Why won’t people believe the gospel

By Pastor Tom Anderson

Human beings are made up of reason and emotion. Someone has compared the human being to a man riding an elephant. The elephant is our emotions and the rider is our reason. Reason thinks he is directing the elephant according to his purpose. But the reality is that the elephant is just going wherever he wants, to and fro. The rider then makes up an explanation to convince himself he’s controlling the elephant. Bottomline: the emotions are critical in explaining why we chose to believe some things and not others.

When I communicate the gospel, I speak on three levels: 1)there’s the data of the Jesus story; 2) there’s how I say things--the emotional content of my communication; finally there’s the way I live--what the listener knows of my character.

The community we live in also has a key role to play in what we choose to believe. Many Christians find it easy to believe because they are immersed in Christian community. We find it easy to adopt the beliefs of those around us. Likewise many people are immersed in a secular-humanist environment. They are predisposed to distrust Christianity.

When secular people are presented with the Gospel, they instinctively resist it. The resistance comes in the form of what are sometimes called “defeater beliefs”--statements carefully constructed to dismiss Christian truth. Here’s a few examples:

  • I can’t believe in a God that would send people to hell.

  • Christians are judgmental hypocrites.

  • I can’t believe in a God that would allow suffering.

The elephant analogy enables us to admit that we’ll never win over the mind until we first win over the emotions. People need to see our character and we need to speak to them emotionally before they come to trust us and believe the facts of the Gospel. This means we need our Christian friends to become friends with our non-Christian friends. We need to find ways for non-Christians to engage and be a part of a Christian community.

Some years ago we invited a non-believer to join a church mission team. He spent a week painting and roofing houses, watching people pray, worship and serve the poor together. He told me he’d never seen anything like it. He didn’t know such a community existed. He’d never been in a church but now he’d made plans to check it out as soon as he got home.