Using fear in evangelism

Hi friends,

In the r/atheism subreddit, a person shares these experiences:

Guys, I have received a message from a christian friend this “…But think deeply about it, my dear friend. Hell is serious. Take care :)”. My jaw actually dropped in disbelief like why does she insist that I am playing with eternal damnation. I told her that probably around 98% of the whole humanity is doomed for eternal torture according to the biblical god and that is like what an ultimate psycopath would do but I decide to stand with rest of the humanity and for me that is true humility.

Yesterday, I met two other Christian friends in person and when I told them if the biblical God ever existed, let’s say, then god better truly admit he has created a terrible mistake of introducing all the pain and suffering into this world and must let everyone enter heaven. They were questioning why all the evil people should also go to heavenas well but I said if god is the ultimate creator of the universe and then he has designed all the terrible elements of this world. They said there must be a filter and god has given everyone a choice and love and if one foolishly rejects God, then he/she is worthy of eternal damnation. I was like come on. They also asked if I would be fine with going to hell, just that other friend.

When I was an evangelical/baptist christian, I used to tell people how christianity itself is not like a religion, but your personal relationship with god bla bla. Now, I clearly see those people seriously use the fear factor. Do you think that is very effective? I think human nature is really afraid of eternal suffering and christians really exploit that for their indoctrination. What do you guys think?

I feel sad about how this person has experienced Christians. I think it helps us to consider what they’ve shared and how these friendships have affected them.

To me, there’s no doubt that we should be clear about the reality of hell. I appreciate how Penn Jillette shares his story:

He acknowledges his appreciation for how honest and genuine a Christian was in giving him a Bible. The difference? It seems like this person was polite, sincere, and kind - “a very, very, very good man.”

At the same time, it seems clear to me that we can go from living as faithful witnesses to something very different: using fear to try and pressure people into conforming to our group’s beliefs.

My questions…

  1. As you consider this person’s experience, what do you sense and feel?

  2. As you empathize with what they’ve gone through, what wisdom can we gain?

  3. What precautions do you take to avoid exploitation in your witness?


I wish you’d entitled this post: Why do some evangelicals feel the need to literally ‘scare the hell out of people’? :laughing:

I have been reflecting on this a good bit of this morning, and most of what I’ve typed out is not ‘fit to print’ in many ways. Not inappropriate, just jumbled. :upside_down_face:

So I’ll try to boil it down for discussion…

  1. I do find fear-mongering – and the accompanying guilt-mongering – (esp. when sharing the Gospel!) problematic (though understandable) on many levels. For, really, what kind of life is on offer in this scenario? If one is using/manipulating only fear and guilt, can true ‘salvation’ or ‘freedom’ really be on offer?
  2. What I find sad is that many Christians remain and live in the control of the fear and guilt. For is not the stoking of fear (and guilt) in evangelism but a reflection of the place of fear in the heart of the person doing the evangelizing?

Penn asked: How much do you have to hate somebody to not tell them there is eternal life? To withhold from someone the message of life? But I would reframe it. How enslaved do you have to be to not recognize that there is life and freedom right now (as well as eternally) in Christ? Our message of life – eternal or otherwise – will fall flat if we do not know ‘depths of the riches of the knowledge of Christ’. That is what is on offer. Let us step into that invitation first for ourselves so that we can point others to it and walk with others as they journey towards it.