Friday, December 16, 2005

Why Preachers Use Scare Tactics for Conversions

Though the point of my last post was that lost people are not truly church members, my lampooning of a certain type of hellfire and brimstone preaching struck a chord in some folks. I hate to see a preacher do that type of thing, but I completely understand why he does it. Let me share a few thoughts on why this sort of preaching goes on and why it is harmful.

Let me begin by saying that I do not think that preachers do this because they are sadistic, though some may be. I believe that it stems from a genuine concern for the souls of others. Pastors get into the pulpit week after week knowing that some of the people who attend every week are as lost as a ball in high weeds. (That's a good preacher saying, isn't it?) It is frustrating and it is burdensome. He has spoken to them about the gospel and the things of the Lord, and they have no real testimony, no desire for God, and are in over their head in the things of the world.

He feels responsible for these people, and maybe even just a little bit angry at them. They won't listen, and they are surely lost and going to hell. So, he preaches to them because he knows their out there. The tares will always grow up with the wheat, right? The wolves will prowl among the sheep. The only natural thing to do is for him to call them out. To preach hell so hot and scary that they'll come running down the aisle with fear and trembling. The scarier and the more awful he makes it, the better the affect.

The problem with this is at least two-fold. One is that it's like firing a shotgun haphazardly into a crowded room. He's not just hitting the reprobate; he's nailing the flock also. He shooting Christians who struggle with God's love; he's blasting Christians who struggle with guilt and law and faith and quiet time and unworthiness. They start feeling like they are the ones he is talking to. After all, they want to be good Christians. They wind up walking the aisle again and again, wracked with grief and doubt that they have "done" what it takes to be saved. Here is the check list:

1. Walk the aisle.
2. Ask Jesus into your heart.
3. Pray often is often?
4. Read your Bible every day.
5. Get baptized.

The real problem behind this preaching is rotten theology. It is putrid and stinky and awful theology. It is ruinous to the listeners and it is murder on the heart of the pastor. The problem? He thinks that his description of hell and his power of persuasion is what gets the sinner down the aisle. Further, wrong preaching on hell is filthy pride at its core. The command to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling is equally applicable to the man delivering the message.

Can you imagine feeling responsible for someone's soul? That is, can you imagine that where someone spends eternity rests on your ability to make them understand their sinful condition? I would go mad if such were the case. I believe with all of my being that God is sovereign over the affairs of the heart. No man convinced me that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. I had heard the wildest hellfire and brimstone preaching you can imagine growing up. I got baptized as a scared little boy of around seven. I went to church, read my Bible, prayed every day, and I still did not know if the Bible was true. What happened? Did some scary evangelist get me? I happened to be sitting in my apartment at 2am when the Holy Spirit spoke life into my heart, when God caused the light to shine out of darkness in the face of Jesus Christ. I testify that this was a far more frightening experience than any evangelist, preacher, or pastor could dream of conjuring up.

This frees me to preach the truth without vindictiveness or pride. The gospel is God's gospel and salvation is from the Lord. The elect will be drawn like iron to a magnet under the preaching of God's Word, and the tares will sit obstinately and stubbornly by and not harken to the call of God. My call is the preach the Word; I preach it with passion and pleading and begging and exhortation and exultation, but I do not bring it thinking that the power of God comes through my wisdom or vain words. I preach for the love of God and the glory of the gospel. It is worship to my soul. To think that I would use to gospel to manipulate numbers and conversions is anathema! Abomination!

Those are my two cents on such prideful preaching. God save the pastor who believes he can affect the heart when only the Holy Spirit can.


brother terry said...

One of my Deacons told me he heard an Evangelist say, "If I can scare someone out of Hell, I will!"

The Gospel is good news. It's not a club to beat people with. Oh, those that use such a an exquisite tool in such a blunt way!

Should we preach that the consequence of rejecting God is eternal life seperated from Him in a literal Hell?


Should we use that fact to play on their emotions so they will make some sort of fearful commitment?


We're not selling fire insurance!

We're telling a lost world that God loves them and sent His Son to die for them so that they might live!

Proclaim the Kingdom of God and let the Holy Spirit do the saving!


Jonathan Moorhead said...

"The real problem behind this preaching is rotten theology. "

Agreed. Most of it is pure Finnyism.

ColinM said...


These have been some great posts lately. I didn't think you were as carried away the other day as you made out. I think most understood exactly what you were saying.

I have heard that this tactic, along with the recitational prayer- "All you have to do is pray this prayer..."- called, "Getting them into the boat." Once you "get them into the boat," then you can straighten out the theology and such, tell them what conversion is...

L P Cruz said...

If the Gospel is misunderstood then tactics will follow. To the contrary, the Gospel itself if the power of God to save.

Anonymous said...

Finneyism = Pelagianism