Summary: A surprise, a realization, an encouragement and a reality check for understanding why more people don’t respond to the Christian message.
After I became a Christian, I wanted to find a way to share the good news of Christ with my non-Christian friends and family members. I was convinced that if I could find just the right approach, just the right technique, all of my unbelieving friends would come to faith in Christ. At first I thought Pastor Ray’s preaching held the key to reaching my friends. Pastor Ray was the founding pastor here at LBF Church, and he served here for 18 years. So every opportunity I could I invited my friends to hear Pastor Ray speak. One time I did everything short of paying my friend Chris to come to a Men’s Breakfast where Ray was telling the story about how he came to faith in Christ. I was sure that Ray’s testimony would bring my friend Christ to faith. Yet Chris walked away from that breakfast just as closed to the good news of Christ as before.
Then I discovered Christian apologetics. Apologetics is the study of evidences and arguments for the truthfulness of the Christian faith. I discovered apologetics through the writings of C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. Once I read those books, I thought I’d discovered the key to changing the minds of my skeptical friends. I was convinced that as soon as my friends saw the rationality and reasonableness of these arguments, they’d have no other option but to fall down and say, "It’s true. I give my life to Jesus Christ." In fact, my whole ministry as a Christian centered around apologetics back then, as I learned to debate atheists and cultists, as I crafted presentations designed to make every objection against the Christian faith crumble. Gradually I moved beyond popular level apologists like McDowell and Lewis to technical philosophers and historians like William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. I’d stop by my non-Christian friends’ houses, armed with my latest arsenal of insights, facts, and arguments, complete with a bibliography of recommended reading. I learned a lot during that time and my faith in Christ grew stronger, but I can’t remember ever really persuading anyone with my arguments.
So I kept looking, trying everything from Men’s Retreats to Promise Keepers Events, from Harvest Crusades to giving out books and tracts. My early years of my faith were spent going from one approach to another, desperately trying to find the sure fire key to people’s conversion.
Then in seminary I learned that this quest to find a surefire method to bring people to Christ was nothing new. I learned that this was part of a movement associated with a guy named Charles Finney. Charles Finney was a famous evangelist in the 1800s. He had been a successful attorney who came to faith in Jesus Christ later in life. Although he had no formal theological training, he became one of the most influential evangelists in American history. Finney’s belief was that the conversion was not so much a work of God, as it was finding the right method. So if a Christian had an evangelistic outreach event and no one came to faith in Christ, it was because the Christians failed to use the correct method. Now as an attorney, Finney had spent his career studying the psychology of group persuasion. Finney’s suggestions for evangelism include everything from room temperature to song selection, from having a famous person share a testimony to how to give an altar call so people would be moved to come forward. At Finney’s meetings thousands of people would come forward to respond to Christ. But a week later the vast majority of his converts showed no signs of authentic conversion because many of them were really responding to the psychology of group persuasion rather than the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit.