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Hi and welcome back! Let’s turn now to an important idea in Lee Strobel’s 1993 book, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. A big part of the book involves Lee Strobel’s sales strategies for Christian flocks. And a big part of his suggestions there involve Christians creating a sense of social obligation in their marks. Today, let me show you the bizarre coin that Lee Strobel teaches Christians to hold out to their marks, what he teaches them to expect in return, and why they absolutely won’t get it.

the product's worth the coin asked here
(Gadiel Lazcano.)

(Previous Lee Strobel posts: Lee Strobel’s Friendship EvangelismFriendship EvangelismThis Action Plan Doesn’t WorkTickling Evangelical EarsThis Book’s Endorsements Reveal A StoryThe Many Lies Lee Strobel Tells About Unchurched Harry and MaryA Portrait of the Captain as a Young Hell-Bound Pagan (1-4)Indoctrinating Evangelicals More (5-8)Seeker-Sensitive Churches Ahoy (9-12)Martyrbation Ahoy (13-15)The Original Listicle and Comments. Page numbers come from the 1993 paperback edition of the book.)

Lee Strobel Mints an Old Coin.

I’ve already mocked this liar-for-Jesus for the Mexican restaurant-based friendship evangelism he claimed to practice. But it’s relevant to this post, so here’s his blather again:

lee strobel modeling really dishonest behavior

Here, Lee Strobel states out-loud that he has no legitimate reason to eat at this restaurant. Of course, it’s way more likely that he simply attends some kind of regular meeting there, like a faculty meeting. No way, no how would an evangelical leader habitually force himself to consume food he doesn’t even like for a pie-in-the-sky future sales pitch.

Whatever the case, he piously claims to be selflessly sacrificing his time, energy, and waistline to consume food he doesn’t even like y’all! And he does it all to maybe one day impress the hardworking staff there enough with his incredible, inhuman generosity that they’ll allow him to pitch his product at them.

Just yikes.

His followers’ enthusiastic response to this bit of opportunism speaks volumes about exactly why Christianity is in decline. He’s been doing this for literally years — it’s all but his calling card by now!

Even in 1993, I promise you the tactic he suggests never actually worked. It works even less often now. But in its failure, we can see a lot of interesting facets revealed in the character of the Christians who try to put Strobel’s advice to work.

Spotting an Offered Coin.

This little gem of Christian love represents a coin he pushes at these workers.

It’s an over-the-top and utterly bizarre gesture. He’s only doing it in order to get his foot in the door of potential customers. So his behavior is not only excessive and weird, but it’s also an artificial display of affection he hopes will pave his way to what he really wants.

Strobel knows the workers there wouldn’t otherwise welcome a sales pitch. However, his actual relationship with this restaurant is that of a customer. They provide food and service to customers, who then pay them for it. It doesn’t ultimately matter why a customer eats there; they provide the same food and service regardless.

Not only is Lee Strobel not actually currying extra brownie points for eating there when he doesn’t even like the food, but if they found out about his dislike they’d probably be very weirded out about his extensive patronage there. If they take pride in their restaurant, they might even be downright offended.

However, he fully expects the staff there to appreciate his patronage on this basis — and in fact to appreciate it extra-more-lots than they would the patronage of someone who loved their restaurant and its food.

More than that, even, he expects those workers to give him something extra that they wouldn’t give to other patrons. He expects them to sit down and listen to his sales pitch one day, and to give it extra consideration because of the “relationship” he thinks he’s built with them by eating there when he dislikes the food.

What we’re seeing here is a coin Strobel offers.

But it’s a coin that the workers neither recognize nor desire. Consequently, they won’t accept it.

The Coin He Offers vs. The Coin They Accept.

It’s impossible to imagine the restaurant staff actually being sooooo impressed with Strobel’s patronage that they will ever sit through a sales pitch for a product they don’t want. He’s offering them a coin stamped doing something I don’t really like that he hopes to exchange for them doing something they don’t like either.

And y’all, Biff did this exact same thing to me. After I deconverted, he went through this absolutely bizarre phase where he offered to do stuff with me that I knew he’d hate, like go to bars sometimes with me, just so I’d then go to church with him — which he knew I’d hate. To him, his offer matched his request. He saw no difference between them.

The problem then became that I would never ask someone I love to do something I knew he hated. Instead, I’d find something for us to do that we both enjoyed. I was always like that. So I always turned him down out of hand, which in turn always surprised him. He was following long-established, set-in-stone fundagelical marriage rules. In fact, he probably got that whole idea from his church friends. But I wasn’t playing along with the script!

So I got called unreasonable and unwilling to meet him halfway and all kinds of other stuff that also failed to gain traction with me.

He could never persuade me that it would be loving for either of us to enact this plan.

Lee Strobel does the same thing to his own marks. This ain’t an isolated thing for him, either. This same strategy runs all through Unchurched. As I’ll show you later, he even does this same thing to his own wife — well before he became a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, no less. 

The Supposed Obligation of Unasked-For Suffering.

This second coin Lee Strobel offers represents the suffering he endures by eating food he doesn’t like. But nobody asked him to do that, so nobody’s going to accept it as barter for listening to his sales pitch.

Similarly, I’d only allow Biff go out with me and my friends if he really wanted to go. I saw the transaction as being going out together and having fun. If his motivation wasn’t there, then I didn’t want him to go at all. I refused to consider that second transaction or to count it twice.

Furthermore, I told my then-husband that if he tried to unilaterally invoke a contract with me, like if he lied to me about wanting to go and then acted like a wet blanket or tried to zinger me later over it, then I would not feel compelled to go to church as a result of his suffering. If I hadn’t asked him to suffer for my sake, then he couldn’t try to manipulate me with his suffering later.

Oh, how Biff pouted over that solid line drawn. (I wonder if Lee Strobel ever pouts like that? I bet he does.)

Both Christians think that their additional suffering incurs some kind of obligation on other people’s parts to do whatever it is they want: me to attend church, the restaurant workers to eventually sit through a sales pitch and consider it extra-lots. It’s the key to friendship evangelism, this notion that eventually salespeople earn the right to push unwanted sales pitches on marks.

However, these hucksters choose to suffer all on their own. They don’t ask their marks about it beforehand. So these salespeople don’t get to be upset later when the marks don’t play along by humoring their sales pitches.

Well. I mean, they certainly can if they like.

Just it won’t change anything.

Going For Broke On Manipulation.

Reading apologetics books always gives me a big mental disconnect, and Unchurched is no exception. Here’s why:

Nowhere in this book do we see the selling of Strobel’s product on its own merits.

Instead, its salespeople rely completely on pure emotional manipulation to force others to sit through their spiel and then persuade them to join up. They seem very sure that if they can just get someone to listen to their pitch, then the purchase is halfway made.

Maybe once upon a time that was somewhat true, but I don’t think it is anymore. Now the brand of Christianity these soulwinners sell is hopelessly tainted; its groups appeal now only to authoritarians (leaders or followers, for differing reasons).

Indeed, as we go through this book we discover that even Lee Strobel himself describes the closing of remarkably few deals in the book he himself wrote to sell the strategy he insists works wonderfully well. I’m not completely through it yet, but I don’t think I’ve seen a full sale made in it so far. I’m willing to bet he consoles himself by declaring he’s planted a lot of Jesus roofies seeds in his marks.

It amuses me to think that even in 1993, at the near-height of evangelical dominance, Lee Strobel couldn’t even lie about how well his big earth-shattering sales strategy worked. And it works even less well now.

Though really, it doesn’t matter what flavor of evangelism Christians practice: none of their strategies work.

That’s because their basic problem involves the product they sell: active membership in actively-terrible groups.

Reversing a Terminal Decline.

The only one that might possibly work to reverse evangelicals’ decline is the one thing these folks don’t wanna do. To grow, a group needs to present people with:

  • a great, functional, safe, nice-to-be-around group that is
  • working toward relevant, feel-good goals that are
  • based around something their target audience values, while also making sure to 
  • confront them with as few dealbreakers as possible 

It’s hard to imagine a group like that not growing. It practically sells itself, as I discovered when I was pagan and belonged to exactly this kind of group!

However, Lee Strobel’s followers can’t manage any part of that equation.

So they shove a coin at their marks instead.

What Lee Strobel Accomplishes.

That’s why Stroble offers them this book’s strategies. He offers busy-work that evangelicals can do to feel like they’re succeeding even when they aren’t.

Maybe that’s why nobody reputable gives Christians a single chance of reversing their decline. Nobody even thinks they’ve bottomed out yet! Instead, their decline’s going faster and further than anybody ever expected.

This book won’t reverse that decline. Since 1993, it’s proven useless in that regard — perhaps even worse than useless.

Instead, Lee Strobel makes his followers feel smarter than non-believers, even far superior to them, and implies to them that someone, somewhere is making lots of sales and knows how to do it even if his followers can’t achieve any sales success.

In the end, his fans have amply demonstrated that this is all they really want from him.

NEXT UP: Lee Strobel claims in Unchurched that some of his best friends are atheists. I’m not kidding. That’s a near-direct quote from the book. I don’t believe this claim for a moment, and I’ll show you why I don’t next time.

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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,...

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