‘Is friendship for the sake of evangelism deceit?’ This is a question that has bothered me for some time now: Is the act of befriending a non-Christian for the sake of evangelism an act of deception? Like the answer to most questions that are important and weighty, the answer, I think, is: ‘yes’ and ‘no’. In this post and the next, I consider the two parts to the answer, beginning with the latter first.
If we befriend non-Christians solely for the sake of evangelizing them, then perhaps one is right to wonder whether the friendship was itself genuine to begin with. Consider: You offer a ‘friend’ a ride to the airport, not because they are really stuck in a jam (with no one else to help), but simply because you know (or hope at least) that you’ll have a ‘captive audience’ for the forty-five minutes it takes to get there. Or: You (probably quite begrudgingly) offer to pay for nearly all the meals you two share in hopes that your ‘friend’ – the atheist, or Muslim, or Mormon – would see just how ‘giving’ you are, and thereby might convert by the witness of the gospel that is your life. If these acts of ‘friendship’ are done solely for the sake of conversion, couldn’t they rightly be questioned as to their authenticity? Even if we were to defend ourselves, saying ‘But I really want her to know Christ; and what better way than to live out the gospel as a way of ‘friendship evangelism’?’ – even if our intentions to evangelize are pure, one must wonder whether the means by which we attempt to evangelize is itself pure.
Sidebar on ‘friendship evangelism’: The term ‘friendship evangelism’ is a tricky one. At first blush, it sounds great. Of course, we should treat as friends as those whom we (eventually, or want to) evangelize; to do any less would be to dehumanize them as something akin to mere gospel-projects. So, if we use the term ‘friendship evangelism’ to distinguish it from something like ‘street evangelism’ or ‘cold evangelism’, then it seems we’re progressing, rightly, from the days of handing out gospel tracts and shouting through megaphones. But, while friendship may be a necessary condition for evangelism, evangelism should not be the sole motivating factor of forming friendships. And this distinction brings me back to the point at hand . . .
As Christians we are called to ‘do good to everyone’ (especially to the Church; cf. Gal. 6.10) – a work which undoubtedly requires friendship. However, the kinds of aims within friendship that one pursues matter a great deal. Friendship is for the sake of doing good to another, not (strictly) for the sake of ‘doing gospel’. Friendship is a good in itself, not something meant to be sought in order to pursue another aim. Friendship is about helping a beloved flourish so that she might become, very simply, a better human being.
That said, there do seem to be compelling reasons why, for Christians, friendships with non-Christians ought to involve evangelism, reasons which have to do with, among other things, authenticity and infinity. It sounds like a lot to put into a 500-word blog post, I realize; but I shall attempt to do so in my next post.