Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why and how we evangelize

One of the more common objections I hear to the doctrine of universalism is this: how are you supposed to evangelize, if universalism is true? Why should you evangelize at all, in fact, if all people are going to be saved regardless? There is much to be said in response to this, but I want to focus on merely one possible line of response.

I was reading from 1 John, one of my favorite epistles in Scripture, and I noticed the way that John opens up his letter:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1.1-4).

Notice the way that John opens up his evangelistic letter. He is concerned that his audience share the fellowship he has with Jesus Christ and with the Father. Yet how does he do this? And why? He tells us: he does it by appealing to his own experiences in this regard, and he does it because he wants his joy to be completed by seeing others enjoy the fellowship he has. The NLT translates it this way: We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

There is no threat of hell-fire here, nor any appeal to fear in order to motivate repentance. Rather John relays his experiences as a disciple of Jesus Christ, his eyewitness report to the wonderful things that he had seen and touched and heard. And he tells others to join this fellowship because he wants to share his joy with those around him. He doesn't evangelize by fear or by threats, but rather out of the goodness of his heart, wanting to share something wonderful that he has found (or perhaps better, that has found him).

It is too bad that more people do not evangelize in this way. Perhaps they don't do it because they themselves do not have many experiences of joy in fellowship with the Holy Trinity, and because they are not concerned to see other people enjoy the true happiness of life in communion with God. Perhaps for these reasons, furthermore, they don't see any purpose or mode of evangelism possible on a universalist scheme. But John here provides us with one. In fact, if you listen to many people who first learned about universalism, you'd know that discovering this doctrine moved them to want to share the good news with others, and to evangelize, rather than making them lazy.