Redeeming the Godly Work of Proselytization | The Exchange
Before all-things streaming, when television was simpler and there were only 3 options at a time (at best), one of my favorite shows was the original ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ with Monty Hall. The game show concept is simple: offer audience members prizes over and over again to entice them to keep choosing to risk what they have in hopes of something even better. The catch is that at any moment, the prize that they’ve already won can be lost to something with little to laughable value, like a goat or a bag of rocks. The game show has also spawned a philosophic and mathematical problem known as the ‘Monty Hall Paradox.’ The Paradox has to do with how to pick the one of three doors most likely to have, say, a car instead of the goat.
The host of the show has the knowledge that the contestant does not. There are no probabilities to calculate for him. He alone knows where the car, the blender, and the goat are always. I’ve watched the show enough to know that the host also WANTS the contestant to get the good prize, the car and not the goat. Regardless, the contestant must choose, and they must choose blindly, regardless of what statistical methods we could possibly employ through the Monty Hall Paradox.
In a few ways, there are some striking similarities to this scenario when it comes to God’s plans and desires for us. If we can liken God to the host of the show, He wants us to have the very best prize. He knows what is behind each door or path. Unlike this scenario, however, God is not tempting us to gamble our good things with worthless things. He is not taking away our prizes with laughable alternatives. Most importantly, He is not withholding his knowledge when it comes to what’s behind door #1, #2, or #3-that knowledge is made available to us all. So why do so many people still choose the goat over the car?
Let’s make a deal is not just a clever title for an award-winning game show, it is also God’s invitation to us. God offers us the deal of peace, hope, and love through ‘togethering,’ or the deep companionship that comes from knowing Him personally. All the deals God gives are good and the only bad deal is to not take any of His good gifts at all-to reject Him and all He offers.
When we think of examples of moral good, we think of things like physicians doing all they can to heal children from cancer, law enforcement arresting human traffickers, or local non-profits providing food and shelter for the homeless. These are, in fact, deep and abiding expressions of moral goodness.
Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, gives us several contours of ‘moral goodness’ in his seminal work, Critique of Pure Reason. He says moral goodness is objectively good, not based on opinion, that is to say it is not contingent but is intrinsically good by itself; moral goodness expresses higher ideals of values that are transcendent, ideals that are not contained by this world, and; moral goodness is by itself good, meaning that it is not some means to an end. Kant says lots of things, but the point here is that moral goodness expresses the very highest ideals that cannot be contained by opinion or the changing winds of the world around us.
While the word ‘proselytization’ is seen is as the exact opposite of moral goodness, I believe it is itself one of the very best expressions of moral goodness. Historically, proselytization, in its worst expressions, has entailed coercion, manipulation, and trickery. As an expression of moral goodness, however, proselytization invites discussion and engagement, is expressed out of a motivation of love and concern, and has as its aim deep attitudinal, emotional and volitional change.
We refer to this change as conversion. Words like conversion and proselytization are not merely antiquated, but they are seen as expressions of power, of colonization, and control. This is to be expected when much of religious evangelism has been done through a proselytization that is not a moral good. If, however, there really are ontologically fixed realities behind the doors of life and we don’t have to guess what they are, then there seems to be a moral obligation to help others make the right and good decisions about life.
For Christians, we call this ‘help’ evangelism. Evangelism is the Christian expression of proselytization. Christian evangelism is core to what it means to be a faithful adherent to the faith. So important is evangelism to the Christian that one could argue that a Christian who does not evangelize is not living out a full or authentic Christian faith. The primary reason for this goes back to the concept of moral goodness.
If the Christian truly believes that she has real knowledge about what is behind the three conceptual doors and does not help others to know that same knowledge, she has not merely failed to express moral goodness but rather is complicit in the demise that comes from choosing in ignorance things that have grave consequences for life and the afterlife. Evangelism for the Christian is both a moral duty and an expression of devotion born out of a relationship of love with God and, by extension, love of others whom God also loves.
Evangelism is the highest expression of moral goodness. That is not to say that there aren’t other moral goods. Remember a moral good stands on its own as ontologically good. We do not serve the homeless in order to proselytize. This practice is exactly what has desecrated Christian evangelism. No, we serve the homeless because it is an end in itself, a moral good that cannot be diminished by doing it by itself and for itself. Having said this, however, evangelism is simply the very highest expression of moral goodness because it deals with consummate or eschatological realities bearing upon the eternal soul of all. One can cloth the naked, feed the hungry, free the slave but eventually, these same people who are made in the image of God, without being converted will all suffer a much worse fate than cold, hunger, enslavement and the like-they will suffer eternal separation from God in a place of suffering. This is at least the conviction of Bible-believing Christians, so we evangelize, in part, because it is an expression of moral goodness based on the concern for the eternal state of people.
Unfortunately, even among Christians, eschatological categories like wrath, hell, damnation, and eternal separation from God are rarely talked about-even from our best platforms and pulpits. This reality does not negate their ontological standing-these categories are real and the real consequences behind door #3. Again, the great news is what’s behind these doors is not unknown to the host, God Himself. They are also not unknown to the Christian who is tasked with the moral good of proselytizing or evangelism.
We are tasked with this out of the love of God who wants to give all people all of the blessings behind all of the doors of life and also to save us from each and every pain, heartache, and ultimately, eternal hell and damnation. It is a moral good and requisite expression of faith to help those around us make the right and good decisions about God, life and the afterlife. As we help them, we are asking them to risk what they have in hopes of something even better, to make a deal, knowing what they will win in exchange is eternally better than what they now possess.