“Everyone we meet is on a spiritual journey.”
I recently came across this statement printed on a brochure for an evangelistic Bible study. When I see language like this used in church and ministry contexts, my response is twofold. On one hand, it is true that we must start with the unbeliever on his own turf. This means engaging in conversation, learning what he believes, and contextualizing our gospel presentation appropriately.
It is true that everyone we meet is on a “spiritual journey.” Everyone, eternally speaking, is going somewhere. We are either plodding onward toward eternal life or careening toward Hell (cf. Heb. 9:27).
But conversely, I fear that our marketing-based evangelistic lingo reveals a less-than-biblical theology. At times, our soft evangelistic language of our ads and tracts makes it unclear whether we are inviting unbelievers to attend Bible studies or a timeshare presentation. Statements like “everyone is on a spiritual journey” raise challenging missiological questions. In what sense can someone be a “seeker”? Do unbelievers engage in honest inquiry in search of spiritual truth—or, better yet, can they?
In North America, these questions are complicated for by the seeker-sensitive, church growth, and attractional movements. There are certainly truths contained inside of each of the ministry philosophies represented by these movements; churches should be hospitable to unbelievers who visit their gatherings (1 Cor. 14:24), healthy churches should pursue evangelistic growth (Acts 2:41), and a Christ-exalting church is the most attractive gathering in the cosmos (Eph. 3:10).
The implications extend beyond North America as well when we discuss the concept and strategy related to “persons of peace” (cf. Luke 10:6). According to David and Paul Watson, “Persons of Peace have three primary characteristics: They are open to a relationship with you. They hunger for spiritual answers for their deepest questions. And they will share whatever they learn with others.” We must critically ask: do we go out on the mission field to engage honest inquiry, hostile unbelief, or both?
Before we can rush out to preach the gospel, win souls, and make disciples, it is required that we know something of the Bible’s doctrine of man. Scripturally, man is not morally neutral, and neither are his beliefs nor his affections with regard to spiritual realities.