One of our large electrical items gave up the ghost a little while ago. When we went to get a new one, the website of our retailer of choice sang the praises of the thing we were going to buy. If their website was to be believed, it was one of the greatest purchases we were ever going to make.
Imagine our surprise, then, when I received a phone call from them after placing an order. It was one of their sales team trying to flog us some insurance. Now, such as they want to do that and I can see how some people might feel happier having it. No problem with them making the call. But I was surprised by their particular sales technique.
Essentially, having sold us the item on the grounds it was one of the best electrical purchases we were ever going to make in our life, without doubt, the insurance team tried to sell us insurance on the grounds it was probably the biggest heap of junk we might ever have the misfortune to own. The company did the old switcheroo on us. They sold us something as awesome and then tried to sell us all their add-ons on the ground it was going to blow up or conk out any given minute.
At the point they said, ‘the days of white goods lasting a decade are long gone’, I did dare to ask why their modern goods were inferior to stuff a decade old and whether I was wiser to send it back. If the thing I’d just ordered was so useless I can expect it to break down within the year, shouldn’t I just cut my losses and send it back? I’m not going to spend that amount of money on something I’ll have to replace within a year. Did they want to sell me the item or the insurance, because I wasn’t buying both and I don’t need the latter if the former is so rubbish I’m going to send it back?
Anyway, I was set to thinking how this mirrors some of our evangelistic technique. We can end up ‘selling’ the gospel as the best thing in the world – bordering on a prosperity-lite approach – implying Jesus will come and make your life better. We talk about it being the ‘best news’, we emphasised its vital importance and how it is the grounds of real hope and joy. It’s all about the greatest thing you can ever hear and to which you might respond.
Then someone responds in faith to Christ and we hit them with the hard facts. Now, we tell them, the Christian life is difficult. It is something to be endured. We use words like ‘perseverance’ quite a lot. The ‘better life’ we previously promised becomes clear it isn’t quite the way we appeared to emphasise it before. Jesus doesn’t insist he will take away all our problems and we start teaching people this after we’ve proclaimed the gospel with somewhat different emphases.
Jesus didn’t shy away from this when he proclaimed the kingdom:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)
There are obviously great things to proclaim in the gospel. There are great truths to grasp hold of and believe. But we don’t do anybody any favours if we hit them with a salesman pitch and then give them the old switcheroo.
Of course, if we only present the things that will be difficult, we will end up with a half gospel that misses those glorious truths. If we only present the good stuff, we’ll end up with a half gospel that misses the reality of the Christian life. We need to present the gospel as it really is and be sure we don’t end up telling people one thing and then hit them with another when they convert and come to Christ.