For a series intro, check out the first post: Intro Let’s dig in this week:
Clark (the author) raises the question: Is fear the great hindrance to evangelism or something else…
“Most Christians would identify fear as the primary reason why we don’t speak the gospel to others with more frequency or fervency. But I have my doubts. As we explored in the last chapter, I suspect the slightly more accurate reason is shame: We don’t evangelize because of the expected social and emotional ramifications for us. If we’re honest, the real reason we don’t preach the gospel to our neighbors is because we don’t want to be embarrassed.”
Clark gives a picture of the type of evangelism the fear of shame can create, namely, the “need” for a more comfortable, relational setting with a captive audience…
“At least that was my reasoning when it came to Hasan. From my perspective, it wouldn’t make sense for me to talk with him about Christ. After all, he really wasn’t a close friend. Anything I say would come across as preachy or insincere. Also, he had Christian friends. I’m sure they had talked with him about the gospel. He probably wouldn’t be interested. Not to mention, if I bring up Christianity, he’ll peg me as a missionary—a derogatory term for a foreigner trying to subvert his culture or undermine his country. I could lose his respect or lose the opportunity for a future relationship. Better instead to have the conversation arise organically, out of a natural relationship, all of it totally natural and anything but uncomfortable.”
“For many of us, when it comes to personal evangelism, comfort has usurped our calling. We speak the gospel when it seems appropriate. We open our mouths when we perceive an opportunity—that is, a willing audience. We’ll bring up the topic of faith so long as it won’t threaten our image, our credibility, or our relationships. If we made an honest assessment we’d have to admit we’re often ashamed of our Lord. And such shame silences our witness. That said, fear is closely related to shame and is still a real factor in our evangelism. In fact, as I’ll argue in this chapter, I believe one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism is fear. Or, more accurately, a lack of fear. As feelings of anxiety and dread well up within us and drown out our evangelistic zeal, the solution isn’t to eliminate all fears. Our absence of appropriate fear is actually part of the problem. The solution we find in 1 Peter is to fight fear with fear—to grow in our fear of God and our fear for (not of) our fellow man.”
“But here’s where we encounter some of the strangeness of Peter’s first epistle. Because as he wrote to exiled Christians encompassed by fears small and great, Peter repeatedly encouraged them to fear. Such an approach, at least to our American mindset, seems counter-intuitive if not counter-productive. If we were writing a letter to instill hope in struggling Christians, we wouldn’t think to encourage them to fear.”
“As fears increase in the American church, we’ll have the opportunity to resurrect a holy fear of God in our midst. As we suffer under the temporal judgment of God as weary sojourners, we may just find a stronger voice to warn others to flee from the wrath to come. As we sense the nearness of the day of retribution, we may speak once again with unction and holy disquiet. But over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God. We’ve believed the most effective witness for Christ is positive and encouraging. We’ve assumed the way to win the masses is by rebranding our churches and offering people a better life. We’ve believed our greatest apologists are successful CEOs or professional athletes. The gospel has become one-dimensional: it’s all about accessing blessing without the need to avoid judgment.”
“When we observe that our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much, we should note the form such fear takes. We typically aren’t running from people in terror. We aren’t cowering in a corner. More often than not, we’re not even faced with the kind of fear Yusuf experienced. Rather, fearing others more than God usually demonstrates itself in trying to please them more than God. To put it another way, you know you fear someone when you desire their approval and live for their praise. But as we explored last chapter, the Christian in exile is called to embrace the shame and social humiliation that comes as a package deal with the cross. We’re called to live for the approval and honor of King Jesus alone. We’re to be first and foremost God-pleasers and not—as the old King James Version says—man-pleasers (Gal. 1:10).”
“Christians who try to please people ultimately fail at pleasing God and fail at proclaiming his gospel. And far too often this is the problem in our evangelistic endeavors: We’re fundamentally committed to keeping people happy and having them like us, having them think we’re smart, contemporary, hip, tolerant, In the same way, fearing God in the Bible doesn’t mean avoiding him. It’s evidenced by our desire to please, live for, and be with him. See 1 Thess. 2:4 and Gal. 1:10.”
“We want to please them, and we want them to approve of us. As was the case for me with Hasan, we can fear losing a friendship more than we fear losing a friend. We withhold the truth for the sake of acceptance. We polish our social media persona to remove the rough edges of religiosity. And we nurture relationships with unbelievers for years without broaching the subject of Christ. Why? To please people. In our twisted understanding, we reason such people-pleasing efforts are for the sake of future gospel opportunities. But in reality, we’re often just fearing others instead of God.”
But Peter called his readers not to dread anything that might frighten them (3:6). What’s especially interesting is how he did this with a level of nuance. Peter called for slaves to respect their masters, but to do so “mindful of God.” He instructed wives to be subject to their unbelieving husbands with the same respect, yet not exhibit fear in doing so. He also recognized the need to honor human authorities, even the godless Roman emperor. But Christians were not to honor him in the same way they feared God (2:17). In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God. So as we consider our heart-disposition in speaking with neighbors and friends about Christ, we must keep this distinction in our minds: We fear God, not people. We aim to please him, not others. We seek his approval; he alone deserves our highest respect. That fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else. So as we take the gospel to others, even to our opponents, we’re called to approach them with kindness, gentleness, and respect.
Questions for Thought or Discussion:
1. Think of a couple of times in the recent past when you could have spoken a word about God in a particular setting, but didn’t…why didn’t you speak? Fear? Shame? Something else?
2. This week, maybe you could do a mental exercise: Imagine for the whole week that you could wave a wand and have absolutely no fear of evangelism. Pay attention and take note of how many times you would have an opportunity or could create an opportunity to speak a word about God and the gospel if there were no consequences. Note: You don’t have to speak, just pay attention (maybe even write down) how many opportunities if you had no fear.