a nerd goose tries to be social
Reading Time: 8 minutes Oh god, it's Karl again. Everyone look busy. (Illia Cholin.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I showed you a post by evangelist Ben Jack on Christianity Today. In this post, he outlined what he saw as The Big Problem Here with evangelical laypeople’s reluctance to, well, evangelize. He figured they just suffered misplaced priorities. Yep, they just weren’t Jesus-ing enough! But along the way, he introduced a topic that caught my eye: Christians’ hypocrisy. While dancing around this topic, Ben Jack offered a grand solution to this age-old problem. Today, let’s check out how evangelist Ben Jack sees hypocrisy as a hindrance to sales attempts — and how he proposes to solve that growing problem.

a nerd goose tries to be social
Tales of the Unwanted Evangelist: Oh god, it’s Karl again. Everyone look busy. Don’t make eye contact. Dangit, Greta, you know how he is… (Illia Cholin.)

(Evangelists sell one and only one product: active membership in their own group. They may begin with attempts to induce buy-in with their quirky li’l take on Christianity, but their end goal has always been and will always be recruitment.)

When Evangelicals Don’t Evangelize.

We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been a while. So let me whisk through the problem — as evangelical leaders see it:

Evangelical laypeople almost never evangelize.

Now, for much of this subsection we rely on studies from for-profit evangelical businesses like Barna Group. These businesses exist only to sell stuff to frantic evangelical leaders and to advance evangelicals’ political agenda, not to convey reality.

With that caveat in mind, here’s what one of these businesses has found:

If the flocks manage to stammer out one sales-related conversation a YEAR, they consider themselves very good little sheeplings indeed. But a great many of them don’t manage even that much.

In 2013, Barna discovered that about a third of evangelicals didn’t issue even one sales pitch to anybody in the past year — despite 100% of evangelicals agreeing that they had a personal responsibility to do so. That trend continued into 2018, and then into 2019.

The upshot: as non-evangelicals grow more and more weary of evangelicals’ antics and distrustful of them as a group, and as evangelicals themselves grow less and less willing to burn their own social capital on unwanted sales pitches, the flocks make fewer and fewer sales pitches overall.

This disobedience has only accelerated as Christianity has declined.

Luckily, Ben Jack Knows the Messengers’ Mistake.

Evangelical leaders are freaking tf out over this reluctance, too. For about the last five years, they’ve been pushing harder and harder on personal evangelism — and the flocks have largely been completely ignoring these calls to action.

That’s why Ben Jack wrote his opinion post for Christianity Today, really. He wanted to goose the flocks into selling more often. I wrote about the post in general yesterday, but today I want to draw your attention to one particular part of it.

Like most of his peers do, Ben Jack outlines three elements of evangelism: the message itself, the method by which it’s conveyed, and the messenger bearing it. Of course, he sees issues with how evangelical flocks evangelize in all three areas. But it’s his advice in the messenger part of this equation that caught my eye.

A lot of evangelicals draw away from evangelism because they feel like they’re inadequate messengers of their good news. They’re poor examples of Christianity, and so they have no real standing to tell others they’re wrong about how they’re living their own lives. They clearly don’t obey Jesus, so telling others to obey Jesus seems kinda weird even to them.

I completely agree with this reasoning. Hypocrites absolutely should not shill their product until they’ve cleaned up their act. Only fellow hypocrites-in-the-making would ever find a known hypocrite’s sales pitch appealing.

The problem here, of course, is that if all hypocritical evangelicals took this stance, there’d be very little personal evangelism at all — because they never do clean up their acts.

Evangelicals tend to be hypocrites at heart. Long ago, they obeyed the clarion call of another hypocrite to join a group that’d allow them to be hypocrites. But fewer of those people seem to be around these days. What a pickle!

Luckily, Ben Jack’s got a grand solution to this problem.

Bizarro-World Transformations in Ben Jack Land.

These suggestions of Ben Jack’s deserve a subsection all to themselves. They are that wackadoodle.

He writes:

Disabled by fear? Let the gospel of peace enable you to live in freedom (2 Tim 1:7).

Disempowered by weakness? Let the authority of the gospel empower you beyond your limitation (2 Cor 12:9).

Disqualified by sin? Let the gospel of salvation restore you to relationship with God and qualify you to serve his kingdom purpose (Mat 5:14-16).

Let the gospel bring you to life and let that life be lived as a messenger of gospel hope in word and deed.

Oh, okay. Of course. We all should have guessed.

So if evangelicals just start Jesus-ing correctly (like he does), then they just won’t be hypocrites anymore (like he totally isn’t). They’ll be totally transformed, restored, alive, empowered, enabled, and most of all qualified to start selling product!

Hooray Team Jesus!

Lingering Questions for Ben Jack.

But I just want to ask:

Exactly how are evangelicals supposed to take this advice? What does following his advice look like? How will his flocks know if they’ve executed his commands correctly — or incorrectly? Given how easy it is to fool evangelicals with pretenses of piety, how are they supposed to be able to tell if they or anyone else has indeed become sanctified in this way — or not?

How will sanctified flocks’ targets know that these salespeople are truly “the living embodiment of what the message is,” not regular ol’ hypocritical evangelical schmucks talking out of one side of their mouths while committing hypocrisy from the other?

Since “the gospel of salvation” is what restores evangelicals’ “relationship with God” and thus qualifies them to serve, why do they need to take this advice at all? They’re already there, right? And yet I’ve yet to meet a sales-minded evangelical who wasn’t a complete hypocrite. How’s that work? If a heathen like me points out their hypocrisy, how does Ben Jack propose they play their trump card of NUH-UH, I’m actually forgiven and restored? Will the heathen go: oh, heckies, I didn’t realize that! Go ahead, I’m listening?

Cuz I’ve seen this exact trump card in play. That ideal response never happens in real life.

More Pressing Questions.

For that matter, why is it that successful evangelists so often turn out to be egregious hypocrites, while decent, compassionate Christians score next to no sales during their lives?

Hypocrisy might turn off those who know the evangelist personally, but it clearly has no bearing at all on sales figures outside of that context. Some of these evangelists achieve astronomical levels of fame within the fold before getting brought low by scandal. And their followers always seem so utterly shocked by it all. Why is it so easy for hypocrites to fool their groups?

For that matter, why does Ben Jack not tell evangelicals to stop being such awful hypocrites in the first place? His advice seems to center on the flocks asking their imaginary friend for forgiveness after the hypocrisy is committed, not doing the hypocritical stuff in the first place. His language is so roundabout and vague that it’s hard to tell how he proposes to solve the problem of hypocrisy in evangelicalism in the first place, but that’s really where he seems to land.

He’s not alone there. In fact, quite a few evangelical leaders offer up various zingers for “turning the tables” on evangelism targets who object to Christians’ hypocrisy. They don’t actually suggest not being hypocrites, of course. They know how well that’d work! Instead, they try to hand-wave away the reality of their own incurable, rampant hypocrisy.

Most of all, why does it feel like Ben Jack (along with his peers) is only concerned about hypocrisy because it contributes to disobedience to evangelical leaders’ commands? Cuz it feels like the answer here is because it jolly well does.

Evangelical self-interest. Seriously, it wins every time.

They Who Are Without Sin.

The biggest question of all, though, is this:

How is Ben Jack’s advice different from what evangelical leaders have taught and preached for at least the last century?

Evangelicals already insist up and down that they’re not perfect, only forgiven. They already screech at anyone who’ll listen that churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saints. They’ve been talking like that since well before I became an evangelical myself!

(In fact, it seems like the phrase “hospital for sinners” first gained traction in the 1850s — not surprising at all, given the new obsession with cleanliness and hygiene in Americans of that era. The smarmy bit about “I’m not perfect, only forgiven” may have come about in the 1970s; by the 21st century, variants of it show up everywhere.)

The point is:

As far as evangelicals care, they’re already doing everything Ben Jack suggests.

So how is his suggestion supposed to look, if not exactly like evangelicalism today? And how is obedience to this suggestion supposed to induce the flocks to try harder to make sales? What’s the actual process in motion here?

The True Irony Here.

Obviously, evangelical leaders don’t care about real effectiveness. The effort is what they’re after, not actual sales successes. That fact has always shone clearly in all of their exhortations. It most particularly does here, in this Ben Jack post. I mean, the guy barely even touches on actual sales methods. Instead, he assumes reflexively that properly Jesus-ed up flocks will automatically feel compelled to rush right out to sellsellSELL. The methods come in last as a consideration. That’s how I’ve always seen it taught, too.

All this blahblah Ben Jack offers about hypocrisy is done only because evangelicals’ own hypocrisy makes them reluctant to begin a sales pitch. So he figures if he can wipe away that concern, the flocks will feel that much less reluctance.

But let’s say some evangelical leader manages to find the magic formula to turn their dysfunctional flocks into obedient followers who actually practice even half of what Jesus directly ordered Christians to do. In such a case, a sudden rush of human decency would only make those evangelical more sensitive to those around themselves.

Such obedient, Jesus-following Christians would be even more reluctant to shove unwanted sales pitches in people’s faces than the usual hypocrites already are today.

A Problem That Nobody’ll Ever (Need to) Solve.

Gosh, it would be quite a dilemma for evangelical leaders!

Luckily, they will never face it. Their entire roadmap to Good Christian-Land is completely broken. As a result, none of them will ever find the magical route to that destination. They wouldn’t know that route even if they happened across it by sheer accident.

So they’ll keep pushing hard for increased evangelism, while their flocks obey these commands less and less consistently.

And evangelical leaders’ reaction to this disobedience will tell the rest of us the truth:

Ultimately, it’s the flocks’ growing disobedience that clearly distresses their authoritarian leaders the most. It’s not their lack of sales overall, and certainly not their hypocrisy. It’s the disobedience itself causing their Dear Leaders’ distress.

And to find out why, we look tomorrow to the Riddle of Steel.

NEXT UP: Conan the Barbarian shows us why evangelical leaders are freaking out over the flocks’ reluctance to evangelize. See you tomorrow!

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(When I talk about Conan the Barbarian, I always mean the 1982 movie. The reboot does not exist in my universe. It’s okay if you like it, but Arnold’s Conan is always gonna be the best Conan to me.)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...