There are two diagrams below. The first diagram depicts probably the most common Christian understanding of evangelism. The idea being that Christians must encourage every person who is not a Christian to become a Christian. Here is a quote that sums up this typical understanding:
“Evangelism means preaching, announcing, or otherwise communicating the gospel. It’s delivering the message that Jesus Christ is not only the Son of God but also gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins. In doing so, He ensured eternal life for anyone who believes. Accepting that good news and then telling others about it, so they know too, is the definition of evangelism.”
Other language that goes with this understanding is that once you accept the truth about who Jesus is – then you are “saved” and the reward is “eternal life”. Within this understanding, “eternal life” is understood as life after death and spent in “heaven”. The flip side of this is as devastating as this is lavishing: If you do not believe the message that Jesus is the only Son of God and that he gave his life as a sacrifice for us then we are not “saved” but instead face “eternal damnation” in “hell” as punishment. Even though the people who promote this view say they do so “out of love”, the motivating fear that underpins it, casts out the love for those who are on the receiving end. Furthermore, it is not surprising that this perversely violent belief has led to so much trauma and abuse of so many, for it is a small step from supporting exclusion and violence in the next life to enacting it in this life. How this patently anti-Christ understanding manages to persist in the name of Christ is really frightening. I mean can you really hear Jesus – who teaches us to love our enemies – say amen to placing people in an everlasting holocaust?
I don’t think Jesus is too concerned about the religion, if any, that we subscribe to. I say this because for most of us the random geography of our birth overwhelmingly influenced our choice. Besides, I can’t find it anywhere in the gospels where Jesus enquires about someone’s religion. Jesus certainly doesn’t line up all the blind and lame and say – okay all those who believe in me as your personal Lord and Saviour be healed – and to the rest – sorry for you.
I am also convinced that Jesus is not really concerned whether we believe in him or not, for the simple reason that Jesus is not an egotist. Jesus never asked to be worshipped. He asked that we follow his way of life. A way of life that brings life. A life-giving way of living. In other words, far more important to Jesus is whether we believe in what he believed in. He believed in justice, mercy, humility, equality, gentleness and generosity. Jesus invites us to have faith that when we live these values out in the world, life in all its fullness will come to us and through us.
This is where the second diagram of “evangelism” comes in. Instead of trying to get people of other religions or of no religion to believe in ‘our’ religion (diagram 1), we are to work towards a different kind of conversion within the world. This conversion is from the ways of death to the ways of life. The ways of death include: injustice, vengeance, pride, inequality, violence and greed.
Here is the thing, all religions and those who profess none – have examples of both living according to the ways of death and examples of living according to the ways of life. History teaches us that none have a mono-poly on either. Apartheid history is an example of some within the Christian religion choosing a way of death – a way of injustice and violence, etc. At the same time there were other Christians, but also others of every other religion and those of no religion who chose to resist Apartheid and follow a different way – a life-giving way of justice and mercy, etc. To this I am convinced Jesus would say: Amen.