Evangelizing the Christianized Culture: Have I been careful not to manipulate emotions?
“Follow your heart?” Is that Biblical advice? Consider God’s view of the human heart. Genesis 8:21 “man’s heart is evil from his youth;” Jeremiah 17:9 “[It] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” How does this understanding of the heart affect evangelism?
Our heart is what reasons, feels, and chooses. Unfortunately, our depravity infects all three aspects of our heart. Romans 3 says that there is none who understands or seeks after God; 1 Corinthians 2 says that the natural man cannot understand the things of God, Ephesians 2, says that the unconverted walk after the course of this world, and Romans 6 says that unbelievers are slaves to sinful passions. James 1 says that, our compulsion under temptation is from our own hearts. It is impossible for men to think, feel, and choose rightly apart from the grace of God extended through the gospel and received at conversion through glorification. Of these three faculties, arguably the most susceptible to manipulation is the emotions. Consider some passages that speak about the negative susceptibility of our emotions: In 1 Thessalonians 4 we are commanded not to walk in passionate lusts. Colossians 3 commands us to put to death unclean passions and evil desire. 2 Peter 2 says that false teacher’s, whose hearts are trained in covetous practices, entice unstable souls. 2 Timothy 2 tells us to flee youthful lusts, and 2 Timothy 3 tells us that false teachers capture gullible women who are led away by various lusts. Human passions are a gift from God, yet the fall has left our passions susceptible to manipulation and self deception. Our passions glorify God when our hearts are led by God’s word and changed by the indwelling Spirit, thus truth must penetrate our mind so it can move our heart as it converts our walk. Our emotions must be led by a mind that is progressively renewed by God’s word.
How does this impact evangelism? Several examples of apparent reception followed by falling away come to mind. Matthew 13 speaks of a group who received the word with joy yet later fell away. John 2 says that Christ did not commit himself to certain disciples, because He knew their motives were not genuine. John 6 says that Jesus compelled a group of seeking disciples to labor for food that endures to everlasting life, rather than physical bread. And Acts 8 says that a disciple named Simon was rebuked for asking the apostles to prostitize their apostolic gifts. These men followed Christ and the apostles with duplicitous motives, and while we cannot absolutely prevent these responses, we must be careful not to insight them.
My ministry is in a culture were emotionalism is the standard. Many view Christianity as an entertaining means to an end, not new life in Christ in the Biblical sense. They attend church for the emotional high not genuine worship. This twisting of genuine Christianity is a drug-like emotional fix, where “faith” becomes an addiction. Sloppy evangelism or emotional appeals through manipulative means, serve as the catalysts to inflame this twisting of truth.
No one is immune to pragmatism. I once read a book with a chapter on improving offerings, by using lighting and music to create an environment for giving. I have seen youth leaders “help” young people pray a sinner’s prayer, seen a pastor argue someone into the baptistery, and counseled people whose profession of faith in a high pressure appeal was only an empty prayer going along with friends or pleasing someone. Sadly, I too have been guilty manipulative evangelism. Preaching must go beyond the mind to affect the will. We have not preached if we have not compelled men to repentance; however, why do we need music and a conversation with the preacher while the music is softly playing? Why do we need to raise our hands before the music starts, and then go forward after it has begun? Why do we need the high pressure? Do I need you to hold my hand to place my faith in Christ? Do I really need the lights and the music to be just right to give? Is the invitation really the most important part of the service? Why do we give a gospel invitation if there was no gospel given? Is this what Christ and the apostles did? We must give cheerfully from the heart, evangelize with passion, and call men to repentance. But are we doing it honestly?
- Have we manipulated emotions, or has the Spirit drawn?
- Are we using artificial means to manipulate response?
- Are we calling for a decision we have not addressed?
May we strive to keep the apparent tensions of God’s sovereignty and our responsibilities in evangelism and preaching in perfect balance!