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Synthetic Evangelism
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"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:3,4--NIV).

 

When a deer hunter spots a prize deer and is prepared to shoot, something can happen. An overwhelming emotion in wanting to hit the target can seize the hunter and cause him or her to miss the target due to the tension and excitement of the moment.

When studying with an unbeliever, it is a temptation to try to "help the word of God along in its effectiveness" (if that were possible). At one point of the study, the desire to see the non-Christian respond to the gospel can create "conversion fever" in the Christian conducting the study. It is the same for a Christian who can see the end of the study nearing to the desired results that the witness can sabotage the effort by becoming impatient with the student or by using questionable tactics to gain the upper hand.

Stark facts in scripture teach that many will not respond to the word. Jesus taught this in Matthew 13 in discussing various conditions of human hearts who are given the truth. Paul taught that it is difficult for "natural" or "soulish" humans to understand spiritual matters for spiritual matters are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14). It is necessary, once converted, to leave the worldly influences and be spiritually changed to understand and prove the will of God (Ro. 12:2).

When an evangelist sees that the non-Christian may reject the truth, it is an overwhelming temptation to try getting around "the veil" that is blinding the unbeliever from seeing the message. In an age where results are emphasized, the evangelist is further pressured to get the results expected of him.

There are several methods that a teacher may use unwittingly that can compromise the integrity of the word and degrade the dignity of the student in the moment of "conversion fever." Paul was emphatic that his mission at Corinth was to preach the gospel, but in human wisdom lest the cross be emptied of its power (I Cor. 1: 18). Such methods or tactics that destroy the central message of the cross must be avoided at all cost (see 2 Cor. 2:1-5).

The only characters in the Bible that used unethical means to gain advantage over others were Satan and his agents. In Gen. 3, Satan used the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life to manipulate Eve into sinning against God. The Bible clearly teaches that Satan is a schemer (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11) and a tempter (Matt. 4:3; I Thes. 3:5). Satan is well known as being a "lion that prowls about seeking out whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8) and is a "murder from the beginning (John 8:44). Being able to pose himself as an angel of light(2 Cor. 11:14) he is also the father of lies (John 8:44) and the accuser of God's people (Matt. 4:1; 13:39; John 13:2; Eph.6:11; James 4:7).

Those who try to use the Satanic methods for "good" are seriously misguided and are a grave hindrance to the truth—which by the way is the very goal Satan wants to achieve. By using unethical means, Christians can destroy the effects of the word and their own reputation in one fail swoop.

Paul was emphatic when he said, "...we renounce secret and shameful ways: we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:2,3--NIV). By setting forth the truth plainly, God’s people prove that the power is in the word of God and not in the messenger or in the method being used. This shows the kind of trust in the word of God as Paul expressed in Romans 1:16 where he declared that the gospel itself is the power of God. Such confidence in the word is backed by a potent genuineness in the speaker.

As approved workers that are unashamed we must be people who correctly handle the word of truth (see 2 Tim. 2:16). The people of God must evaluate the methods they use in the name of glorifying God by asking how legitimate is the work and what the motivation is behind it. Through self evaluation, the people of God can avoid mishandling the word while at the same time validating its power to change lives in their own examples.

There is a difference between persuading someone with the truth of God by impressing upon them the importance of faith built on God's objective truth and simply seducing a person very much like Satan would in leading someone to sin. It is imperative that Christians learn the different between evangelism and seduction, not only for themselves but also for those who listen to them. Paul instructed Timothy, "Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:16).

Questionable Methods Used In The Heat Of The Study

1. Coercion--This is the unnecessary use of force or authority to gain control of the situation. This method is achieved by "shouting down" the student or controlling the study in such a way as to intrude upon the individual's dignity. (Extortion--the threatening manner of using the truth-see I Cor. 6:9)

2. Intimidation--This is similar to the previous method. This is the overuse of fear to bring the unbeliever to a decision rather than giving the unbeliever the power of choice. Foxhole conversions tend to be the result of intimidation tactics ("Hell, fire & brimstone" sermons). Though one needs to know about the judgment of the Lord to fully appreciate the grace God extends to those who would seek Him, the message should not be unnecessarily weighed down with the fact of judgment without providing the balance of the message that is centered in the message of the cross. The use of the law was given to convict people of their sins so repentance and a decision to seek after God for eternal questions (1 Tim. 1:3-11). Paul also taught that the law was to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:21-25).

3. Manipulation--To manage or control artfully, often in an unfair or fraudulent way; To change or falsify the facts for one's own purposes; The use of exaggeration or taking advantage of a person's emotional state to get the desired results; The overuse of emotional arguments to sway the student to obey. Gray propaganda mixes truth with lies to confuse the student so he or she believes the teacher in anything taught.

*"Good cop--bad cop" is a tactic where a group of street preachers attract a crowd. One street preacher will present a scalding sermon that most generally gets a negative response (bad cop). While the speaker continues, another "evangelist" or a group of helpers carry on with the listeners in the periphery of the crowd (Good cops). The "good cops" present themselves as being friendly and understanding to win over the targeted listener. If the listener has misgivings about the "bad cop" the helper (good cop) will dismiss him with some excuse for his behavior.

Another manipulation tactic is to put a person into double-jeopardy (condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t). One way this is done is for the teacher to use flattery by praising the student for being something he or she is not in front of others who know the teacher. At this point the student is put into a quandary. Should the student correct the misinformation about him or herself and thus ruin the reputation of the teacher in front of his friends or should the student act in the way the teacher described him or her to be to preserve the teacher’s reputation? So, loyalty is used against the student to force a change of behavior.

4. Flattery--To use excessive praise insincerely to gain the student's trust, or to win favor by praise in an unethical manner. To make the truth more attractive or pleasing than it really is. To omit the unpleasant facts of the truth to make the student feel more secure or comfortable. Look at 1 Thess. 2:1-12 about using flattery in ministry.

5. Flirtation—Flirtation is the act of wooing someone lightly or frivolously, often toying with the individual being the object of the act. Flirtatious evangelism always makes the gospel message as the ulterior motive rather than as the center of the evangelistic effort. Flattery (using insincere praise is usually used in flirtation. In some cases, sexual overtones have been used in "evangelistic" efforts (used by cults). Sometimes flirtation is referred to as "friendship evangelism." Though Christians need to be in the world to evangelize, Christians are to keep a safe distance so as to avoid being taken captive by the same temptations by which the world is ensnared. (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; James 4:4-10; 1 Peter 1:13-2:12; 1 John 2:15-17). Christians are to keep their integrity so the message itself remains credible as well. (Consider 2 Timothy 3:1-7 with special emphasis on verses 6 & 7).

6. Slander--To intentionally speak of damaging information about a people or organizations to dissuade an individual from following the organization of the student’s choice to gain loyalty to the affiliation of the teacher. This method is primarily used by those who are overly focused on promoting their pet doctrines and their personal affiliation rather than proclaiming Jesus Christ and the gospel. Though it is necessary to expose the works of darkness to the light, many times this tactic is used by those who are overly focused on group conformity and with an exclusive view of their group.

6. Social Conformity--To make an appeal to the student to be apart of the "in crowd." Called "bandwagoning" this method persuades the student that he or she is worth more if the individual belongs to the organization and is worthless without it. The student is persuaded to be apart of the "elite" or "chosen few." "Unless you're apart of the 'XYZ' church you will not make it!" This method places more emphasis on the church than on any other part of Christianity (primarily on the central message of the cross).

7. Promotionalism--Using sales strategies or marketing methods with the gospel message to create the results desired. This involves engineering an artificial atmosphere that would invite non-Christians to want to be a part of the organization. This approach involves specializing in gimmicks and tailoring a particular message for a targeted audience. This overemphasizes human ingenuity and methodology to the point of overshadowing the gospel message. The temptation is also to alter the gospel message to suit the methodology being used and the audience targeted (beyond reasonable limits).

*"Bait and switch" is a tactic used in business when a distributor advertises a model of merchandise that is particularly attractive. When a customer inquires about the advertised product, the distributor guides the customer toward a cheaper model of the same product or an inferior product under the guise that the advertised product was sold out. The customer is usually subjected to pressure sales tactics to take the unwanted product. In synthetic evangelism, a church may put on a seminar on a topic of interest in the target community to attract possible contacts. The major goal of the seminar is to gain contacts, not to disseminate information. Common topics used are prophecy and the end times, family and marriage improvement, child rearing, etc. Vacation Bible School programs, dramas and music programs are widely used to "get contacts." VBS programs are used to contact the parents through the children all in the name of "evangelism." (Note: None of these programs are wrong in themselves but could actually be beneficial to the church and to the community. However, harm is done when these programs are used in a "bait & switch evangelistic" method.

Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 2:17, "For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.  Let us show integrity in the methods we use so we don't put a stumbling block in the way of those who might believe in God's word.

©2001 Thomas L. Reed II

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