe getting the word out about ideas, educating some target audience, and getting buy-in without fiscal strings attached. I got comfortable with that concept, even becoming an internal evangelist at one point.
Yet the religious kind of evangelism was never particularly comfortable for me. Evangelism seemed presumptious, proclaiming one kind of religious truth as better than some other religion’s truth. A few years back, I found out that there was a name for my point of view — religious pluralism. And judging from the titles that phrase brings up in an Amazon search, it appears that some other Christians aren’t comfortable with that.
It never ceases to amaze me, how different Christians can be. But then, why should I be amazed, when there are so many different kinds of Muslims and Buddhists and Jews? And is the Christian evangelical point of view really that incompatible with religious pluralism? And can you have a religious pluralist who agrees with Christian evangelism? Oddly enough, I think you can.
You see, one of the fundamental (another charged word) tenets of Christianity is God’s love for humankind. Not just any humans, but all of them, unconditionally. My mother taught me about unconditional love from a very early age: “I love you no matter what.” Now, how many people do you know have that kind of love in their lives? How many people might have the strength to change their lives, if they knew they had that kind of love backing them up?
You’ve probably seen it happen, if you think about it, when a friend meets their future spouse, or someone becomes a parent for the first time. Suddenly, their attitudes towards life change dramatically. “He’s a new man!” That’s the power of love.
How then, can I be appalled at a Christian evangelist, who believes that God has that kind of love for everyone, and has experienced what God’s love can do in their own lives? Why is it wrong to let people know that such a God exists? And cares about each of us?
One of the evangelistic rules of thumb is that it isn’t the evangelist that changes the heart of a person, but it’s God. It’s not you, but the Godly transformation within the person that your words or actions helped to catalyze. Now, if a person is already on the right spiritual path for them, that transformation is unlikely to happen. But if they’re not, and Christianity is the right path, evangelism will be just what’s needed, to “show them some love.”
I couldn’t help but smile in church this morning, during the Gospel reading of Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission. Not only does Christ bid his followers to evangelize, but he assures them, “Remember, I am with you always.” And if that’s not an “I love you, no matter what,” I don’t know what is.