Many Christians in the United States are “practical universalists” who believe that many if not all religions will lead a person to Heaven, according to the son of famed evangelist Luis Palau.
Kevin Palau, president and CEO of the Luis Palau Association, was interviewed on a recent episode of the Dallas Theological Seminary podcast “The Table” about a Barna Group report indicating that half of Millennial-aged Christians think it is wrong to evangelize.
Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at DTS and host of the podcast, commented that he felt that such a conclusion was peculiar given the respondents’ self-identification.
“If you think about the traditional definition of what an evangelical is, and I’m thinking of Bebbington’s quadrilateral, where there are four characteristics, one of those characteristics is you share Jesus,” said Bock.
“You believe that Jesus Christ is the savior, that the Bible is the Word of God, you’re committed to the uniqueness of the Gospel, and you share Jesus. That’s kind of the definition. So we’ve got people in the category who aren’t in the category, or seemingly not in a part of the category.”
Palau, who was involved in the Barna research, explained that he was not surprised by the findings, as he has found in his experience that a majority of American Christians “are skittish about evangelism.”
“They hope someone else will do it, they hope the pastor will do it. They really don’t want to do it themselves. They love and hope the quote attributed to St. Francis is true, ‘Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words,’ and they’re desperately hoping that it’s never necessary to use words,” explained Palau.
“With all the cultural pressures, young people, even if they live in the Bible Belt, they’re affected very much by social media, and it’s just not comfortable to express clearly the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.”
Palau also explained in the podcast that he believes “many people are practical universalists” when it comes to the nature of salvation.
“They wouldn’t really want to be pinned down, but they, practically speaking, feel ‘God is good and loving. Everyone’s OK in the end. I definitely believe in Jesus. I love Jesus. I think it would be great if my friends knew Jesus. But if they don’t it doesn’t really make that much of a difference,’” he said.
Palau estimated that even among evangelical churches, only about 10-15 percent of the congregation actively engage in evangelism.
“We have a lot of work to do to evangelize for evangelism within the evangelical church and bring forth the biblical nature of it, the beauty of it, the joy of it,” he stated.
“I always say to people, ‘If you really believe the good news is good news, if you dwell on that, if the Holy Spirit’s revived your own heart and faith and love for people, you’ll find it easier. But the average person, it’s easier to stick with people that already believe the Gospel, and almost never open your mouth and try to share with someone who doesn’t.’”
Palau’s comments came in response to a Barna report released in February and commissioned by Alpha USA titled “Reviving Evangelism,” which found, among other things, that nearly half of Millennial Christians find it wrong to evangelize.
“Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%),” stated the report.
“Younger Christians tend to be more personally aware of the cultural temperature around spiritual conversations. Among practicing Christians, Millennials report an average (median) of four close friends or family members who practice a faith other than Christianity; most of their Boomer parents and grandparents, by comparison, have just one.”
The study was conducted in May of last year, surveying just under 1,000 practicing Christians and 1,001 American adults who do not meet the criteria for "practicing Christians," including lapsed Christians and non-Christians.
Craig Springer, executive director of Alpha USA, told The Christian Post in a podcast interview earlier this year that the issue might be more a methodological issue than opposing evangelism.
Springer explained that the same research found that 94 percent of Millennial Christians believe that the best thing that can happen to an individual is for them to become Christian.
“The passion for Millennial Christians to see their friends and family come to know Christ is just as strong as any other preceding generation,” said Springer. “I do believe there’s something to look at the methodology.”