The Unappetizing Worm and the Squid Game

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn on Pexels.com

I did a lot of fishing when I was young. Truthfully, I did not care for fishing all that much. I enjoyed hiking and exploring, but fishing only allowed one to do those things for a short while followed by hours of sitting or standing in a hot sticky itchy place.

I was not good at fishing. To some extent my lack of success was due to lack of patience. I couldn’t just let my line out and then relax. Additionally, because I did not enjoy fishing, I did not become a student of fishing.

A big mistake I did in fishing was with worms. I would most commonly use earthworms to catch fish. <For those traumatized by worm impalement, please skip a bit ahead.> I would stick the hook through the worm. Then I would stick it through again and again and again. In the end I would end up with a tangled ball of worm on the hook.

Why in the world would I do that? I was afraid that a fish would come along and take a bite out of the worm and get away without being caught by the fishhook. It made perfect sense to me that a bite on the worm that did not have the hook in it is a wasted bite.

If I had talked to my friends or researched books from experts in fishing, I would have realized that having the worm alive and well and wiggling is a good thing. And having the fish take a nip on the bait without getting hooked, makes it more motivated to come in for more. In an effort to make nibbles turn into a catch, I made the worm unappealing to most fish.

Evangelism has been described in terms of fishing. Jesus described His disciples as fishers of men. More recently, there has been the modern parable where people get so caught up in the science of fishing and gathering together to discuss fishing theories that no one is actually fishing. Tied to that story is the question, “Who do you want to learn from someone who studies fishing or one who actually fishes?” Relating that to missions or evangelism, the question becomes, “Who do you want to learn from, one who does the work or the one who analyzes and theorizes about the work?” In truth, to be a GREAT fisherman it is helpful to draw from both. To be a great car driver it is good to learn from great drivers, but it is also good to talk to those who design and test cars as well.

But in this case, my lesson from the worm is a bit different. In the mid-1800s there were huge sawdust revivals. Big musical numbers of peppy gospel songs, firy preaching and a hard-sell altar call. Walking forward and praying the sinners prayer was so linked to the idea of being saved that it matched the early church’s tendency to see getting baptized as the same as getting saved.

Into the 20th century the question was how to lead people to Christ the quickest. Some suggested that one should throw out social ministry. The sawdust revivals still met a social need, since many communities had little entertainment, little quality music, and few great orators. But in a reaction to the so-called “social gospel” the removal of the social side of the gospel seemed to make sense since it took time and money— essentially slowing things down. This reached a local peak in the 1960s with Evangelical reaction against conciliar missions. Another peak in this happened more recently with focus on bible studies in creating church-planting movements (CPM). Additionally, revivals are had to quantify without a simple metric… so saying the sinners prayer became so much the focus that some methods were developed that almost tricked someone into saying the sinner’s prayer. (This reminds me of a missionary friend who was almost tricked into saying the Shahada three times by some neighbors who held a reductionist belief that doing so “made one a Muslim.”)

I think these are like what I was doing in fishing. I tried to make it so that a fish could hardly go after the worm without getting hooked. Some things done in missions seeks to ensure a positive response (even if that positive response is ambiguous). However, what I did to the worm made it more unappealing to most fish. I increased the likelihood that a bite would result in a catch, but I greatly reduced the number of bites. It is possible that our tactics can increase the percentage of positive responses to a direct plea for the gospel, but only doing so through driving more away.

Binging the Squid Game this last weekend brought this to light. There were a number of references to Christianity in this Korean series. However, all of them showed Christianity as being a bit weird— people dressed funny (much like Mormon missionaries in the US and Philippines dress), and a bit loud and preachy. I don’t think anyone watching the show would come to the conclusion that Christians are called upon to be meek, kind, hospitable, loving, and self-sacrificing. If you haven’t watched Squid Game, try watching it as if you have never heard of Christianity before. What characteristics would you gain of Christianity from watching the show? Now before you get the idea that Squid Game is — “Anti-Christian”— I think it may be better to think of it as a fairly neutral portrayal of how Christians have often chosen to portray themselves. Preaching the word, using a lot of Christian-speak and dressing in a way that strongly contrasts those around them can seem like a good idea… being good witnesses of the truth. However, few would be attracted to Christianity— it is an unappealing worm— much like the primary Christian in the Squid Game is so focused on himself and his faith, that he offers nothing of Christ or himself to others that would be appealing.

This is a bit off on a tangent, but perhaps it is better today to identify people who come to Christ though tracking (believer’s) baptisms rather than through saying the Sinner’s Prayer. Neither one is actually the same as salvation (a transformation of the heart) but I suppose baptism demonstrates a deeper level of thought or commitment than does repeating a prayer that someone else gives you. Of course, there is the risk of falling into the mistake of many groups that confuse salvation with baptism, but it is probably less in error than associating the sinner’s prayer with salvation. <Sorry… just was thinking off the top of my head while I was typing.>

Top Posts on Evangelism

readers-bristol_2059162i

I am far from an expert on Evangelism, but I have gained some perspectives of it as it is commonly practiced over time. Here are some of the Top Posts on this topic.

Critique of Evangelism (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  These three posts summarize many of my views regarding Evangelism as it is commonly practiced. The posts were done back in 2010, so my views have evolved somewhat over time, but I think my critique is still generally sound.

Multi-Dimensional Evangelism.  Looks at 0-dimension (Simple Conversion), 1-dimension (Engel Scale), 2-dimension (Gray Scale), and 3-dimension (“Evangelism Cube”) regarding evangelism.

Evangelism 315.  A modified version of evangelism (more like permission-based) inspired by I Peter 3:15.

Salvation versus Conversion: Missiological Implications.  Perhaps a bit controversial, at least in its vocabulary. I suggest that Salvation (the process of God’s transformational work in the life of a person being conformed to Christ) should be valued more than Conversion (the one time salvific event of adoption into the family of God).

Evangelism Thoughts: “Savior Salvation” and “Fallen from Grace.”  More questions than answers. Brings up some questions regarding Lordship Salvation, Savior Salvation, and issues of Grace.  Definitely more questions than answers.

High Context Evangelism.  Short post noting the importance of contextualization of the message of the gospel.

New Evangelism.  A long quote from Alan Walker’s “A New Evangelism” with my own commentary. Some of it points to the fact that people’s attitude about death affects their resonance to salvation presentations. The question is, “Do many presentations ‘scratch where it does not itch’?”

The “Toolbox” and “Big Hammer” Theory.  Suggestions for a broader base of understanding and skills for Evangelists to be able to effectively reach a broader number of people. This is contrast to the one-size-fits-all idea for evangelism.

 

A Walk Down Main Street

 

Yesterday we were walking down Session Road, the “Main Street” of Baguio City. There were the normal crowds of walkers, strollers, and peddlers. It is kind of nice to find a bustling downtown when so many downtowns in the US have been destroyed by the automobile, suburban sprawl, and big box stores. Going further we periodically see beggars. Most are old, sitting barefoot or hunched over, head and eyes cast downward with a thin arm out with a disposable plastic cup in hand to receive coins. Others are handing out flyers for different things… commonly to buy a house or condominium, go to a certain restaurant, or to convert one to their religion. It is a lively place to be.

As we were walking down towards Burnham Park we started hearing yelling. At the top of some steps was a man holding up a large Bible. Behind him in a semi-circle were others dressed similarly holding up signs and Bibles. It was classic street preaching/evangelizing. They were wearing red shirts with a verse from the book of Romans on it. There were perhaps 15-20 people idly watching and others, like us, passing by with modest curiosity.

File:Session Road, Baguio City.jpg

Going around the corner was a woman wearing the same red shirt. She was yelling at a young man leaning against a wall, standing up but still a bit curled up as if (perhaps) he wanted her to go away, but did not have the gumption to walk off. She sounded rather angry as she was saying “YOU GOT TO BE SAVED!! YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN JESUS!!”

We continued walking, but it gave me something to think about.

1.  Is this method a good thing?  I recall being in seminary and being told that one of the distinguishing characteristics of every “Revival Movement” has been open air preaching.  I have always wondered about that. First, the great movement in China over the last few decades occurred with little to no open air preaching. The great church growth during the time of Antonine plague (for example) appeared to be triggered by the response of the church to suffering around them. Open air preaching appeared to have little to no connection. Even in cases where open air preaching clearly had a role (such as in the Great Awakening), was the open air component a universal or cultural characteristic? Perhaps it was a cultural characteristic since large public speaking events were popular back then and open air was a logistical necessity. I guess in the end, I am left with ambivalence. Clearly open air preaching can be useful in the right circumstances. But I have to doubt whether it has the magical quality ascribed to it by some who focus on it as engendering “revival.”

2.  Is this evangelism?  Evangelism is presentation of the good news of Christ in a way that can be understood and appreciated. Now suppose we accept this definition (hypothetically speaking). Then evangelism has an input component (divine revelation) and an output component (understood and appreciated). I believe both sides are important. If we only accept the second part (understood and appreciated) one can be left with an unhealthy pragmatism (whatever gets people to respond the way we want) springs up. Why not simply pay people to convert? I know of both Christians and Muslims doing this… if it works, how could it be wrong? Yet it could be wrong… and ultimately ineffective. On the other hand, one can picture the other extreme where presentation of the gospel is success in itself, regardless of the response. Anything that allows one to carry a message to another is justified. Why not hold someone at gunpoint and give them the message of the Gospel? If the message is given, who cares if it creates a positive response or an angry rejection?

I believe God cares.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not attacking this group. I don’t even know them. I was a bit surprised that the preaching was all in English, especially since all of the team members appeared to be Filipino. But I don’t know if they were a local group or a group that came on a short-term mission. They appeared to be (at least loosely speaking) Protestant. I don’t know if it is a heterodox group, orthodox group, or semi-orthodox group (all three groups are pretty common in the Philippines).

I do know that the group was loud, abrasive, and appeared kind of angry. The God they described sounded pretty unpleasant. (I do know that God has given us a choice between life and death, yet some evangelism methods seem to spend more time on God’s wrath than on His love and mercy.) Were they doing God’s work? I am sure they felt like they were? I don’t know. Were they effectively evangelizing– adorning the Gospel of Christ (as described in the book of Titus) or were they making the Gospel (and God) look ugly. Again I don’t know.

I really really really don’t know. Our group, Bukal Life Care (www.bukallife.org), focuses on psychoemotional care, and other types of ministry that could be described more as social ministry. Some would argue that we are failing to obey God since our normal methodology rarely includes a direct presentation of the gospel. Guilty as charged on that. Yet, because of our helping ministry, it is surprising how often people ask what group we are with, and what we believe. They actually appreciate that we work with a number of Christian groups (not just one) and that we focus on helping people understand God’s love. Very often we end up sharing the Gospel because we are asked to.

Is that better than trying to shove the Gospel down the throats of others? I think so. Those that argue otherwise like to quote verses talking about the power of God’s Word (sharper than any two-edged sword and not returning void). However, power without control can be more destructive than constructive. The power to harm and heal is in the instrument used… but being able to guide such power to heal instead of harm takes wisdom and skill.

I am not sure we all will ever agree. I am a BOTH/AND person in the area of ministry and evangelism, not EITHER/OR. However, I think it is important that we think about what we do and why. Much of the bumper sticker theology we are given for missions and evangelism seems to get people to do without meditation or reflection. “Just Do It” still demands “Do What? And How? And Why?”