“If you died tonight, where would you go, heaven or hell?” How many times have you heard that question used in evangelism? How many times have you used it yourself? What if I told you it might just be the wrong question and counter-productive to the aim of Christ and His Gospel? What if I told you that those types of questions almost always lead into preaching shallow, false, and misleading gospels? (Galatians 1:8) The question’s intent, if we’re honest, is to provoke a conversation which will hopefully lead to ‘conversion.’ While I’ve seen it be effective in exactly that way, it rarely, if ever, leads to genuine disciples or discipleship.
If you were to stop using that question, just as test for a while, what other ‘lead-ins’ or ‘ice-breaking’ questions would you use to get to the gospel?
This is a particularly important question because it gets right to your understanding of the gospel. How many of you would be at a loss in evangelism if that question were removed from your evangelistic efforts? I would suggest avoiding it for a time, as an exercise of learning, and see what else you could come up with.
A better question might be something like this: “If you live through this day, will you follow Christ? The answer to that question is certainly more heart probing and certainly more difficult to answer. Maybe you’re thinking, “But Isn’t “Today the day of salvation?”
Let’s look at where that comes from; The first part comes from Isaiah 49:8 “This is what the LORD says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you.” NLT
The idea brought froward from it’s original use is “an accepted time” and “a day of salvation, NOT “the accepted time” and NOT “the day of salvation“. This means that now is an accepted time and now is a day of salvation but it IS NOT the ONLY accepted time and NOT the ONLY day of salvation.
With that, I think we can agree that it’s manipulative to try and get people to ‘make decisions’ or ‘join the decided’ in haste slathering them with slick sayings, shame, and fear. Maybe the question does more to expose the person asking it than the one whose soul they’re trying to win. Maybe it shows that they’re people who are inclined to trust in their own good works, or who are keeping themselves in check by a self-imposed sort of fear or artificially inflated emotions. Perhaps it’s thought of as purposeful in expounding the hope of Christ, but, I think it’s just leads down the same old path to a scripted, curt, and dangerous gospel that ekes out a repeated response or ‘sinner’s prayer.’
Even when people respond with confidence by saying, “Oh, I’m definitely going to heaven,” some are poised to pounce and tell them why they’re not. It’s almost as if they’re thinking to themselves;
“I’m not going to let this person keep me from my holy agenda.”
“I’m not going to let the enemy make God’s word of no effect.” (Mark 7:13)
“I’m going to make sure that they’re really believers with my prescribed set of litmus questions,”
“I’m going to save them from their bad assumptions and from hell.”
Have you ever seen evangelizer get disappointed when coming across someone who already believes? Yeah, me too. It’s just one less notch on their “salvations” stick. It grieves me when I hear someone report X #’s of “salvations.” It usually means that X #’s prayed a “sinner’s prayer,” which usually means that X #’s heard an anemic gospel and X #’s of converts instead of disciples have been made.
The “If you died” question reduces the gospel unnecessarily and minimizes the opportunities to share God’s full message (The Gospel of the Kingdom), show God’s love consistently and over long periods of time, and subjects God’s possible demonstration of power to our schedules. Chances are that most of our evangelism methods are ill prepared to allow all those things to happen. It’s easier for us to give our shtick then it is to model our saviour.
The “If you died tonight” question takes God’s Judgement seat and makes it OUR pulpit from which to preach OUR version of the Good News to obtain our desired results.
“The “if you died tonight” question attempts to induce labor on the fetus of reconciliation and repentance before, and often without, sufficient revelation”
“If you died tonight” makes the Gospel out to be a “Hell Pass” so they can walk through the hallowed halls of our shallow institutions. Remember when Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full?” He wasn’t talking about heaven, He was talking about the here and now. He was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the gospel of the copping out of life.
So instead of asking someone the question “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” Pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven,” for yourself and for the persons you encounter along your evangelistic paths. Maybe instead of asking “Where do you think you’ll spend eternity?” It might be better to ask “With whom do you want to spend eternity?” or “If you lived through this night, would you repent and believe? Would you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Would you love your neighbor as yourself?
This post was revised and updated from a post in 2012