Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

If you should die today…

I’ve been involved with Evangelism Explosion (EE III) since 1993 as a training method to express one’s faith in words and also to assist someone else to come to faith in Christ themselves. Over the past few years there has been increasing criticism against EE III, especially against the two questions used during the conversation:

  • Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?
  • If you should die today and God should ask you for what reason you should be allowed into heaven, what would you answer Him?

One reason for the severe criticism is because it is said that these questions focus only on heaven. What about our lives on earth? Taken out of context, this may indeed be true. However, within the context of the full conversation it is clear that a new life in Christ is not only possible but is essential while we are still alive. Furthermore, the purpose of this question is mostly to bring someone to the point of seriously thinking about faith issues.
However, it was especially the first question that has been on my mind over the past 24 hours. My wife is a teacher at a high school and also helps to coach the chess team. Another (male) teacher, in his forties, helps her with the chess team. Last night they were preparing the team for a tournament this coming Friday. After they packed up, my wife came home and he went to play action cricket. There he started feeling ill, rested for a while and then decided to return home. On the way back home he had a heart attack while he was driving and died behind the wheel of his car, leaving behind a lovely wife and three great children.
And I thought to myself how many times in my life I had asked a person whether, if he should die that night, he would go to heaven. But I don’t think I’ve ever seriously thought that this would happen. Last night’s episode made me realise once again how vulnerable we are.
I’m busy preparing a series of sermons on the Gospel of John which I will be sharing from this coming Thursday up to 31 May. I’m starting on Thursday (Ascension Day) with John 14, in which verse 6 is the central verse: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” In my sermon I want to explain a few things, one being that the Way is not something physical (a physical road) but that the Way is a Person – Jesus Christ. To be on the way therefore implicates that I have to be united with Jesus Christ and within the context of John, this happens through faith in Jesus, who is Lord and God (John 20:28). Furthermore, our aim, first of all, is to be on the Way, to live daily in close unity with Christ. Our main aim is not to reach the destination. But there is another aspect which we cannot deny, and this is that Jesus says that He has gone to prepare a place so that we can be where He is (John 14:3).
To be united with Christ leads to our ultimate destination: to be where He is, with the Father. And if I’m not sure of my destination, how can I be certain that I’m on the right w(W)ay? Or to change the order: If I know that I’m on the right Way, how can I be uncertain of my destination?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - Posted by | Death, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology

19 Comments »

  1. I’m one of those EE critics. I agree that going to heaven after I die is a benefit of choosing to follow Jesus, and I think it’s important to call people to make a decision. But I think that asking people these questions, ones that Jesus didn’t ask, can completely misrepresent the decision we should call people to make. I think, at least here in America, this method of evangelism has led to a whole generation of Christians who are self-absorbed and have very little concern for the poor, suffering and disenfranchised.

    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hi Wendi. It’s always good to have your comments. Personally I don’t really think that this method (nor most other methods of evangelism) have to be blamed for people’s lack of involvement in social needs. The problem lies with the attitude of the church, and more specifically the church leaders. If EE III (or the Jesus film, or the Four Spiritual Laws, or Faithful Witnesses or Alpha or whatever else is available) is used as a tool to help people come into the right relationship with God so that they can become instruments in His hand to be used in the world, then I don’t see this as a problem. The problem, as I see it, comes in when we focus only on the method and on “winning souls”. And then any method can become a problem.
    Would Jesus have used those questions? No, probably not. Can the questions be misused? Definitely! Cam they be helpful to open doors to relationship building and a discussion on salvation? Without a doubt. But then they need to be used as a small part of a much larger and longer process of building relationships.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  3. Yes, I guess it’s one of those “which comes first” issues. Do these incomplete (or incorrect) methods lead to apathy toward social engagement or do they develop because we already have apathy. My main frustration is that these “are you going to heaven” training methods (IMO) perpetuate the apathy. It sends the message that our MAIN concern should always be getting people into heaven and anything else related to following Jesus is secondary. I see it exactly the opposite.

    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  4. You’re right. Jesus comes first and heaven comes as a result of this. This is exactly what I’m hoping to say in my sermon tomorrow evening. Once we are united with the Way (Jesus), this becomes a life-long journey with Him which eventually ends when we die, at which time we reach our destination.
    Concerning EE III, I want to say that I believe that the office in Southern Africa is probably on the forefront in terms of theological development in Evangelism. The Director of Training and myself have spent countless of hours in discussions on what we want people to understand once they have been trained. The responsibility obviously lies with him, but I am not comfortable when EE III is used as a quick-fix to get people into heaven. So although we may feel differently about the specific method, I think we agree totally on the principles.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  5. It seems that in every age we have different ways of expressing our primal need for a relationship with God. Martin Luther would have phrased the question in terms of finding a merciful God, the Heidelberg Catechism frames it as a question about the only comfort in life and death and a few hundred years later we asked the question about readiness to go to heaven right now.

    How do you think would people frame this very basic question right now? Does EEIII’s questions still capture the essence for us today?

    Comment by Piet Steyn | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  6. Piet, I think you made an excellent point. In my opinion, The EE III questions may indeed be becoming more and more irrelevant for a large number of people. One needs to realize that EE III was developed within a culture of people who traditionally went to church, who mostly believed that when you die there is an afterlife and that they would be part of this, because they tried their best to live a more or less decent life. Used in the right way (in other words not as a weapon to force someone into heaven as quickly as possible) I am convinced that the questions can really help to open up a very meaningful conversation. I’ve experienced it many times. But I’ve also been in situations where those were completely the wrong questions to ask and nowadays I evaluate each conversation and then try and decide whether I should use the questions or not.
    Some people have suggested that we should lead the conversation by asking something like: “Do you feel that you are leading a meaningful life?” which is useless, as there are many people who are not Christians who still have a meaningful life – at least as far as they are concerned. Personally I like to focus on the relationship between God and the individual, but this is also not so easy to put into words.
    The EE questions can still be used, I’m sure, in a high percentage of cases where “normal” Christians come into contact with friends and family on a daily basis. As I see once again, since Monday, the tremendous impact that death has on a community in South Africa, this still remains a usable way of getting a conversation going (when done in a sensitive way). For the growing number of skeptics, this is not a usable question anymore. In Africa and Eastern Europe, this approach may indeed work well for some years to come, as in both cultures I think there is a lot of superstition about death and death has another form of reality than for skeptics.
    What do you think?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Reply

  7. Yes, I would like to know what concerned you about the Angus Buchan conference. I just watched the film and the interview with him and there were some concerns that I had, too. Seems most Christians today are being taught not to exercise discernment because it is being critical or judgemental.
    Thanks.

    Comment by D Spence | Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Reply

  8. I’ve used EE III, and though I have reservations about it, and I think it is a very truncated theology, I won’t knock it too much, because it does what it is intended to do — it teaches relatively inexperienced Christians to make a coherent presentation of the gospel. It’s not the full gospel, but you have to start somewhere, and you can’t lump everything in at the very beginning.

    And I’ve seen it work in some odd circumstances.

    Once I was demonstrating it to a group of people who had nothing about it, at a conference on evangelism. We told people to go out in threes from the conference centre to random houses in the neighbourgood, and each team had someone who knew something of EE III, and two absolute novices.

    I led my team to a house in Soshanguve, and there were three people siting outside the back door on beer crates, drinking beer. They gestured for us to go inside and there were some shady ladies in there. It was a shebeen and a brothel. We went out and talked to the three guys drinking beer. As I went through the EE gospel presentation he poured his beer down the drain and said he wanted to come with us. I introduced him to the priest who ran the conference centre/church, and some months later when I saw the priest again, I asked him abut the bloke we had introduced to him, and he said he had become a regular and active member. I’m sure he learnt a lot more than he did through the initial EE gospel presentation, which he heard through boozy ears anyway. It may be half-baked, but it works.

    So to the people who think it’s too bad and should never be used I say, let’s see you come up with something better.

    Comment by Steve | Sunday, June 7, 2009 | Reply

  9. ::sticks head in the sand:: That’s a good challenge, Steve – I’m one of those people who deeply dislikes EE III, but I don’t have anything to replace it with. I’ve done the “approach people in the street and talk to them about Jesus” and hated every second of it. The new methodology (that I’m looking for) isn’t to do with some sort of Gospel presentation (although we – and I – still need that) primarily – it’s first about establishing the context in which that “presentation” (which evokes thoughts of “sales pitch”) can be made.

    And, in South Africa, I don’t feel like I can congruently tell people the story of Jesus without first acknowledging some of the mess that Christians have made.

    And that’s a great deal to do with why post-Apartheid Christianity is of such interest to me, because it’s saying that before we can approach a POST-Apartheid Christianity, we first need to move *through* Apartheid (or racism/separation/privilege/etc).

    My R0.02.

    Comment by Roger Saner | Sunday, June 7, 2009 | Reply

  10. Steve, I deeply appreciate your comment and I think you say exactly what so many others are saying about EE III (and I honestly have reservations about the way in which it has very often been used in the past – and by myself as well.) The fact is – what other method works better. I’ve done Faithful Witnesses which helps a lot in building relationships but does not so much when you need to present the gospel to someone. Alpha has a lot of positive perspectives, but as one of my friends who is totally sold out to Alpha said to me, the problem comes in when someone says to you: What must I do to be saved? Then Alpha doesn’t give the answer.
    I’ve seen the usability of EE decline over the past number of years, but I still believe that EE has a number of great advantages. Firstly it enables a “lay person” to verbalise his faith in a way that makes sense to him / her and which will make sense probably to a large number of friends or relatives of that person. If I’m not sure what I believe, then it becomes virtually impossible to help someone else with faith issues.
    Secondly, we are surrounded by people in church who will readily say that they are believers (in whatever way they see fit to explain this, eg have repented, have been born again, am sure of going to heaven, etc) but, when confronted with the gospel, will admit that they are not really sure about this.
    And as you rightly say: It works, even if it is not perfect. I’ve witnessed people coming to Christ that I would have thought would be impossible, just because someone explained in clear language what it means to be in a relationship with God and why this is important.

    Roger, if you know me, you would realise that I also hate approaching someone in the street and challenging them about their faith. But on the other hand I’ve found so often that people start speaking to me, once they know that I am a Christian, about their own faith. And once again I do know that I have a basic summary in my mind about the Bible’s understanding on salvation that I can share in a way that would (hopefully) make sense.
    I’m the first one to admit that EE is not perfect. But as you also say, what do we replace it with? And I’m asking this question because I do believe that EE needs to supplemented at least by something else that is easy to master and can be used by any Christian.
    Thanks for your comment.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, June 7, 2009 | Reply

  11. I appreciate your post and i have been given a great deal of thought into what it means to “be on the right path” lately. I do believe that Christ died for us and that salvation comes from accepting his sacrifice and repenting, and i accept) But what happens next? It can be so confusing at times to know am I truly on a rightous path or is my path simply serving my own selfish worldly desires? More specifically, I recently graduated from college and could really have an amazing career in the medical field as a critical care RN or nurse practitioner but only if I put in the work…its hard to know if i should give up this amazing opportunity but in the corner of my mind, a little whisper has been telling me that the nearly total time requirement over at least another 5 years would definitely mean that i would not be living a simple life in just serving God and doing his work…it seems like an awful lot of time working for my own benefit (selfserving) However, could it be possible that God’s plan for me is to become an nurse practitioner for some other unknown purpose?–After all, God did give me these gifts such as my education and ability in the medical field. I have been praying on this and also that God would give me clarity and understanding as to what choices would be righous. I would sincerly appreciate any advise or points of view, as well as maybe tips for steps to head towards that right path. Thanks, Sarah

    Comment by Sarah | Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Reply

  12. Hi Sarah, I hope that others will also make an input here. I am always very positive about education, but it is true that one can come to the point where one is running after selfish desires, even when being educated. Speaking from my own background, I realize how desperately we need people with professional medical training to help us in Swaziland in our work in the HIV/AIDS filed. Volunteers who have been here with medical training have been able to help us tremendously. Depending on your personal circumstances, that could be one possible direction to look to, to put your knowledge into practice in serving God and other people. I hope I’m not making it even more difficult for you to decide, but I think it is something that you could consider.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Reply

  13. I realize I’m late to the party here, but I think you all are touching on the inherent problem in any gospel script, whether its the 4 spiritual laws, steps to peace with God, ee, and so on.

    The gospel is richer than any one snapshot can grasp in a simple outline.

    I once led a person to faith based on Romans 8.16 – where our spirit bears witness with God’s spirit that we can cry Abba Father. There is no script on the market for that, but it was the right word at the right time.

    Scripts are helpful outlines to follow. Comments above mine have made that clear, and I use the bridge illustration as my default.

    But they can also answer questions that people might not be asking. I don’t run into too many that actually spend time thinking about heaven, making the 1st question in EE somewhat irrelevant.

    I think that as we mature in our evangelism skills, we should become familiar with as many as we can, so that we can use any of them at any given moment.

    Chris Walker
    EvangelismCoach.org

    Comment by Evangelismcoach.org | Friday, June 4, 2010 | Reply

  14. Chris, thanks for your excellent remark. When I do training in Evangelism Explosion, I always say that there are two things which they need to do to use the method successfully. They need to learn the conversation by heart. And then they need to forget the conversation. In other words, I want them to reach the point where they are so comfortable in sharing the gospel, that it is no longer necessary for them to revert to some “method” in order to do that. The advantage of an outline is that it helps to keep a conversation on track and it also helps the one presenting the gospel to have a good understanding of the gospel. But I absolutely agree with you. For two thousand years people did not have EE III or the Four Spiritual Laws and they didn’t do so badly in presenting the gospel.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, June 4, 2010 | Reply

  15. Ah, but then scripture tells us that God hates it when there is dissension amongst the brothers. So I googled criticism of Evangelism Explosion and only find this post. As a teacher of EE Levels 1, 2, 3, and taken myself also level 4 as well as taught myself Kids EE, and Youth EE I have found most criticisms of EE come from those who have discontinued EE to the point that they did not continue far enough into EE. EE is deep if you get completely into it. So that all of the concerns raised appear to be concerns raised by someone who has not completed all the levels. For example the statement that God would never ask the questions raised in the introduction are addressed in later courses of EE. In addition, it is easy to see that if one has not properly addressed the point of a personal testimony upfront as well as a Church testimony with proper length given to Secular life they could come to the jumping of the conclusions given in your criticisms. This is apparent when some individuals try to turn EE into some numbers game which it is not. To try and cast doubt upon EE is foolish for it is now in every country in the world. New Churches have resulted as product of the Spirit being involved in EE. Sometimes a re-read of Dr. Kennedy’s green text titled Evangelism Explosion is helpful. In addition, if you memorize the scripture from EE Level 4 you will find Jesus residing with a greater resonance on the throne of your heart. We also must guard our minds with the awareness of Satan and his demons who are ever present to garner intellectual criticism against such a successful ministry as EE. Satan 1 John 4:4, ain’t happy with EE. In response to criticism that there is “increasing criticism” towards EE we should be aware that if 100 people were involved with EE you may have what 5 or 10 criticisms. And then 10 years later via the Explosion with 100,000 people involved with EE it is absurd to think that you are still only going to have 5 or 10 criticisms. Playing a numbers game to buttress an argument against EE is a logical fallacy. In regards to a response to the 2nd diagnostic question that God would never ask that question, EE teaches that we respond with the previously memorized verses of Luke 13:25,26 or Matthew 7:21-23. If you don’t know how to respond, EE teaches that you are to look with a smile to the leader in your group who is trained that can respond. If you don’t know what to do you promise to research and return. When you return to the Church you submit your problem upline. EE is not for everyone as EE teaches that many Christians don’t witness because of: 1. Fear of Failure, offending others, embarrassment of their self. 2. They are not properly equipped or plainly speaking they simply don’t know how. 3. They are not sure of their own salvation. (Don’t take this lightly, look at that Great Methodist Little John Wesley, ah but then look at him after his salvation) 4. Suspicious of a canned approach. (So then why is it that I always get yelled at for returning late from delivering a EE presentation which by my timing takes about 10 minutes but I am at the prospects home for an hour if it’s so canned.) That point leads to one presenting the fallacy to themselves that they are canning themself by putting their own gospel presentation into some boxed approach. That is not what EE teaches just like EE does not teach in/out look at the numbers approach. EE can get into so many different areas as I always include a point of Natural Theology as EE teaches wherein I go over Creator God’s gifts to us including that of pain. That pain via grief when someone dies is ever present as God keeps reminding that this physical is temporal. Let us first focus on the eternal life which is what EE teaches in the Faith presentation.
    May the Lord be with us all.
    Doug Bamford

    Comment by Douglas Bamford | Sunday, October 24, 2010 | Reply

  16. Hi Doug, thanks for your remarks. I myself am using and teaching EE (and have led numerous EE clinics) and my personal criticism is not towards the material (as you rightly say, this is deep stuff) but in the way in which people have turned it into a numbers game thinking that they can easily “convert” someone in a few minutes. I place an extremely high premium on building a proper relationship before starting with the presentation and this works very well. Thanks once again for responding.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, October 24, 2010 | Reply

  17. Paul never preached salvation as avoiding a literal hell., which EE is all about.

    Comment by timpaul | Saturday, June 11, 2011 | Reply

  18. I just ran across this blog for the first time and wanted to share my experience. I started EE one year ago and have personally led three to Christ and have been present at visits where many others have been saved. EE gave me confidence to approach a total stranger who met with me this week and prayed to accept Christ. It was the first diagnostic question that grabbed her attention because her father had just died…My point is that we should be sharing more and should be listening to the Spirit’s voice…Tools like EE give an outline to get you started and give confidence…Find a program that works for you and quit knocking those that are working for others.. Thanks..

    Comment by Jewell Price | Friday, February 10, 2012 | Reply

  19. Thanks for the testimony, Jewell.

    Comment by Arnau Van Wyngaard | Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | Reply


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