Recently, the Huffington Post Religion section made a big deal about the ‘dark version’ of the gospel that has been preached by the ‘establishment’ for the past 1800 years. It ‘s a quick read, and you can see that article in its entirety here. The author also states that
“Many Christians confuse the idea of free will with duress… A ticket to heaven if you receive the message of the gospel, but if you refuse you’ll be thrown in the eternal torture chamber, but it’s your choice. Is such an offer free will? No. That’s duress. It’s not only illegal within the world’s court system, it is… nothing short of crazy.”
Robert E. Coleman, (Master Plan of Evangelism) says that;
“Freedom is a constituent part of human nature. The will of man is corrupted by sin and inclined toward evil, but his willful choice is free. By God’s all-sufficient grace everyone can freely choose the way of life or death (Deut. 30:15). Rightfully used, freedom to choose enables man to respond to God’s will and receive all his blessings. There could be no character development without it.”*
If Coleman is correct, then it’s going to take a lot more than a little ‘duress’ to override someone’s ‘free will.’ I do not believe that a bad or ‘dark version’ of the gospel can eliminate or even suspend entirely, a human’s will. I do believe that many times, the gospel is presented in such a fashion that it appears to be two bad cops beating a signed confession out of a perpetrator in an interrogation room. And, I think that is what the author of the Huff Post article was lamenting over.
One of my former seminary profs, Dr. Henry Krabbendam said;
“Any evangelist whose expressed objective is to “get his audience to heaven” or who holds out the prospect of proverbial “pot of gold at the end of a Gospel rainbow,” in whatever terminology it is couched, must immediately be viewed with deep suspicion. Regrettably all too many evangelists have fallen victim to an approach that is openly or subtly man-centered.”
“When an ‘evangelist’ gives the audience the choice between the horror of hell or the bliss of heaven, and between a life of abundance and wealth or an existence of trouble and at best survival by show of hands or otherwise, it invariably and unanimously will opt for heaven and abundance. Such is the natural inclination of man.”
A human’s natural inclination, will, or choice is not eradicated by a forceful gospel or even the idea that there are eternal consequences for rejecting God and his gospel. But, I get it. I’ve often said that the way you ‘win’ a soul is the way you will have to maintain it. If fear and force are your tools to win people to your way of thinking, then those will become the tools of your religious trade as well.
As a missionary on the field, I’ve seen countless people come and go with the intention of ‘getting the gospel to those that need it.’ I’ve seen the worst of pressuring gospel presentations along with worst of accompanying attitudes. I’ve also been blown away by the depths of love shown toward complete strangers and the message of hope that accompanied it. I’ve seen people ‘receive’ the gospel under the most conducive of environments and others receive it for politeness sake, or to just get the ones preaching it ‘out of their hair.’ I’ve seen lives changed in an instant and others edged ever so slightly closer to Jesus. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen someone make a choice ‘under duress,’ and then continue to live under that duress (with respect to the gospel), for any length of time. I’ve seen far too many converts made that flounder along in their religion than disciples of Jesus made through the preaching of the gospel who in turn follow Him faithfully through many difficulties and hard choices. (Acts 14:21-22) Human free will always kicks back in, the ability to choose is there, and choices are made. A few questions;
1. Have you personally ever felt that you made a religious decision while ‘under duress?’ Would you describe the situation?
2. When Jesus told His hearers, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Matthew 10:28) Or, “I said to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you shall believe that I AM THE LIVING GOD, you shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24) Aramaic Bible in Plain English, was he putting His audience ‘under duress’ and suspending or taking away their ‘free-will/free-choice?’
3. Assuming that the gospel is preached correctly and completely, isn’t there a bit of natural ‘duress’ built into it?
*Coleman, Robert E. (2011-05-01). Heart of the Gospel, The: The Theology behind the Master Plan of Evangelism (p. 240). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.