A friend of mine attended a children’s service once where they did the Fear Factor approach to salvation. They sat a roomful of kids, ages six and up, in front of a huge backlit white sheet. In a silhouette on stage, you could see a person lying on an operating table. Suddenly, another silhouette fired up a real chain saw and started cutting the person in half. The person getting chain sawed wailed and flailed in agony as a children’s minister told the kids, “This is what God does when he removes sin from your life.” From the guts of the person, things like a television, a radio, and other sinful items were pulled out.
Meanwhile, the kids in the audience were bawling. They were terrified and couldn’t stop crying. Someone behind a curtain was getting murdered, and God was somehow involved. Parents and helpers rushed around the room, trying in vain to calm everyone down. The whole event concluded with an altar call to accept Chain Saw Jesus into your life.
This is a tricky topic to write on because we’re told to fear the Lord and there’s definitely fear present there. But I think events like that are why I have friends who say things like, “I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in church. I became a believer when I was older, so I didn’t have to unlearn much.” Those kids would have accepted My Little Pony into their heart that day if it would have ended the chain saw sin massacre. The emotion they learned, the threshold they had to cross that led to God, was raw fear. He’s terrifying. He wants to hurt you. He wants to cut you in half to remove your sin.
I think sometimes this happens because we want to take a shortcut to salvation for someone. We want them to be saved right this second and right this moment and love can feel like it’s taking too long. Love is messy and slow. It unravels at God’s speed, not ours. Shame is faster. Fear is faster. And if the goal is to get them in the door, then fear becomes a pretty good method.
To tell you the truth, terrifying someone into a relationship with God is also easier. Love makes us vulnerable. I have to throw myself out there and be honest and naked and open to getting rejected if love is what I give to you. But fear doesn’t require any of that. I can yell and scream and try to intimidate you without getting hurt or taking any real risks. Love is harder because it demands that I get personally involved in your life. Fear doesn’t carry those same requirements.
But it does come with things like chain saws. That’s probably the other reason we try to scare people into a relationship with Jesus. Fear has better props than love, whose primary prop is a twirling ribbon. Look it up, it’s true.
(This originally appeared in the Stuff Christians Like book. If you want to pick up a copy, click here!)