Do we need to tell people the bad news about sin, judgement, the law and Hell before we tell them the good news about Jesus?
My home church in Woolwich was very strong on this point, even to the extent of making paradoxical claims. I vividly remember the preacher announcing that "The Gospel is Bad News!" - and most of the congregation responding with warm approval.
Of course, the preacher - Harry Alger on this occasion - did not stop there. To the best of my recollection, he continued along these lines:
"The Gospel is bad news to to those who are going to Hell! It is bad news to those who reject God! It is bad news to those who refuse to bow the knee to Jesus!"
Many other people also follow this line. A few years ago, I was given a tape by Ray Comfort titled "Hell's Best Kept Secret," which was about this subject. After some initial reluctance (I am not entirely sure I want to know about Hellish secrets) I listened and discovered the 'secret' is that people will go to Hell unless they repent and accept Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.
The point in the tape is not that this is a secret to people who are already Christians (we teach it quite openly in church) but that we keep it a secret from those who need to know - the people who are not Christians yet. This doctrine does not feature in our evangelistic messages, and this is why our evangelism is mostly ineffective.
This message sounds plausible. There are a number of good reasons why we should consider it:
If my memory serves me correctly, this last point was made very clearly and powerfully on the tape. The picture Mr Comfort gave was of people on an aeroplane: the engines are on fire, and it will shortly crash. What do you say to people? To use the approach of many evangelists, the message goes somethng like this:
"Please listen to me. It would make me - and many other people - very happy if you were to put on the parachute you will find under your seat, and jump out of the door over there. You will find the parachute is extremely comfortable, and you will enjoy the experience far more than the meal we have just served you. Please trust me: it will be a really good idea for you to do this quite soon."
Of course, in real life, the message would go something like this... we hope!
"This is your Pilot speaking. It is absolutely vital that you stop what you are doing and listen to what I have to say. Please do not panic, but I have to tell you that this plane will shortly crash. If you do what I say, we can all get out alive. If you wish to survive, you must immediately put on the parachute you will find under your seat, then form an orderly queue at the nearest door, and jump out of it as soon as you get the chance. Count to five and then pull the ripcord. Try to remember to bend your knees as you land. Good luck."
In this message, you don't try to convince the passengers that what you are offering them will be comfortable or enjoyable, and you do not need to encourage them to put down what they are presently occupied with, to pay attention and act on what you are saying. The messge is clear: do as I say, or perish. Jumping out of a plane with a parachute may be difficult, dangerous and unpleasant, but none of that matters: however difficult or unpleasant it may be, it is better than the alternative. You speak this message with authority, because you know it is true, and you know that the only chance the passengers have is if they listen to you and do as you say.