Christian evangelism is supposed to be a partnership between the Holy Spirit and a Christian, but this is like a partnership between Superman and Jimmy Olsen. If God wants to spread the word, he’s more than able to do it solo.
The Holy Spirit’s job description
Here are some Christian explanations of how it’s supposed to work.
It is the job of believers to communicate the gospel. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convert the heart. (David Souther)
Apologetics is great in bringing a person to the point where they can say it’s reasonable, but when it comes to surrendering their heart and will, that’s the part of the Holy Spirit. (Pat Zukeran podcast @12:42)
Ultimately, converting someone to Christianity is the work of the Holy Spirit. (Grace Ruiter)
So ultimately it’s the Holy Spirit, but it won’t work unless a Christian is involved as well? What could a human possibly contribute to the process that an all-knowing god couldn’t do better?
Let’s think this through. Imagine the Holy Spirit being a billion times smarter and more capable than the human evangelist. The Christian is the junior partner—a very junior partner. It’s as if this unlikely team is charged with building a Boeing 747, and the Holy Spirit provides all the parts and assembly work except for a single cotter pin or washer or fastener—some small but essential part without which the plane is useless—and that’s what the Christian provides. Similarly, the intellectual component the Christian brings to evangelism is negligible by comparison.
Can this be God’s plan? A long-discarded, overly optimistic early draft, maybe, but his final plan? It’s almost as if God wanted the winnowing process to be more of a challenge, for the sport.
(And no, Jesus didn’t insist that today’s Christians evangelize. That charge was given to the original apostles, not today’s Christians.)
How to salvage this
But see Christianity as a manmade belief and this makes sense. A god could make converts reliably, but that’s not what we see. So Christianity groped for plan B, and this Holy Spirit/Christian partnership is it. You need to have a human in the loop to take the blame when the result looks only as good as a human could do. When there’s a conversion, it’s due to the Holy Spirit, and when there’s a failure, it’s due to the human. In practice, the perfectly reliable Holy Spirit is useless, and the imperfect human is the one who delivers the new parishioners to the church.
This explains why, when we lay our problems at the feet of Jesus, they’re still there when we go back to check.
It also sheds some light on the current furor to get rid of the Roe protections on abortion. It’s one thing for Christians to impose constraints on themselves but quite another for them to impose constraints on others. Why be a busybody about someone else’s body when God is the ultimate judge? “Let go and let God,” right?
The truth is that all-powerful God never acts in our world. God doesn’t even make an unambiguous statement against abortion in the Bible. On some level, Christians understand this, because they know that if they want social change, they must make it themselves.
The Holy Spirit’s role in evangelism is also just make-work. The partnership isn’t Superman and Jimmy Olsen, it’s a timid human in a frightening world making hand shadows by firelight.
Apparently, the god of the entire universe
desperately needs his puny human followers
to help him out—a lot, and often,
and at great personal cost to themselves.
— OnlySky columnist Captain Cassidy