The Importance of Persuasion in Telling Others About Jesus
What’s the standard response to a child asking endless questions?
- Why must I go to bed?
- Why must I eat my vegetables?
- Why must I go to church?
The universal response is “because I say so.” It pretty much works 100% of the time until the child grows up. At which point, subtlety is now needed. Telling a teenager “because I say so” might bring the desired results, but it also brings along resentment.
Likewise, Christians must be nuanced in how they engage non-Christians. Always proclaiming truths without enticing explanations breeds resentment. Yes, there is a time to be direct, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
What is persuasion?
The word persuade is synonymous with alluring, enticing, and wooing. When something is enticing, it lights up your affections to the point where they overcome you.
Sibbes says to “preach is to woo.” That’s a remark that gets to the core of what Christians are to do in evangelism. It’s wooing non-Christians with the truth, beauty, and goodness of the gospel.
Wooing isn’t the same as coercion. The non-Christians can refuse and pursue other enticing offers.
Christian and non-Christians are lovers
People aren’t computers, simply requiring the correct data input to output the desired results. They are lovers, driven by what they love. James 4v1–3 tells us it's our desires that drive us. In Luke 6v45, Jesus says that it is out of the heart’s overflow that the mouth speaks. All this confirms that we’re first and foremost lovers.
We can’t help ourselves but be lovers; the same way moths can’t help themselves but be attracted to light. You will go to any lengths to satisfy or protect your loves.
Persuasion speaks the language of our affections.
Lovers need to be enticed with the beauty, goodness, and truthfulness of the gospel — meaning we are to persuade them.
Why does persuasion get a bad rep?
Many examples exist of persuasion being used in a harmful way. It’s understandable why people are reluctant to use it in evangelism. Yet, misuse mustn’t detract from the usefulness of persuasion. Many people misuse hotels, but that doesn’t mean they mustn’t be used. Same for persuasion.
Augustine confirms you can persuade by truth or falsehood. He notes,
“for the [false teachers] tell their falsehoods briefly, clearly and plausibly, while the [true teachers] shall tell the truth in such a way that it is tedious to listen to, hard to understand and … not believe it”.
If Christians abandon the art of persuasion, they are simply ceding ground to peddlers of falsehoods. This is a shame since Christians are the ones who possess the gospel of God, which is altogether true, excellent, and beautiful.
Examples of proper use of persuasion
Have you ever considered the Bible? How it’s put together? It’s the most influential and persuasive book ever written. All forms of persuasion can be found in it, from the use of various genres, miracles, parables and imageries, prophecies made and fulfilled, logical arguments, etc. If the Bible itself uses persuasion, I think it’s safe to assume we can use it too.
In the Bible itself, you have countless examples of teachers using persuasion to make their point. One of my favorites is when the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin of killing Uriah and taking Bathsheba — 2 Sam 12. Nathan doesn’t simply proclaim the truth; instead, he uses a parable of the rich man who takes away the one lamb from the poor man.
The prophet persuades King David.
As Colossians 4v2–4 tells us, we should be wise as a serpent in how we engage with non-Christians, mainly when communicating the gospel to them.
Just as a parent will use all the tricks in the book to persuade a child to swallow their medicine, Christians should use all forms of persuasion to tell others of the gospel since they are convinced that it is for their good.