I was on a website recently (no url, to protect the guilty…); in the corner was a counter, which purported to tell the visitor how many people had died and gone to hell since s/he arrived, with a brief homily underneath suggesting that active participation in evangelism would be an appropriate response. The crowning glory of this particular piece of crassness was the fact that whichever cheap/free html counter the website owner had borrowed counted to one decimal place. When I left, apparently, 153.7 people had been irretrievably damned during my visit.
This came back to mind as I drove my daughters to school and nursery this morning. Matt Redman’s Facedown was in the car CD player, and I listened to the penultimate track:
Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame
We’re going with a passion for your name
We’re going for we care about your praise –
Send us out.
Let worship be the heart of mission’s aim
To see the nations recognise your fame
Till every tribe and tongue voices your praise –
Send us out.
What is the proper motivation for mission/evangelism? The website with which I began suggests concern for the lost; this (in less crass forms) has a noble history, not least in Evangelical spirituality: Frank Houghton’s ‘Facing a task unfinished’ for instance:
Where other lords beside Thee
Hold there unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life and love and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night.
Matt Redman’s song offers an alternative vision, where the motivation for missional engagement is not the fate of the lost but the glory of God. This is hardly less ‘conservative’ (if such labels worry you) – Jonathan Edwards would have agreed; so, I seem to recall, would John Piper. (In fact, probably a view of mission as serving God’s glory is the mark of the consistent Calvinist, and the other a more Arminian take.)
Which is right? 2Cor 5:6-21 is interesting in this context. Just reading vv.10-11 might seem to offer support for a ‘evangelise them because they’re going to hell’ position, but the wider passage seems much more focused on the vision expressed in the Redman song: ‘we make it our aim to please him’ is the controlling thought.
So what? Well, two things perhaps. If this is right, then one of the standard evangelical justifications for a traditional doctrine of hell, that it is important as a motivation for mission, is removed. Second, on this understanding our motivation for evangelism would be less about the results and more about faithfulness to a calling, which feels right to me. Love for God simply comes before love for neighbour, necessarily.