10 Reasons Why People Reject the Gospel

Jeremy Bouma on March 30th, 2018. Tagged under ,,,,.

Jeremy Bouma

Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) has pastored on Capitol Hill and with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Michigan. He founded THEOKLESIA, which connects the 21st century Church to the vintage Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and makes the vintage faith relevant at jeremybouma.com.

Evangelism in a Skeptical World

Evangelism in a Skeptical WorldIf the gospel is the “good news about Jesus,” then why do so many people reject it? If Christians bear this “good news,” how can they better share it using methods that are effective in today’s post-Christian world?

Evangelism in a Skeptical World offers actionable advice for making the unbelievable news about Jesus more believable. It also explains why people often reject this news in the first place, equipping Christians to make it more enticing to non-Christians they know.

Here are at least ten reasons why people often reject the gospel, and what you can do about it.

1) The gospel doesn’t fit their plausibility structure

Plausibility structures “are accepted beliefs, convictions, and understandings that either green-light truth claims as plausible or red-light them as implausible.” (41)

For example, most would red-light a claim of a UFO landing as implausible. Although Christians would green-light the truth claim of Jesus rising from the dead as plausible, such a claim may not fit into a non-Christian’s plausibility structure.

Chan explains how community, experience, and facts and evidence build such structures. And if the gospel doesn’t connect with these three buckets, people will often reject it.

2) Christians haven’t looked for common ground

When the apostles evangelized, they looked for some common ground that both they and their audiences already held to be true as an introduction to sharing the gospel. Chan writes:

For a Jewish audience, that common ground was Scripture. But for a gentile audience, unfamiliar with Scripture, the common ground was God’s common grace, general revelation, universal human desires, and their cultural authors. (67)

This isn’t to say Christians shouldn’t use Scripture when presenting the gospel; we just don’t have to begin there. Instead, common ground is key to ensuring someone doesn’t reject the gospel outright. Learn more in Chan’s book about how to create such common ground through everyday evangelism.

3) They don’t understand sin and guilt

Though sin has a prominent place in gospel presentations, our culture doesn’t understand the main model we use to describe it: the guilt model of sin. Instead of guilt, “shame is becoming more prominent in our postmodern society.” (78) We need to leverage this insight when we share the gospel.

Chan has switched from using guilt language to shame language when he presents the gospel: “I’ve been using the language of shame—we have ‘shamed God,’ we have ‘not been honoring God’—and the room is silent. All eyes are on me. They get it. It’s personal.” (79)

If we don’t make the switch, people may reject the gospel because they don’t understand sin. Read more about the various models for sin that resonate with our culture in Chan’s book.

4) Their questions aren’t answered

In the 1980s, Chan grew skillful at answering tough questions about his faith. Soon he shared his strategies in church talks to help Christians answer tough questions like “How do you know there’s a God?” or “How do you know there’s life after death?”

But in the 2000s he gave the same talk at a youth conference, and the audience was neither impressed nor persuaded by his answers. What happened?

“I found out that they weren’t even asking—or being asked—the tough questions that I was answering. They had a new set of questions. And they wanted a new set of answers.” (102) When people reject the gospel, often we’re either answering questions they aren’t asking or not answering the ones they are.

5) Ethics are a barrier to belief

“When our non-Christian friends think of Christianity,” Chan reveals, “they don’t think of good news, salvation, forgiveness, restoration, justice, mercy, or love. Instead, they think of hate, fear, power, and violence.” (115) For a variety of reasons, they think Christians are unethical.

However, non-Christians consider their stances as ethical because they empower, liberate, and restore justice to the marginalized. Their ethics are about choice, equality, rights, or justice. “In postmodernity, Christians are viewed as the oppressors and haters while non-Christians are viewed as the ones on the side of love, justice, and mercy.” (115)

In other words, we have an image problem, and people often reject the gospel because of it.

6) The gospel isn’t real in Christians’ lives

In past generations, the first question people asked was, “Is it true?” Now, another question is all that matters: “Is it real in your life?” In other words, do we walk the walk and talk the talk?

This should lead us to think about how we evangelize to our postmodern friends in a way that communicates authenticity. While the gospel is something we speak, words that communicate God’s truth, there is also a sense in which we ourselves are a component of how the message is communicated. (116)

When we speak words of truth, they must be embodied, and in love, so that it is real in our lives. According to 1 Thessalonians 1:5, the Thessalonians didn’t just believe the gospel to be true, they saw it was real by Paul’s authentic living. Similarly, people will reject the gospel if it isn’t real in our lives.

7) Wrong evangelistic pedagogical methods 

Evangelism in this postmodern day requires a lifestyle change when it comes to our pedagogy. Chan explains:

With moderns, we used to employ this logic:

Truth, Belief, Praxis

  • This is true.
  • If it’s true, then you must believe it.
  • If you believe it, now you must live it.

But with postmoderns, I believe a better pedagogical sequence is:

Praxis, Belief, Truth

  • The Christian life is livable.
  • If it’s livable then it’s also believable.
  • If it’s believable, then it’s also true. (125)

When our non-Christian friends see how the Christian life works they will discover it is livable, leading to believability. “And if they see that, they might also acknowledge that it’s true” (125).

This kind of pedagogical method is key to helping people embrace the gospel, and in his book Chan will show you how to leverage it in order to help people embrace the gospel.

8) Culture’s existential cry goes unanswered

The gospel isn’t merely a set of propositional truths about Jesus. It answers the existential cry of culture, and we need to “speak to the audience in their culture, using the language, idioms, and metaphors of their ‘cultural text.’” (158)

As an example of such ‘texts,’ consider the cultural phenomenon of serving drinks in cafés using Mason jars. Chan explains:

The message of the Mason jar is that we need to be connected to a transcendent, grander narrative. God sends us his Son, Jesus, to offer us a grander narrative. If we connect ourselves with Jesus, then Jesus will connect us with God’s story, history, and tradition. With Jesus, we will find the transcendent narrative that we’ve been longing for. (166)

If we don’t connect the good news of the gospel to the existential cry of culture, people will often reject it. Chan shows you how to create such connections in Evangelism in a Skeptical World.

9) Christians try to win the mind before emotions

If tomorrow you woke to the headline, “The Bones of Jesus Have Been Discovered!” would you believe it and leave behind your faith in Christ’s resurrection? Probably not. Why? “Because we have prior truth commitments that override what we are hearing and seeing.” (248)

Chan explains the point of this thought experiment:

It’s to show…exactly what it’s like when we present facts, evidence, and data to our non-Christian friends about Jesus’ resurrection. It’s no different for them. When they hear us talk about Jesus and the resurrection and our belief in God and the Bible, we are announcing what is contrary to fact for them. (248)

Which is why “we need to win over the emotions before we win over the mind.” (248) When we win over emotions, the door is open to short-circuit prior truth commitments.

10) Prior beliefs aren’t adequately dismantled

After establishing common ground, we need to use reasoning and evidence to dismantle a nonbeliever’s presuppositions using a method to answer today’s defeater beliefs:

  1. Resonate: Describe, understand, and empathize with their presuppositions.
  2. Dismantle: Show a deficiency or dissonance in their presuppositions.
  3. Gospel: Complete their cultural storyline with the gospel.

Unless we can dismantle someone’s faulty worldview and present the Christian worldview as an attractive alternative, they may reject the gospel.

Evangelism in a Skeptical WorldRead Chan’s book Evangelism in a Skeptical World to understand how this method can be used to dismantle a variety of faulty beliefs, including: all religions are the same, a loving God wouldn’t send people to hell, science disproves Christianity, and more.

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People reject the gospel for a variety of reasons. Evangelism in a Skeptical World will equip you to make the unbelievable news about Jesus more believable, overcoming their objections and helping them hear the good news about Jesus.

Engage this book yourself to learn new methods to communicate the timeless message of the gospel in culturally relevant ways.

You might also like these posts on evangelism:

What Is Evangelism?

4 Reasons Not to Share Your Faith

4 Reasons Why People Don’t Evangelize

  • Dominic Stockford 4 months ago

    Those who are dead in their sin cannot be tempted by human means to love life. They are dead, they can do nothing. We present the Gospel, the Holy Spirit may or may not choose to enliven the individual.

  • Larry Bosch 4 months ago

    I think the Bible is pretty clear that there is only one reason people reject the Gospel. They have not been born again. God has not saved them. (Romans 8:30, Ephesians 1)

    Thankfully our job is to preach the Gospel. God does the rest. Our technique has nothing to do with whether someone will come to faith. We just need to be faithful to give a Biblical Gospel message.

    • ZA Blog 4 months ago

      Thanks for reading, Larry. Curious about your thoughts on this article (12 Ways Evangelism Is Changing), which addresses your comment “We just need to be faithful to give a Biblical Gospel message” in item #9. ^Adam Forrest

  • Jim Confer 3 months ago

    I somewhat disagree with coming up with new ways to share the gospel, to fit the culture. That’s like having to re-invent the wheel for millennials. People haven’t changed. sin hasn’t changed, and the gospel will never change. Like Paul stated, in 1 Cor 2:1-5, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Remember, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Let the Holy Spirit continue to do His work, as we present the gospel. There’s power in the Word, use it!

  • Alan Ernst 3 months ago

    Amen to what you stated Mr. Jim Confer.

    Regarding truth and a belief….
    A truth can change a belief, but a belief does not change a truth. Therefore am not 100% on board with this:

    “But with postmoderns, I believe a better pedagogical sequence is:

    Praxis, Belief, Truth

    The Christian life is livable.
    If it’s livable then it’s also believable.
    If it’s believable, then it’s also true. (125)”