In evangelism there is a tendency to see response in the simplest of terms.
Full acceptance is GOOD. Anything less is BAD.
But there are a wide range of responses, Here are six major options (not necessarily a complete list). I got these from Dr. Dan Russell, my professor in seminary. Not sure of any previous source.
Response #1: Sincere Acceptance. “I accept”
Response #2 Straight-forward Rejection. “I reject”
Response #3 Situational Reformation. “I accept…” but am a bit confused.
Response #4 Syncretistic Incorporation. “I accept…” but am going to intentionally combine my new and old beliefs
Response #5 Studied Protraction. “I need to think about it more”
Response #6 Symbiotic Resignation. “It’s for me, but okay for my family”
Some of these sound a bit confusing. I think responses #1, #2, and #5 are pretty easy to understand. Response #3 sounds a lot like Response #4. Situational Reformation is unintentional while Syncretistic In corporation is the intentional combination of the Christian message with the old beliefs. In neither case are we talking about contextualizing faith. We are talking here about the Christian faith being adversely combined with beliefs that are not compatible with Christianity.
Symbiotic Resignation sounds strange but it is pretty common. People are socially entwined in their culture. Their status and habits are secure. Therefore, they are not necessarily willing to give up their place in society. However, they find the Christian message comp
elling. Therefore, their way of dealing with the pull in two directions is to allow or even encourage their family in becoming Christians. Many people have questioned the validity of the conversion experience of the Emperor Constantine (back in 4th century Rome). However, his clear demonstration of faithfulness to God and faithful to various pagan responsibilities and titles seems to make more sense within the context of social symbiosis.
So looking at the six responses, if one sought to push the responses into two categories, they would be:
“I accept” Responses #1, 3, and 4
“I reject… at least for now” Response #2, 5, and 6
It seems to me that fitting all of the responses into two broad categories is not very useful. In my mind, it is helpful to look at the responses on a scale from BEST to WORST
I would like to suggest the following scale below and where various responses fit on the scale. I have asked others to do this… and there is some variation, but the results tend to be quite similar.
1 5 6 2 3 4
I think most would agree that full acceptance (Response #1) is the ideal. I place responses #5 and 6 as the next best. Studied Protraction is a very reasonable and healthy response. Jesus made it clear that “counting the cost” of following Him is important. Response #6 is almost as good, perhaps. They find the Gospel compelling and seek a compromise position that brings Christ into the household. In some ways it is similar to Response #5 since the person is not still thinking about how much he/she is willing to commit.
I place the next best response as Response #2. Straight-forward Rejection is not the worst thing in the world. It is honest, and our call is to be a witness. We cannot guarantee response. And since most people do not respond to the Gospel the first time, it is only bad to receive such a rejection if you are trying to keep statistics for yourself. That is not a healthy attitude.
Responses #3 and #4 are put at the bad end of the spectrum. This is because they feel like they are accepting but are producing something that is not healthy, and may even draw others away from God. After all, an awful lot of Christian-based cults form in this manner. One can even see Islam as the syncretism of Christian, Jewish, and Arab tribal beliefs. I place #4 as worse than #3 since it is intentional. For #3, since it is built from honest confusion, is still set for a healthy clarification and restoration.
If one accepts the spectrum, one would see that the statement “I accept” is at the best and worst ends of the spectrum. The variations on “I reject” are in the middle.
What’s to learn from this? I would say that expression of the Gospel with Good Will, Credibility, and Integrity is important. Getting someone to say “I accept” is not.