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Spiritual Fear-mation

October 29, 2010

Have you ever been to one of those “Halloween alternative” events that are common in the Evangelical world this time of year? A local church transforms their building into an interactive set to conduct a type of walk-through drama. Church members portray characters in the story, including human beings, angels, demons, even Satan. The “story” presented is usually a “If you were to die tonight where will you end up?” The options are “heaven” or “hell”, and the drama helps you experience an interpretation of both (while likely frustrating most Bible & Theology scholars). Following the experience there’s a chance to speak with a person (trained in basic evangelism) who can “counsel” you and perhaps lead you in the “sinner’s prayer”. I actually attended one of these events as a teenager, and honestly was a little freaked out by it. While I admire the immense effort that goes into these productions, I wonder about the effectiveness of their message.

I was reminded of this experience while reading chapter 4 of James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows. He begins with a personal story from his college years, about a woman who frequented a local college preaching “fire and brimstone” sermons at the students. It’s a compelling story, yet sad as well.

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ participate in this sort of thing and see it as an effective way to communicate with folks in our culture. While I share their passion for Christ and find their desire to reach out admirable, I do wonder about the method and the message. The message communicated by these evangelistic events seems to be overwhelmingly fear and guilt, rather than a more holistic presentation of the gospel.

Questions:

  • What are the downsides to an evangelistic approach centered on fear and guilt? Or does it matter? What is incarnated when fear and guilt are emphasized in this manner?
  • Does the message of these events provide hope for what God is doing in the present?
  • Are the ways these “Halloween alternative” type events talk about sin: helpful/hurtful/something else?
  • Rather than forming people in the way of Jesus (a life patterned by love, grace, humility, service, sacrifice), do practices like these instead teach a message of self-preservation?
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