Overview:

Evangelizing Jesus to strangers (or worse, friends) can be a stressful process. They might think you’re stupid or weird. Now imagine arguing for COVID vaccines with an anti-vaxxer. You might fail to convince, but you won’t feel weird. Why the difference?

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I’d hate being forced to evangelize Jesus to someone. I’m not a Christian, so I don’t anticipate having to do so anytime soon, but it’s a difficult kind of public speaking that I would find punishing.

Imagine a Christian preparing to go out to share the Good News in person. The first task is preparation. You’d need to know the arguments for and against Christianity well enough to hold your own in a discussion. Next, you must have at least a bit of debating skill so you can spot fallacies, not get flustered during the debate, remain polite, and so on. Finally, you prepare an organized agenda of the main topics you need to cover.

You think you’re ready, but Christianity is a difficult argument to make. You must anticipate the hard or awkward questions unique to this task like, how does the Trinity work? If the universe needed God as its creator, why doesn’t God need a creator? If the other thousands of religions throughout history were all manmade, why imagine that the one you believe in just happened to be the one correct one? How can you enjoy heaven if you know about the torments in hell?

You need to expect mocking questions—did the talking snake and the talking donkey ever get together to chat? Was it part of God’s perfect plan that Adam and Eve’s children had to make babies with each other? If God regulated lifelong slavery in the Old Testament, is he angry that we made it illegal? Why is God indistinguishable from nonexistent?

A recent podcast (“Why Are We so Afraid to Share the Gospel?”) adds another dimension to the challenge. Jim Wallace of Cold Case Christianity observed, “It’s one thing to bomb in front of a stranger; it’s another to look foolish in front of your friends.” Looking stupid or weird can have lasting consequences within your social group. This is especially true for young adults, the ones most often encouraged to evangelize. This visceral fear of looking foolish is perhaps the biggest obstacle.

Thought experiment #2

Compare that with a different kind of evangelism. Now you’re trying to convince an anti-vaxxer, in person, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

This is like evangelizing the Jesus story in that you’re trying to avoid a calamity in both cases. In the Christian case, it’s going to hell. In the vaccination case, it’s dying from COVID, suffering from long COVID, or catching it and spreading it to a vulnerable loved one.

There are other similarities. In both cases:

  • your target has already heard your argument, at least approximately
  • the arguments could be intellectual or emotional (likely both)
  • your target has probably already considered and rejected your position
  • you might fall into a morass of tangents and waste hours. In an online argument, you could easily go at it for months. (I speak from experience.)

But there’s one big difference. When arguing for Christianity, the fear of looking stupid or foolish or gullible is always present or just below the surface. Not so when arguing for vaccination.

The reason? You’re with science when arguing for vaccination but against it when arguing for the virgin birth, and God’s odd fixation on this one planet out of 100 billion in our galaxy, and three gods who are actually one god, and failed guarantees of answered prayer, and a Second Coming that’s been just around the corner for 2000 years.

Replace “science” with “reality” and you see why evangelizing for Jesus feels so awkward. Your gut is trying to tell you something.

See also: Missionary John Chau Died for Nothing: Why the Great Commission Didn’t Apply to Him (or to You)

Related post: Christianity Needs Promotion, Like Soft Drinks

I’m continually amused that so many people
have stepped forward to explain what God meant,
because that clearly tells us how sincerely they understand
that the all-knowing, all-wise one wasn’t up to the task himself.
— commenter Richard S. Russell

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...