Recently I had a chat with someone who had been raised in an evangelical Christian environment and had been an active Christian until recently. A number of factors caused him to give Christianity up for atheism. The “conversion” was not a sudden one – it took place over a number of years. He was very honest to admit that it was harder to be an atheist than a Christian, mostly because it meant that he was totally alone in the world/universe to solve every problem and make every decision.
Two other things about the conversation struck me and confirmed (again) things I have been thinking for years.
The person told me that since he had become an atheist, all of his Christian friends except two had broken off their friendship with him. The reason was that their basic assumptions and beliefs about the world were not the same any more, so how could they remain friends?
There is a tendency on the part of Christians to build friendships with a purpose. That purpose is usually either evangelism or discipleship. If neither of those things can happen any more, the friendship really has no reason for existence.
Over the years I have found this a difficult part of Christianity to live with, and in fact, I have chosen to change my assumptions about life and Christianity so that I do not have to live with this tension any more. A fruit of that is that I enjoy real friendships with “non-Christians” in which we can share any aspect of our lives with each other, and have a meaningful impact on each other's lives.
When I suggest to Christians that most Christian friendships have an ulterior (manipulative, if you want to be negative) motive, it is strongly denied. This conversation confirmed my observation. And it really shouldn’t be that way, I don’t think.
The second thing had to do with motivation for evangelism. I am convinced that, when everything else is stripped away, the fear of hell is the fundamental motivation for Christian evangelism. You don’t have to read many conservative Christian weblogs to have that observation confirmed. See this link from Desiring God, for example.
Lately I’ve listened to some stuff put out by the Way of the Master Radio broadcasts. Hell is big with them. They have substituted the word hell with a much more precise theological term: a real bad place. But the meaning remains the same.
Again, most Christians deny this when you put it to them this way. But I don’t really believe them.
After we had talked about hell a little bit, and I tried to put it into another perspective, my conversation partner asked the classic question: “If hell isn’t the motivation, why do you evangelize then?”
See what I mean?
If you are a Christian, and one who wants to evangelize, I would encourage you to be honest about why you do it. If fear of hell is your motivation when all other things are stripped away, at least be man or woman enough to admit it. (And please don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that this fear is the only motive. There are other very positive motivations also.)
And if you find that to be your primary motivation, perhaps you should ask yourself if that really is the biblical motivation for evangelism, or if there is not some way to change the paradigm so something besides fear drives you.