Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Don't Have to be Nice to Be Effective, part 1

The Doctrine of Niceology

The evangelical Christian culture has believed for the last few decades that in order to be effective you have to be nice.  The basis for a whole genre of Christian publishing on friendship evangelism (in the eighties and nineties) which has been replaced with another genre on "missional living" (popular in the so-called Young, Restless and Reformed movement and anyone who does church planting) reinforces the doctrine of Niceology.  The seeker sensitive church movement has taken this doctrine and made it an essential of the faith. 

This is why almost every seeker sensitive church (and many that are not) trains people to be nice to you when you visit so you will come back.  It's called "the welcome center."  You will invariably walk away from it thinking, "Wow, those people were nice.  They gave me coffee, showed me where to dump off my kids so I don't have to look at them during the service, and they are well groomed.  This guy (or gal) is my new best friend!  I wonder if they are married?"  Just don't ask yourself the obvious question: why don't I ever see that nice person ever again unless I see them at the welcome center?   Don't forget the follow-up question, "Why didn't anyone else in this church say hello to me?" 

Niceology says that nice equates with "love."  The Bible says that love is part and parcel with sacrifice.  It also commands us to speak the truth with love.  It's pretty easy to make the case that if you are not speaking the truth you do not love. 

And there is the rub.  In our culture that views the slaughter of the unborn as a form of birth control, views homosexual marriage as just another option for couples, and is becoming more and more post-modern (and therefore more and more atheistic) if you speak the truth you will violate the fundamental tenet of Niceology: "Whatever you do, don't say something that could offend someone." 

The second tenet is like it: "Do not act as if you know the truth and someone else does not."  On these two laws hang all of the doctrine of Niceology.  We will refer to these two tenets as the "fallacy of nice."  It is a logical fallacy which states, "If you want to bring someone to Jesus you have to be nice."

Nice and Culture Do Not Mix

In our culture you will have to say things that are considered "not nice" in order to communicate truth that can either save someone from Hell or confront them in their sin or bad thinking.  This may involve the unpleasant term "sacrifice": as in you may have to sacrifice your reputation as a nice guy.  Or you may have to sacrifice a friendship.  Ironically, that may be the most loving thing you could do.  Jesus made Himself of no reputation in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins.  No one would accuse Jesus of being unloving, but He said some pretty direct things to those who opposed the truth as well as those who He brought to salvation. 

Was Jesus "nice" when He told the woman at the well that she had had five husbands and that the man she was currently living with was not her husband? 

Was Jesus "nice" when He called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones? 

Was Jesus "nice" when He drove the money changers out of the temple? 

How "nice" was it of Jesus to tell the rich young ruler that he needed to sell everything he had and give it to the poor to enter the Kingdom?  All the poor guy wanted was to follow Jesus!  As Kirk Cameron said in an old episode of Way of the Master, maybe Jesus would have benefited from a class in friendship evangelism!

The Fallacy of Nice in Action

I have seen the fallacy of nice play out on my Facebook wall.  Here's what you need to know about my FB profile:  I don't use my FB profile to post pictures of kittens, fortune cookie quotes, what I am having for dinner or comments on my favorite reality TV show (for the record I don't have one).   I have more than 2700 friends, many of whom are people who bought my book on evangelism or are into street evangelism, a few family members, and some unbelievers I have either known personally or who I have met on FB.  I use FB to address cultural and doctrinal issues with the truth. 

So here's how it works: some friend of mine who is a Christian sees something controversial that I have posted as a status update (BTW, this has happened more than once so if you think I am talking about you I suppose I might be, but it's happened enough times now that I might not be).  I get a private message from the Christian friend who: 1) is concerned that I am going to drive unbelievers away with such outrageous behavior, 2) thinks what I am doing is unBiblical, and 3) suggests a teaching or their own opinion on what an effective Christian does in evangelism. 

The essence of what they are saying is this: I know a better way than you do and for proof, here is an experience that I have had which proves you wrong, a verse or two taken out of context to prove you wrong, and\or a book from another evangelism expert that proves you wrong.  Apparently my experiences, Scriptures in context and my own book mean nothing.  The whole thing is tied up with a bow when they make (my personal favorite) the Westboro Baptist fallacy, comparing what I do to the Westboro Baptists who protest at military funerals and host websites and carry banners that say that God hates fags. 

Are They Right?

Of course not.  I have never received a private message like this from the unbelievers on my FB profile.  Bear in mind that I have had post-abortive women, gay rights activists, Mormons, atheists, Muslims, liberals and so on on my wall for years.  This explains why some of the threads run to more than 100 comments.  Many of these I know from face to face interaction (much like the Christians who criticize plain speaking).  Do you know what they say in private conversation? 

"I don't agree with what you say, but I respect your bravery." 

"Hey, I just moved across country and the people who were supposed to help me and my parents unload the truck aren't here.  Can you find someone to help us?" 
This one came the same day I was catching flack from a believer from the town that this person had moved away from on a different issue.  We had contacted them to get this person help with food assistance but they never did it.  And I am the one who is not loving enough?   By the way, we found a group of believers who unloaded the truck in a couple of hours and left this family with the gospel. 

"If you Christians are so loving and all that, why don't you help me with some food?"  This came from a homosexual rights activist who we met at a gay pride event.  We raised $800 in a few days and bought her a couple of months worth of groceries.  It gave us the opportunity to buy her dinner, share the gospel with her for a couple of hours, and then continue an ongoing relationship that has lasted a few years where we've been able to share the gospel with her again. 

"I know you are a man of God.  Would you pray for my wife?  She has a rare cancer and is not expected to live.  Maybe God will hear your prayers."  Not much to comment on here since just typing this makes me tear up.  I cannot imagine.  Pray for Scott and Marilyn. 

"Would you read this paper I just wrote?  I would like your feedback."  I have had this a few times and haven't always been able to do it.  These requests have come from Mormons and atheists.

Many of these folks, and others, will private message me with specific questions about the gospel and cultural issues.

Perhaps the most recent example comes from an incident that happened just two weeks ago.  I was preaching on Hollywood Boulevard after we did some "man on the street" video interviews for our upcoming documentary on abortion called Babies Are Murdered Here.  We ran into one of the stars from the reality TV show, Bad Girls Club.  Rocky Santiago began heckling me as I preached the gospel and we dove into the issues of sin, hell, homosexuality and abortion.  A couple of videos circulated of our confrontation and I began to be labelled as a hateful preacher in a few places. 

What they did not see was the interview she granted us about ten or fifteen minutes later.  In that interview she began sharing about her rough upbringing and her desire to change her life.  I gently shared the gospel with her, she listened and even took a gospel tract with my email address on it.  We've not released this interview yet because we have plans for it on the documentary, but it proves the point.  Rocky respected me, probably because I was willing to take her abuse for a few minutes over the issues of the gospel.  And probably because she's not used to a man who will listen to her and tell her the truth rather than abuse her.

The Lies of Experts

Here's the deal: Christians have been lied to by the experts.  They have us believing falsely that confrontation and effectiveness are diametrically opposed to each other.  They say it cannot work.  What I have discovered is the exact opposite.  When you speak the truth in love--backing up the hard hitting truth with acts of love--people in our culture appreciate it because they cannot find too many Christians who will shoot straight with them.  They know we believe in sin, in Hell, in a God of wrath as well as a God of love.  They have seen too many Christians dance around the issues for fear of offending.  Do you know how they interpret that jitterbug around the truth?  They do not see you as loving.  They might think of you as nice.  But they will see you as nice in an insincere way.  They're not really sure that you believe what you claim to believe because in some cases they know what you believe better than you do.

In the meantime, I expect that as long as I keep posting things about our ministry at abortion clinics, the issue of homosexual marriage, calling out false teachers for their false teaching, and calling out the heresy of Roman Catholicism, I will be attacked by the Christians as being irrelevant.  From now on, I am going to ignore it.  I know what I do, what the Scriptures say and how this works. 

In part two, I will provide the Scriptural evidence for this approach.


Michael Coughlin said...

Good, hard truths, Jon. Thanks.

Interestingly enough, I learned from an AIG video that the word "nice" derives from the word "ignorant."

Bill Jack, the speaker in the video cautions Christians to always be kind, but never nice!

Michael Coughlin said...

And that was a good line where you said without truth there is no love (paraphrased).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

It's not nice of "nice" Christians to condemn open-air evangelists who are preaching the whole Gospel.