Deceptive Evangelism Doesn’t Work

The wisest of women builds her house,
    but folly with her own hands tears it down.
 Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord,
    but he who is devious in his ways despises him.
By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,[a]
    but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
A faithful witness does not lie,
    but a false witness breathes out lies.
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
    but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.

Proverbs 14:1-6 (ESV)

Why do some Christian groups try to trick people into following Jesus?

My fiancée recently ran into my former university’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Of course, she wasn’t aware it was them until much later, as no one told her who they were representing, but that’s who they were. She was asked if she wanted to take a survey. When she agreed, they asked if she was a Christian, to which she said yes, because she is a saved, Bible-believing Christian. They then proceeded to question her faith for the next 20 minutes.

So, I want to pick what they did apart, because it’s both deceptive and judgmental. That’s no way to preach the gospel.

In order to ensure her Christianity, she was asked who Jesus is, how she was saved, what happens after death, what she would say to God if He asked her why she should get to heaven, who God is to her and how she would preach the gospel to someone.

Many of these questions are the wrong questions, because they are based in all kinds of Christianese and Christian culture logic that new believers or Christians who didn’t spend their entire life in church might not understand.

What about those believers who don’t actually remember their exact moment of salvation, as many who were saved young or saved more gradually don’t?

What if a believer answered the question of who Jesus is with a historical answer and not a personal or emotional one? (i.e. He’s the Son of God who died on the cross to save the people from their sin)

What if a believer answered what happens after death with “I don’t know exactly how it works” because they don’t know exactly what happens between dying and getting to Heaven/hell?

What if the answer to why God should let me into Heaven isn’t “I don’t deserve it” but is “The righteous make it to Heaven and Jesus’ death on the cross makes me righteous”? It’s technically correct, but it’s not the answer the people who ask that question look for.

These are loaded questions, and the people who ask these questions are attempting to make assumptions about someone’s salvation essentially based on how much Christianese they know. This is definitionally judgmental. It’s judgmental to assume someone isn’t saved because they don’t answer a question exactly how you think it should be answered. It’s one thing for someone to say “I don’t believe in God” and you assume they aren’t a Christian. It’s another for someone to say “Yes I do deserve to get to Heaven” and you assume they aren’t a Christian even though there’s a biblical reason for one to say this (namely that Jesus’ death causes God to see us as deserving of Heaven if we accept Him).

But my biggest problem is the deceptive evangelism technique used here. The tent they were coming from said “Take a Survey and Get a Free Book.” It turns out the survey wasn’t really a survey at all but an attempt to assume your salvation (again, judgment). And it turns out that the book was a New Testament (by the way, I hate when people only give out those New Testaments, as if Psalms and Proverbs are the only important books of the Old Testament).

This is deceptive because the intentions of those involved are not made clear until after it’s too late for either party to back out. And sure, people may be less likely to participate if you say “Hey, I’m from BCM, and I wanted to ask a few questions about your faith,” but at least I know I can trust you at that point. Honesty is unbelievably important in matters related to faith. To deceive someone to try to preach the gospel to them is like smashing someone’s windshield to pieces and then telling them you’ll fix their brake lights. You cannot break trust with someone through a lack of transparency and then expect them to take you at your word when you give them the Gospel.

So what would I have done?

I would have labeled the tent “BCM: Come talk to us about Jesus!” or something. I would not give out New Testament Bibles, because most people on college campuses who want to read a Bible have one, and those who don’t won’t ever read it. It’ll be a waste. Then I would approach people with the opening line I mentioned earlier, and then I would ask if that person is a Christian.

If the answer is yes, the ONLY other thing I would ask is if they’re involved in a local church and, in the case of a college campus, a campus ministry. Then I’d invite them to attend the ministry functions and get involved if they’d like. Boom: simple. The method they were using of asking everyone all of those loaded questions was making believers feel attacked and non-believers feel judged. You’re allowed to assume that people know what they’re talking about when they say they’re Christians. You have no right or obligation to make them prove it until they’re the ones trying to preach the gospel to you.

If they say they’re Christian but they aren’t actually saved, maybe they’ll come to one of the functions and learn what living for Jesus truly is, but it’s not your place to assume anyone is or isn’t a “born again Christian.” The only litmus test given in the Bible is the fruit of the spirit, and if you don’t know someone, you have no idea what fruit they are or aren’t bearing, so you just can’t make those assumptions based on a few loaded Christianese questions.

If someone says they aren’t a Christian, I’d probably ask them why that is (since most people in America today understand at least what Christianity is). Of course, if they say they’ve never heard of Christianity, it’s easy just to tell them about it (just make sure you actually use the Bible). But most people have a reason for avoiding Christianity in this country, and that’s something you should discuss with people if they’re willing. You can come to the root of why they don’t believe it, come to understand the lies they believe about Christianity, and then show them where they’ve been misinformed in Scripture and show them that Christianity is a beautiful path to a beautiful and eternal life.

And the Bible shows that you don’t actually have to deceive people to get them interested in what Jesus can do for them. In the early church, many people were drawn to the church, not in spite of the fact that they were talking about Jesus, but BECAUSE of it. Their authenticity and willingness never to sacrifice their public affirmation of their faith because of the culture or even the law allowed God to perform miracles through them and speak to thousands of people on a regular basis. Authentic Christianity naturally draws people in. If we can be honest and authentic with the people we encounter, we can lead far more to Christ than if we lie about it, make them feel comfortable, and then blast them with questions about their religion. Deceiving people, judging people: these things do not make for effective evangelism. Only authenticity and a true willingness to serve Christ in a true, biblical and loving way will do that. Just something to think about.




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