What are your thoughts on proselytization? Most people have strong feelings, few just don’t care. Many evangelicals strongly emphasize the sharing of their faith (although they would prefer the term evangelism to proselytization). Some Christians have sincere personal beliefs but do not think that it is fair to share those with others, respecting people’s existing religious beliefs. Some people are deeply offended by any proselytization and would like it banned by law (it already is in some work contexts). Even many evangelicals dread the sight of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses on the doorstep. What do we make of all this?
Odds are that although people have strong feelings on the issue, they have not thought deeply on it. Much of what passes for conversation on proselytization is more emotion than anything. That is why I am thankful for Elmer Thiessen’s Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defence of Ethical Proselytizing and Persuasion. Few have ever considered the ethics of evangelism. Thiessen provides a major contribution to the subject, examining the question of whether proselytizing can ever be ethical. While acknowledging many of the abuses, Thiessen provides a solid philosophical defence. The author demonstrates that proselytizing goes on all the time (e.g. Apple vs PC), and that religious content cannot make it unethical. While the freedom of the person not wanting to be proselytized must be respected, so must the freedom of the religious person to proselytize. Thiessen demonstrates that the presence of proselytization, religious or otherwise, is a benefit to society. At the same time, Thiessen calls Christian to hold firm to ethical standards of evangelism. Even such popular tactics as “friendship evangelism” be unethical if we pretend to be friends just to get a religious conversion. This book is well researched, written in readable style and dealing with an issue important to both religious and non-religious people. I highly recommend this book, especially for people actively involved in evangelistic, apologetic or pastoral ministry.