You must Woo non-Christians with Jesus
What's the standard response to a child asking endless questions?
Why must I go to bed?
Why must I eat my vegetables?
Why must I go to church?
"Because I say so".
It works 100% of the time until the child grows up. At this point, subtlety is now needed. Telling your teenager "because I say so" is a recipe for disaster. It will likely breed resentment.
Likewise, Christians must be nuanced in how they engage non-Christians. Always proclaiming truths without enticing explanations breeds resentment.
Yes, there is a time to be direct, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution.
What is persuasion?
The word persuade is synonymous with alluring, enticing and wooing.
When something is enticing, it lights up your affections to the point where you are overcome by them.
Sibbes said to "preach is to woo".
That's a remark that gets to the core of what Christians are to do in evangelism. It's wooing non-Christians with the gospel's truth, beauty and goodness.
Wooing isn't the same as coercion. The non-Christians are free to refuse and pursue other enticing offers.
Christian and non-Christians are both lovers
Persuasion speaks the language of our affections. People aren't computers that can be programmed with the right inputs.
Instead, they are lovers, driven by what they love. James 4v1-3 tells us it is your desires that drive us. In Luke 6v45, Jesus says that it is out of the heart's overflow that the mouth speaks. All this confirms that we're first and foremost lovers.
"My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love carries me." — Aurelius Augustine.
We can't help ourselves but be lovers, the same way moths can't help themselves but be attracted to light. You will go to any lengths to satisfy or protect your loves.
Lovers need to be enticed with the gospel's beauty, goodness and truthfulness - meaning we are to persuade them.
Why does persuasion get a bad rep?
Many examples exist of persuasion being used in harmful ways. It's understandable why people are reluctant to use it in evangelism. Yet, misuse must not detract from the usefulness of persuasion. Many people misuse hotels for sexual immorality, but that doesn't mean hotels should be banned. Same for persuasion.
Augustine confirms you can persuade by truth or falsehood. He notes, "for the [fasle teachers] tell their falsehoods briefly, clearly and plausibly, while the [true teachers] shall tell the truth in such a way that it is tedious to listen to, hard to understand and … not believe it".
If Christians abandon the art of persuasion, they are simply ceding ground to peddlers of falsehoods. This is a shame since Christians are the ones who possess the gospel of God, which is altogether true, excellent and beautiful.
Examples of proper use of persuasion
Have you ever considered the Bible? How it's put together? It's the most influential and persuasive book ever written. All forms of persuasion can be found in it: various genres, miracles, parables and imageries, prophecies made and fulfilled, logical arguments, etc. If the Bible uses persuasion, it's safe to assume you can use it too.
My favourite example of persuasion is when the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin of killing Uriah and taking Bathsheba – 2 Sam 12. Nathan does not directly confront David with the truth; instead, he uses a parable of the rich man who takes away the one lamb from a poor man. This short story persuades King David of the evil he had done.
As Col 4v2-4 tells us, we should be wise as a serpent in how we engage with non-Christians, mainly when communicating the gospel to them.
Parents persuade reluctant children to eat vegetables because they know it's good for them. Christians must also convince reluctant non-Christians of the truth of Jesus because it's good for them.