Edelen’s Theory of Inverse Evangelistic Zeal


The theory:

The more a Christian uses labels for perceived foes, the less likely that Christian will be to evangelize others, particularly those so labeled.

Talk to any Christian, especially someone who identifies as evangelical or born again. If that person descends to always labeling people in conversation who are believed to be working actively against Christian progress (feminists, homosexuals. liberals, humanists, etc.)Labels, the less likely that Christian will be to engage those perceived foes in an evangelistic context. Instead, those labels serve as a distancing mechanism that permits the Christian to relegate those perceived foes to an “enemies of Christ” context that excuses the Christian from evangelizing them and helping lead them to Christ. Also, in general, those same Christians will be less likely to engage all people evangelistically, even those who do not fall into perceived foe groups.

I’ve been a Christian for 35+ years now. The older I get, the more this theory seems to be true.

In summary, if you are the kind of Christian who tends to lump people into categories, you will have less evangelistic zeal.

7 thoughts on “Edelen’s Theory of Inverse Evangelistic Zeal

  1. I am not sure if I agree, Dan, but I think that at least it also works both ways. Try reading for a while some of the opinion pieces in Slate, Huffington Post, or Daily Kos to see examples of what I mean.

    I would say there are people out there who absolutely don’t want to be evanglized, no matter the context and no matter how sweetly and innocently you try to do it.

    Somebody once said, to use a figure from animal husbandry, “don’t cast your pearls to the swine”, which I guess means the same as “don’t try to teach a pig to sing, since it wastes your time and only irritates the pig.” The trick is to know when the proverbs actually applies.

    Also, there is a certain element of “boldness” and “stench” in evangelizing. For some people, the boldness of what’s preached (repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand) can smell to them like the stench of death. There is already the stench element there that’s ineluctable. Of course, for others it’s the fragrance of life.

    And of course, the other trick is knowing how to evangelize without making a complete jerk of yourself. Some people have the right knack (or gifting) for it. For example (since I recently read his autobiography), Lonnie Frisbee could just stand on a corner and jump up and down, and people would gather around him to watch; and then he would preach to them, and they would actually listened. Now if I were to go on a street corner and jump and down, people would walk past me, dismissing me as a complete nutcase; and they wouldn’t listen to anything I said. (Nobody listens anyhow.)

    • Oengus,

      I know many people don’t want to be evangelized. That’s not the point of the post, though. It’s that we automatically wall off people when we label them. And when we label them, we are less likely to want to interact with them, especially if that interaction involves evangelism. It’s another way in which we become judgmental and self-centered.

  2. Mr. Poet

    This reminds me of a story I heard about a reporter who was interviewing a bevy of politically active, Christian leaders. Every leader went on and on about liberalism, homosexuality, promiscuity, that kind of thing, but one of the group of leaders asked the reporter if she had been explained what the Gospel actually was. The reporter said, “No”, none of the other leaders had actually talked to her about the Gospel. So that one leader took some time to explain who Jesus is to the reporter, even if it would not be considered germane to the reporter’s final story.

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