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Is friendship for the sake of evangelism deceit? (Pt. 2 of 2)
September 23, 2013 richardstevenpark

Is friendship for the sake of evangelism deceit? (Pt. 2 of 2)

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In my last post, I suggested that developing friendships strictly for the sake of evangelism is, in some ways, a deceptive maneuver; that friendship is a good in itself, and thereby should not be sought for the sake of something else. That said, in this post, I shall argue that, in other ways: (1) not to be an evangelist to our non-Christian friends can be deceitful; and (2) to consider friendship as an ultimate good is untenable. The first point has to do with personal integrity and authenticity; the second with infinity.

First, authenticity. While it is true that friendships made merely for the sake of evangelism is dishonest, the opposite may be true as well: that we refrain from any sort of evangelistic activity or attitudes with our non-Christian friends is disingenuous. For, if we are indeed followers of Christ – and find it in our very nature to have been born again – then not to share about or show this new nature of ours would be to live inauthentic lives. Many people these days may complain against those who engage in interfaith dialogue, accusing them of ‘proselytization’. But, I would argue that engaging in dialogue with those who do not share one’s worldviews is not a deceitful cover-up for evangelism; rather, what is deceitful is not sharing one’s own deepest held beliefs when engaging in dialogue. Authenticity requires that we show and share our Christian nature and our worldview: that is, to evangelize.

But doesn’t this suggestion appear contrary to my previous post? Well, it may appear so, but it doesn’t actually contradict it. There, I suggested that developing friendships merely, strictly, or only for the sake of evangelism would be deceitful – and it would be; but here, I suggest that evangelism is not the object of developing friendship – it is the overflow or natural outcome. True Christian friendship with non-Christians leads to evangelism; evangelism (alone) should not lead Christians to developing friendships.

Second, infinity. Also in my previous post, I argued that since friendship is a ‘good’ in itself, it cannot be used or instrumentalized for some other end (i.e., evangelism). And that’s true: to befriend another so that she might do or be something or someone you seek is to selfishly seek one’s own aims. (Natural law theorists would describe this way of seeing goods as the incommensurability thesis: that is, one good cannot be compared with another good since the values of those goods are incommensurable.) That said, there may be an argument for a hierarchy of goods. That is, goods are commensurable; they can be compared; some goods are ‘better’ than others. For example, both ‘life’ and ‘leisure’ are considered basic goods. However, if, while one is engaging in leisure (say, playing golf) and one sees a child drowning in the lake next to the eight hole (i.e., the good of life is in jeopardy), then arguably one ought to forego one good (leisure) for the sake of another ‘better’ or ‘higher’ good (life). If this view of a hierarchy of goods is true, then God who is the greatest of all goods deserves the best of our attention and affection. If that’s right, then bringing others (including, indeed especially, our friends) to a saving and lasting knowledge of this great good – God – is not only an acceptable reason for engaging in friendship: it arguably makes for a moral obligation to do so.

So, then, am I suggesting that friendship for the sake of evangelism is, after all, acceptable, and not deceitful? Not necessarily. Again, so much depends on our intentions. If it is our intention to develop a friendship merely for the sake of making our friend an object of evangelism, then not only are we instrumentalizing the friendship; it is likely that our friend would not take seriously our invitation to the gospel since they would probably (rightly) question the truth of our friendship. However, if in our authentic engagement of evangelism functions as a natural outgrowth of our non-instrumental friendship, then conversations and activity that revolve around the greatest good is not only acceptable and obligatory; it is most charitable. As Aristotle said, to be a friend is to seek the good of another. And God is the greatest good of all.

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