Emotional Appeal or Sales Tactics?
I remember feeling that my non-Christian friends must hear passionate and emotional teaching about what Christ had done for people, because then it would be ‘real’ rather than dry and ‘boring’. That was my opinion as a 15 year old girl.
But in more recent years, there seems to be more that needs to be considered than communicating how we feel. When I was younger I liked the zealous appeals because they reflected more accurately how in love I was with God. I so wanted my non-Christian friends to know that, so that they might find Christ for themselves.
In my university years I drifted away from the Lord and spent a lot of my time hanging out with many who were very anti-Christian in outlook and practice. As a result I soaked in their worldview. Coming back to the Lord a few years later I remember a few things that struck me about the Church, things that I had not noticed before. I was also living with a friend who, at that time, was very into the ‘new Atheist’ doctrine. Conversations with him resulted in my analysing church meetings as if he were there with me, I would guess at what his reaction would be to the preach and worship… I was surprised to find that the emotional appeals that so attracted me before now did not have the same effect, but rather sometimes left me feeling uneasy.
At the time I berated myself for not being ‘open’ enough, or at worse being ashamed of the gospel, and told myself firmly that my reactions were ungodly. I came back to the Lord four years ago, and have had some time to think about my reactions, as they have continued even into the present. I haven’t come to any solid conclusions in regard to what style of preaching I prefer, as I firmly believe that all forms of preaching are to be encouraged, and can be used by God when he wills. But I have, I believe, realised what made me feel uneasy initially, and what still sometimes makes me feel the same.
I think a lot of my non-Christian friends would misunderstand emotional appeal as manipulation or ‘brainwashing’. I even had a friend say to me once after a meeting, ‘that was a hard sell’. Ouch! When I first started feeling uncomfortable with overly emotive preaching, I did not question the authenticity of the preacher, but rather how it might be viewed by an unbelieving observer. When I was younger I believe the church was fighting the prevailing cultural view that Christianity was boring and out-dated. As such, we combated that stereotype with demonstrations of a passionate and alive Christianity. However, it is increasingly my opinion that the prevailing cultural view has shifted. The newspapers are filled with stories about religious extremists who brain wash their victims and incite violence. I believe that more and more people in the UK are not just sidelining Christianity, but are actively outspoken against it and other ‘organised’ religion, because they believe we are potentially dangerous. Within this context, anything that could be construed as ‘manipulation’ or ‘brainwashing’ is viewed with suspicion. Should this shift in feel affect the way that we present the gospel in our churches?
For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.(Luke 16:8)
Considering the verse above, Jesus told us from the off that we would find it harder to relate to non-Christians than would our surrounding culture. Should we therefore prevent all emotional preaching on the basis of this premise? That seems too restrictive and extreme, surely. I was encouraged when I met Michael Ramsden earlier this year and he mentioned the fact that he was aware of this issue. If we use passion in our preaching, will we be alienating the sceptical observer? But if we try instead to be factual and appeal only to the mind, are we not giving the impression that knowing Christ is only a matter of intellectual assent? Catch-22 I believe.
The question I’m asking here is this: do we need to be ‘more shrewd’ in our preaching, without being less biblical? Can we bow to cultural norms without losing a jot or tittle of the challenge of the gospel?