Monthly Archives: October 2009

What is Friendship Evangelism?
Before we examine this practice we should define it. What exactly is meant by the term friendship evangelism? The problem with this question is that it is so difficult to answer clearly. If you were to ask different Christians this question, you would probably receive a variety of answers, but through my own reading on the subject and interaction with other Christians, I would define it as the attempt to build a friendship with non-Christians as a means of creating opportunities to present the gospel to them. This could be accomplished by taking the unbeliever out for dinner or coffee or pursuing similar interests (such as joining a computer users group, a softball league or some other type of club). The underlying rationale driving these outreach strategies is that building relationships with the lost will eventually break down their resistance, thus making them more open to the gospel message. Proponents of this method often criticize direct, contact evangelism as cold and amounting to “cramming the gospel down people’s throats.” After all, as one pastor once told me, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

I should pause here and point out that there is absolutely nothing morally wrong with any of the above activities in and of themselves. They are all fine, decent ways to build relationships. What is wrong, though, is to use a relationship as a means to an end. Agenda-driven friendships are counterfeit because they are insincere.

Does Friendship Evangelism Contradict Scripture?
Although it preaches well and is appealing, the practice of friendship evangelism as just described is fraught with problems. First and foremost, it is contradictory to Scripture; in particular it flies in the face of the doctrine of total depravity, which teaches that all the natural man’s faculties are fallen, rendering him incapable of submitting to God’s authority apart from regeneration. If this teaching is true—and there is plenty of biblical evidence that it is—then there is nothing that any Christian can do to open the hearts of the lost to the gospel. The natural man is a “fly” that no “honey” of our own making could ever catch. Befriending the lost may make them more open to you, but it could never make them open to Jesus. The unbelieving world hates Jesus far more than it hates you; in fact, if it does hate you, it’s actually because it first hated Christ (see John 15:18). Unfortunately, the concept of friendship evangelism confuses these two, that is, openness to a Christian and openness to Christ. The latter happens only when God opens a person’s heart through the medium of the gospel message. Consider Lydia:

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:13-15, emphasis added).

Was Lydia’s case special? Not at all. Scripture abounds with declarations that man’s nature is so hostile to God that it requires nothing less than a miraculous act of God to turn him around:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)

“No one can come to Me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God. (Romans 3:11)

…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. (Romans 8:7)
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

Consider also this passage from Isaiah:

Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the LORD. O LORD, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal for the people and are put to shame; indeed, fire will devour Your enemies.” (Isaiah 26:10–11)

In our natural state we reject the gospel, not because we need friendship to break down our walls but rather because our sinful, rebellious nature makes us thoroughly hostile to the message of Christ because it tells us what we least want to hear: We are lost, wicked, under the wrath of God, and doomed to hell unless we repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—which, apart from being born again, we steadfastly refuse to do. Therefore, until a divinely originated change takes place, the lost will never be open to the gospel regardless of how hard you try to win their favor. In fact, the only way you could win their favor would be by removing the offense of the gospel—or at least dumbing down the message.

As long as man is totally depraved, then the concept of friendship evangelism will not be plausible. Who has power to open the hearts of the lost—we or the Holy Spirit? I believe the answer to this question is obvious, but I will leave it for you to answer on your own.

Continued in Part Three…

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

I know I might be stepping on some toes for posting this next series, since the topic of evangelism can be a touchy one for Christians, but I hope that, if it does not change anyone’s mind, then it will at least challenge some. I started writing this about seven years ago, and since then I have worked on it from time to time. During this period, my thinking on this topic has undergone some changes, so I am open to criticism and discussion, realizing that my vantage point could change yet more.

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It was an experience that all of us have probably had at one time or another. It happened quite a few years ago. I was sitting by myself at a café in a southern California mall, minding my own business. Quite unexpectedly a very friendly young girl stepped up to my table and introduced herself with a disarmingly warm, cheerful smile. Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised by this sudden greeting. I recall feeling both thrilled and warmed because another human being took the time to go out of her way to begin a conversation with me. One can probably imagine the thoughts that were racing inside my head: “Maybe this is the start of a really meaningful relationship.” Most people would probably think the same way; the more lonely among us would be even more likely to think so. Naïve as I was at the time, the old adage “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” did not seem to occur to me. The real reason for the girl’s friendliness soon became clear: She was attempting to sell me a magazine subscription as part of a fund-raising effort. I ended up buying a subscription.

I walked away from that experience, nevertheless, with more than a magazine subscription; I carried away a powerful memory. I will never forget how deeply disappointing it was to realize that this person had never been truly interested in becoming my friend at all but was merely using friendliness as a means to an end. I now have no doubt that if she had not been trying to sell a magazine subscription to me, the encounter would have never occurred. The only goal she had was to sell me something.

Of course, such sales tactics don’t surprise us. We know that the world is full of people who will treat you like a long lost friend until they get what they want, whether it be money, the signing of a contract, or something else that will benefit them. It is certainly logical; after all, if you want people to buy your product, the last thing you will want to do is alienate them. Quite to the contrary, you will do your utmost to earn their trust and break down their resistance.

When Christians use this method, however, what should we think? What should we think of the use of this insincere tactic as a means of “selling” the gospel to the lost—if that were even possible? Should we accept the idea of befriending people so as to make them more likely to receive the truth? That, after all, is what slick salesmen do to you when they try to sell you something.

That question, however, is not the only one that confronts us when we examine this topic. Three other questions, equally as important, come to mind:  (1) Does the popularly held view of friendship evangelism contradict Scripture? (2) If not, can this method be supported from Scripture? and (3) Does it meet the urgent demands of the Great Commission? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, then Christians have good reason to reject this approach.

Continued in Part Two…

About the Author



The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.