Penn, Atheism, and Evangelism

Below is a video of Penn Jillette, one half of the famous Las Vegas Penn and Teller magic and comedy show, discussing evangelism.  Penn uses the word “proselytism” in his monologue and we can discuss how Christians have historically understood the difference between evangelism and proselytism, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on Penn’s argument.

Penn is an outspoken atheist.  You can do a google search and find plenty on Penn’s position on God and religion.  Yet, he strongly believes Christians should be witnessing with all their might.  His basic argument is nothing new; Christians have been saying this since Jesus uttered the Great Commission.  His argument is that if people sincerely believe that there is eternal suffering for those who don’t believe, how in the world can they keep their mouth shut?  It’s a great question.  There is, unfortunately, an easy answer.  We’re scared.  We’re scared of being reviled.  Scared of being persecuted.  Scared of making someone upset.  Scared of coming across as a fanatic.  Scared of seeming unintelligent.  Of course, Matthew 5:11 helps us here.

I don’t think many so-called atheists would agree with Penn.  More likely you are going to have strong, and often angry reactions from those who don’t believe when others start talking about Christ.  But such a reaction just doesn’t properly think the situation through to the end.  The point at the end of the day is not to push “religion” on someone.  The point is not to change the way someone lives.  The point is not to make people feel guilty.  The point is to save people from eternal suffering and to lead them to the source of true joy during this life.  When that ultimate purpose is considered, how can others genuinely get upset at Christians who share their faith?

Unfortunately, part of the problem is the manner in which evangelism is done.  Too many use evangelism as a chance to brow beat and be confrontational.  This is especially true from the pulpit.  If our evangelism is instead driven by love, then we would help lessen the negative reaction from those to whom we witness.  Penn was obviously overwhelmed by the sincerity and kindness of this man who witnessed.  You can tell from the video that even though Penn remains an atheist, a powerful seed was planted.  That is all any of us can do.    

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