The title of this book alone is fascinating – “The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of Proselytizing and Persuasion.” What on earth could he mean by the Ethics of Evangelism? Well, evangelism, or Proselytizing, while seen as a staple diet of Christian life, is becoming frowned upon in our society. People see the whole process of evangelism or proselytizing as “enforcing your view upon them” and thus seen as both arrogant and offensive.
Thiessen’s book, which is a substantial study, argues that proselytizing (whether religious or otherwise) is not inherently wrong and can even be a good thing; an expression of care and concern for others. The core issue for Thiessen is HOW one proselytizes – whether in the religious or secular context. For Thiessen to proselytize is to lead someone to a change of belief, behavior, identity, and to a sense of belonging. Thiessen compares moral proselytizing with immoral proselytizing. The heart of this discussion revolves around 15 criteria to distinguish between the two; Dignity, care, physical coercion, psychological coercion, social coercion, inducement, rationality, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, motivation, identity, cultural sensitivity, results and golden rule.
Does our proselytizing / evangelism involve any coercion, physical, psychological or social? Do we speak truth? Do we uphold the dignity of the person we are speaking to? What is our motivation? Are we sensitive to the cultural aspects of the person we speak to? And perhaps the biggest thing to recognize, especially for Christians, is the golden rule – do we operate under the assumption that the other person has the right to proselytize as well.
This is a fascinating and valuable book for Christians but especially for those who are evangelists. While Thiessen is clear in his writing this book requires and deserves energy and time because of its depth. It is not a ‘quick’ read, but one to be taken slowly and purposefully. To do so will reap great benefit.