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Evangelizing the “Lost”

satan and hellGuest Post by ObstacleChick

Recently, I was back in the Bible Belt where I grew up, as I dropped my daughter off for her first year of college in Nashville. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and attended a Fundamentalist Christian school, but I started moving away from those doctrines at age eighteen when my church started teaching complementarianism (then called Biblical manhood and womanhood). Going to a secular university opened up other ideas to me to which I had not been exposed, and I was able to move away physically and literally from Christian Fundamentalism. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, and we attended progressive Christian church for a while before we both shifted into agnostic atheism. Our children have not been raised with any religious indoctrination, and when my daughter indicated that she wanted to attend university in the South, I thought it would be important to let her know what Evangelical Christians believe so that she wouldn’t be shocked when she found out that some of our family members still believe this way and that some people she encounters in Tennessee may hold these views.

My parents divorced when I was little, and my mom remarried and had another child. My brother is twelve years younger than I am, and his upbringing was quite different from mine. I lived with my grandparents — he lived with his mom and dad. I was sent to private Christian school — he attended public school after he was expelled from the private Christian school in third grade (yes, expelled in third grade; he mouthed off to the teacher and to the principal). My mom and stepdad moved to a different town after I graduated from college, and they left the Southern Baptist Church, eventually ending up at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. My brother and his wife and two sons do not attend church. Instead, my brother is part of a Skype men’s prayer and Bible study group, and he reads a lot of Christian books and watches live stream and YouTube sermons. Every night before bed, he teaches and prays with his sons, and he spends time on his own praying before bed. He also posts a lot of Bible verses and links to very conservative Christian articles and YouTube videos on social media; with that evidence, I am confident that he still believes many aspects of Fundamentalist Christianity. I am not sure what my sister-in-law believes, but I don’t get the impression she is as devout as my brother. My brother knows that we are not Bible literalists at all, and he knows that we expose our kids to a lot more of “the world” than he does, but I have not used the “A” word around him yet. He probably thinks we are apostates but still somehow under the umbrella of God. I think he doesn’t ask specifics because he doesn’t want to know, and I don’t bring it up because I don’t want him to excommunicate me from the family.

On our long drive from Tennessee back to New Jersey, my husband asked me if my brother believes that we are going to Hell. I told my husband that I am not sure what my brother knows or believes about our religiosity, but it’s certainly a possibility that he might think one or more of us is bound for Hell. According to the doctrines in which we were brought up, I am of the “once saved always saved” crowd, so he probably believes that I am apostate but not necessarily bound for the Lake of Fire. I’m not sure if my brother knows that my husband was Catholic, but he may believe that somehow through my influence my husband is “saved” and that I probably made sure the children “got saved” too. My brother made sure his children said the “Sinner’s Prayer” and he baptized the boys in the bathtub (because somehow that’s allowed, I guess). My husband asked what the “Sinner’s Prayer” is, and I told him it’s some version of admitting that one is a sinner, that one repents of his or her sin, accepts that Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. One must accept that humans are all bound for Hell unless they have accepted the saving grace of Jesus. My husband naively stated, “Oh, it’s like the Creed we stated at church every Sunday.” I said, “Ummmm…sort of — it’s more of a one-and-done statement that you really, really, really have to mean for it to take. And then you get baptized. If it all takes, then you’re ‘saved’ from Hell.”

My husband stated that if my brother and his wife thought there was a possibility that we were bound for Hell, he is hurt and offended that they have not once tried to proselytize to him to make sure. Honestly, I was surprised by his statement, but I can understand why he would feel that way. If you truly believe that someone you care about is in danger of spending eternity in the Lake of Fire – or even if you are an annihilationist and believe that anyone sentenced to Hell immediately ceases to exist — why would you not try to warn that person before it is too late?

I explained to my husband that in Evangelical Christianity, there is great emphasis placed on “witnessing” or proselytizing. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Some Evangelical Christians actively proselytize, verbally witnessing to people they meet or know. Some take a more passive approach, either by wearing Christian-themed clothing, posting Christian-themed signs on their property or vehicles, or decorating their office space with Christian-themed items. Some people make it their life’s vocation, becoming pastors or missionaries. But many (perhaps most?) Evangelicals do not “witness” at all. When I was an Evangelical, I did not actively witness to people. Everyone I knew at school and at church was already “saved.” I worked in a university biochemistry laboratory as a teenager and college student, and I was too intimidated to try to initiate a religious discussion with my coworkers, as all of them had at least a bachelor’s degree, most had doctorates, and I was not as educated as they. Honestly, I felt that Fundamentalist Christianity was a sect for the uneducated, and I assumed my coworkers probably thought so as well.

In any case, I was glad to make it through a trip to Tennessee without people preaching to me about their brand of religion, though I did see my fair share of Christian-themed road signs, T-shirts, and home decor in stores. A lot of people in Tennessee love Jesus!

What are your thoughts on proselytizing? Are you glad when people do not proselytize you, or do you consider that they do not care about you enough to try to witness to you so you escape eternity in Hell or annihilation after death? Did you attempt to proselytize when you were an Evangelical Christian? Why or why not?


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    I was shy, so was overcome with embarrassment at the idea I could stand on a street corner, or knock on doors asking folk if they wanted to be saved. Then I thought I should ask for forgiveness, I was ‘lukewarm.’ I had a kind of watershed moment when, late teens, I overheard a young guy on a park bench, he was bible-bashing a much older woman. She was gracious, I thought, saying ‘Yes dear, I’m glad it works for you, but that doesn’t mean it works for everybody.’ It made me see many people had thought about the ‘claims of christ’, they probably had been ‘witnessed to’ and decided against religion and led perfectly nice lives. They didn’t have that ‘god-shaped vacuum in their hearts’ as I’d been told. I kept that thought in my huge dissonance box on a high shelf for decades!
    Just curious why your brother doesn’t attend church? Here in the Uk where churches are down to a handful, clinging on by their fingertips to keeping open, I notice their passion to keep services going, they yearn for new people to magically appear, church is everything to them when it seems ridiculous to pay to heat and maintain a building seating 200, when there’s so few they could meet in someone’s living room!

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    Matilda, it is interesting that you saw witnessing in action and realized that just like religion, it isn’t for everyone.

    My brother will say that he didnt like the churches in his area and is avoiding “false doctrine” but I think he doesnt want to get up early or dress up on Sunday. Plus, he is a big introvert and doesnt socialize outside family. I don’t think he has friends outside his wife’s family. Churches in USA are also desperate for younger members and have a difficult time appealing to youth.

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      Oh thanks for the explanation. I am reminded of the advice Screwtape gave Wormwood about how to destroy x-tians and their beliefs. It’s something like ‘Get the x-tian to study and study the bible and tell him correct doctrine is vital, eventually he’ll become a church of one, as no one else has the purity of doctrine he does.’ I know a couple of folks like that, they seem to lead sad lives!

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    I remember talking about fundamentalist Christians with my daughters before they left for college, explaining how the person might be very helpful and friendly(love bombing) but might have an ulterior motive. I left it very open and light, but the warning was still there. I hope you had a similar chat with your daughter.

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    Ah the magic words of the sinner’s prayer. At my grandmother’s funeral my mother happily announced that my grandmother, who for years had experienced full blown dementia, had recently prayed this prayer and was therefore in heaven. Clearly she had no idea what she was praying, but never mind, she said the magic words. Even though I was still a believer at the time I still found this ridiculous.

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    Autumn, yes, I warned my daughter about the love bombing too! My daughter is very concerned with equal rights, so once she finds that a group promotes treating women or LBGTQ people or any other group differently, she will most likely lecture them about their bigotry and exit. She isn’t shy!

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    Dave, yes, the sinner’s prayer – everyone in my family suddenly got saved on their deathbed no matter how much dementia they suffered. Praise Jesus.

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    Thanks for the post ObstacleChick… makes me laugh and cringe to remember how I tried so hard to save the woman who bacame my wife. She was Bahai (still is) and I tried with all my might to get her to realize her folly. She was kind and did not relent, telling me that it was okay to pray to Jesus but that Bahaullah was the light for our time or some such dogma from the pits of hell… Eventually, over a number of years, I gave up my evangelical rebel faith and though I felt no desire to adopt another faith practice, I did feel considerable desire to marry the woman who endured my Christianizing nonsense. As for door to door, absolutely never could I witness that way, though as a child I did go door to door selling newspaper subscriptions and scored myself the eternal reward of a new Sony transister radio and a trip to Toronto to see the Maple Leafs play.
    ObstacleChick, I am sorry to hear that your bro is happily blinded by religious illness. I have several family members long gone that way as well. My sister married a man who would do a religious studies doctorate and become the dean of a religious college dedicated to produce warriors for Christ. My older bro went gah-gah some time ago over the Pentecostal experience and can no longer speak without preaching. One learns to live is such cognitive dissonance as if it was normal in somewhat the same fashion a family goes on while a parent becomes an alcoholic drug addict. As an atheist, I feel no need to preach to others but sometimes I get hooked by shallow preacher types and get into discussions that are mostly a waste of time for all involved. Sometimes, I miss my siblings though they are right there beside me, perhaps praying for me. But gone.

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Bruce Gerencser