Traditional Evangelism of the 1900’s taught us of fear and fire. The people responded the only way they knew how, to run from fire quickly. Much like the monster in Shelley’s Frankenstein, we would run over anyone to get away from the perceived danger. Even today, there are many older evangelists who would have us resort to scare tactics in order to save. But what does the bible say.
The Bible uses of the word fear well over 300 times. OT Hebrew usage is around 320 times under the word yira. Though some of these uses address being afraid, the majority is an exalting fear or reverence towards God. Even a good portion of the afraid references are from angels saying do not fear. Some even contrast reverent fear with terror, chat, in the Hebrew. In the New Testament Greek usage: . Bernhard Anderson in Contours of Old Testament Theology tells us on page 263 that the use of the word fear in the contemporary English is not a good translation, but that awe and reverence is a proper translation the majority of the time when it comes to God. This fits with an unused dictionary meaning of fear, which is awe and reverence. Fear in the Old Testament did not state that you were in reverence to God primarily because of his ability to kill you, though that is to be noted. You revere God on account of Exodus, deliverance, salvation, the wisdom in His kind and benevolent sovereignty.
This raises the following question: Is fear a viable tool for evangelism? People think this needs a solid standing answer in truth. In order to get a more Biblical answer, we must turn to what the Biblical witnesses actually say. Many people turn to Jesus in the Gospels and His threats of judgment. However, when one looks closely at who is being threatened, it ends up being those within the realm of God followers. Acts, Paul and the rest of the New Testament give us a different view as well. They view the problem of Hell not so much as a threat. They view it as a state that already exists for humanity, an inescapable reality. Hell is definitely a destination, but it is also a state of being. The God of heaven need not condemn with a punishment of a destination we were already heading towards. And even though hell is sometimes termed God’s wrath, if you read Revelation 14 you find that God’s wrath is viewed as torment in God’s presence and not just separation from God. This shows us that hell is not primarily the place, it is the relationship with God, albeit a miserable one. The offer that the New Testament makes, in faithfulness to the Old Testament, is a peace with God, not only in relation to declaring your condemnation (which you already have) but in relation to interaction itself (a peace which is new). This leads people to practice the fear of awe and reverence once saved. Fear is not the tool of one seeking to convict the non-believer. Reading about Paul and the Early Church in the book of Acts, we can quickly see that Paul uses reason and kindness to bring the pagan to Christ. Though judgment is mentioned, it is in the sense that it is an understood outcome of our natural being as a result of the Fall. The curse was already set in Genesis 3. We are not waiting for condemnation as we are trying to postpone the fires of punishment (I use fire metaphorically). We are seeking the one who can and does save us (Romans 8:1-4).
The Gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us the full gospel needed to perform evangelism. Christ is the King who came to us yet was put to death. However, he was resurrected in His humanity, pointing to our inheritance of the same fate if we accept His Lordship and lifestyle. What’s so amazing about this event is that we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of the God who did this great work for humanity. Does this makes us live in dread? Or does this not give us conviction that God has been reeling in humanity ever since the fall and now has thrown in a net so that we could rush toward it? For me, it says how great the King is and how His mercy has brought me into the resurrection community. He promised me a future of resurrection and a life of shalom with Him, both now and at His return. Who would not want to follow this King?
What kind of God do we believe in? Is our God the God of mindless punishment and perpetual anger? Or is He the God that is slow to anger and quick to release any anger in order to redeem? Is our God the God of death and the grave or of the empty cross and the resurrection?