Why Christian Evangelism Sometimes Falls Short

Sharon Apologetics, Evangelism 9 Comments

In the last month I’ve written a couple posts incorporating my doctoral studies with the practical, every-day-life concerns of being a Christian woman. I was kind of nervous about those posts because I thought you all might get as far as the first paragraph and then say “YAWN”….click. Never to return again.

Fortunately, my readers are amazing and y’all were totally tracking with me! I tell you what, that was just one more reminder that the church needs to raise the bar for women. Women are clearly craving meat and are yearning to dig into the deeper things of the faith. Thank you for your feedback! It was a welcome affirmation of my call back to school as I sit here in the dark basement of a library surrounded by books. 🙂

Since you girls are theological rock stars, I thought I would share something else that caught my attention. It has TREMENDOUS application for how we think about and understand evangelism. It also levels a pretty searing critique in the process.

The other day I read about a man named Jurgen Habermas, a German philosopher and sociologist who studied how we communicate to one another. In his work, he established a term called “validity claims” which is what we use whenever we’re trying to communicate something to another person. For instance, if I wanted to communicate to my fellow Chicagoans that Chick-fil-a makes better chicken than any of the other chicken joints around here, and that we should start a petition to bring Chick-fil-a to this area, my argument would be composed of validity claims. These claims might include things like:

  • Chick-fil-a has the best chicken because they use a special recipe (that may or may not be magic)
  • Chick-fil-a has the best customer service, bar none.
  • They serve chicken biscuits for breakfast (that validity claim speaks for itself)
  • And the list goes on…

By now you probably get the point. Habermas goes on to say that our arguments are most effective when our validity claims meet 4  particular qualifications. This is where it gets really good! As I list these 4 qualifications, I want you to think about how Christians communicate the Gospel and then count up how many of these qualifications Christians generally meet:

To be effective, validity claims must…

1. Be clear and easy to understand–How clear and understandable are the words being used? Is the speaker using language that stands the best chance of being understood by its hearers?

2. Be truthful–Does your claim accurately reflect the the world around you? Are you giving the best argument for why things are the way they are? Is your claim rooted in the best explanation available?

3. Be presented appropriately–In other words, are you presenting your beliefs according to the rules of civil conversation, or are you screaming at people’s faces? Are you being respectful, gentle and kind, or are you condescending and forceful?

4. Be presented by a credible speaker–Can your listeners trust you? Can your listeners tell that you are sincerely trying to communicate with them? And more importantly, do your listeners feel like you are hearing them, or do they simply feel preached at?

What is remarkable about these 4 qualifications is that they were not written within a Christian context. Even the above descriptions were excerpted from a secular book. But what a GREAT application this has for Christians! As I read through these and diagnose mainstream evangelism I think that we get #2 right, but too often we stop there, thinking that as long as we’re right, as long as we’ve got the truth, it doesn’t matter how we present it.

Habermas reminds us that in order to communicate effectively, we need to be using language that the world can understand, rather than Christian lingo. We need to present the Gospel in a manner that is appropriate and respectful. And who you are as a person will impact whether people pay any attention to you at all. Of course, these are all truths found in Scripture, but Habermas’ work shows us why theology and philosophy matter. Sometimes these disciplines can help us to see things in a way we haven’t before. Sometimes stepping back and taking a different look at a problem can shed new light on it.

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Comments 9

  1. Hannah

    Hey friend! I love this post! But I’m actually commenting for a completely different reason. I just saw this message from @chickfila on Twitter

    Three new stores opening in Aurora, IL, Casa Grande, AZ & Irmo, SC on Thurs. First 100 customers get FREE meals for a yr!

    I don’t know how close you are to Aurora, but at least it’s a Chick-fil-a in the state of Illinois!

    Say hi to my BFF chihuahua for me!

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    Sharon

    Hahahaha, it makes me laugh that you follow Chick-fil-a on Twitter. That is commitment! Sadly, Aurora is over an hour from where I live, but who knows, maybe I could take a road trip!

  3. Robin

    Sharon,
    I am also in a doctoral program, and the impact it has on my faith is enormous. I am not studying theology, and I find that the humanities are generally condescending and intolerant of faith. However, I think we can find God’s truth in other truths, and your application of Habermas here is an excellent example of that. Habermaas was a visiting professor at my university last year. I didn’t take his course, but I did get to see him give a lecture. His concept of the “public sphere” is really useful in opening up other issues, such as communication and performance. Where are you doing your grad work?

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    Sharon

    Robin, thanks for your thoughts and affirmations. I really do think it’s important for Christians to read non-Christian thinkers and explore the ways they interact with Scripture and theology. This practice can light our imaginations on fire and add new depth to our teaching. My particular field is Educational Studies with a focus on ministry to women. How about you?

  5. Robin

    I am studying Art History, contemporary performance art specifically. I agree keeping that dialogue between the non-Christian (and in this case academic) world and the Christian world is so important and enriching. Thank you for such a well-written and thoughtful blog. I have been a reader for a while and I appreciate your approach to woman’s ministry. I am really enjoying these theoretical intersections that seem to be stemming out of your grad work. Keep ’em coming. It is really compelling and inspiring!

  6. Stephanie

    Great thoughts, Sharon! I love this line: “Too often we stop there, thinking that as long as we’re right, as long as we’ve got the truth, it doesn’t matter how we present it.” By the way, Chik-fil-A is coming to Wheaton in November. 🙂

  7. Monica

    Great points you have here! Just wondering if it’s ok if i mention some of your points in an evangelism talk tonight? i’m meant to give a 10min talk about evangelising through the use of Christian tracts, and i hadn’t prepared anything yet; thank God i found your blog (:

    x

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