Placing Christian Conversion on the Endangered Species List
By Rudolph D Gonzalez
There are powerful voices at work today, intent on suppressing the unique
claims of Christ in North America. In the modern spirit of religious
toleration, many people-among them some Christians-decry the historic appeals
made by Christianity to turn to Jesus. For the record, biblical conversion is a
rejection of life lived in sin and rebellion from God, and a turn to restored
fellowship with Him through Jesus Christ. There is not the slightest hint of
salvation as merely the conversion from one religion to another religion.
Nevertheless, many misinterpret the call to conversion as an appeal to abandon
one's culture, insofar as a native religion is couched in culture, in exchange
for a westernized version of Christianity. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Yet, perception is everything theses days, and many have vested
interests in keeping the fabrication alive.
Thus, they suggest that in a religiously diverse community, such as North
America continues to become, there is no place for what they perceive as the
continuation of American imperialism. Such people promote their brand of
open mindedness and respect for all religions, which no honest
Christian would deny. However, these cannot be practiced at the expense of a
Christian's core beliefs and convictions. What often underlies these charges
against evangelism is the desire for a new macro-ecumenism that seeks
to create common acts of worship among all religions-usually, at the expense of
doctrinal tenets vital to the very nature of the gospel of Christ.
Excising the evangelical mandate, however, is out of the question, if one
wishes to keep any semblance of biblical Christianity. And in spite of those
who see Christian evangelism as a radicalization of the faith, the
call to conversion is integral to its nature. Biblical Christianity is nothing
if it is not good news for all of humanity. The call to conversion and faith in
Christ comes from the very lips of Jesus (see Matt. 11:28-30; John 10:9;
14:6).We should ask ourselves, in light of the growing chorus of voices that
call for Christians to reject the active evangelization of all peoples-should
historic, biblical Christianity be banished from North America today?
Evangelism: A Candidate for the Endangered Species
Recently I have done some reading on the subject of
endangered species in North America, and I was impressed by the ardent efforts
of people to save fragile species, many of which cling to existence by a
thread. The zeal of these activists is remarkable. There is little compromise,
especially when the veritable survival of a species may be at stake.
The evangelical church in North America can learn something from those who
seek the revitalization of endangered species. It struck me that those who
desire to suppress evangelism would, in actuality, accomplish the extinction of
the Christian faith in North America, were they to be successful. The
extinction of animal and plant life on our planet is a serious issue, and one
that we should all do something about.1 The possible extinction
of a religious point of view from our culture-which, by the way, has been its
fertile habitat since the mid 17th century-ought to be no less
A basic presupposition for most of those who seek to preserve endangered
species is the firm belief that all animal and plant life is valuable and the
world is diminished whenever any species, no matter how scarce or insignificant
it is, becomes lost by its extinction. The presupposition is not without value
to the issue of the survival of evangelical conversion.
Question: Should the call for conversion be made extinct? The
number of forces working tirelessly to save the rose purple
sandverbena, do not begin to match those that are working to see the
exclusive appeal to faith in Christ go the way of the dodo bird.
I ask more specifically: Is not an idea-in this case the gospel-as valuable a
thing as the white-footed tree-rat? And is not such an idea worth
Never mind that for me the gospel is more than a mere idea on par with human
thought. I openly confess my belief that the gospel is the divine message of
God for fallen humanity. The gospel is the story of God's unconditional love to
save any and all who confess Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, I am not
arguing that the gospel is worth salvaging because it is the Word of God. To
the secular person, religious truths are the product of an elevated human
consciousness. I am arguing here that even if we should concede that the gospel
is mere human thought and reflection, it ought to be speech that is allowed
without infringement. By their standards, those who see it as human speech
should be honest enough to concede that it is a point of view, which should be
allowed to thrive or perish in the free market place of ideas.
If anything makes us unique as a human species, it's our ability to reason
and think. And what is the product of thought if not ideas? Erase ideas from
the world and you erase humanity's unique fingerprint. No endangered fern,
reptile, or crustacean leaves such a legacy, and yet we value their continued
Why should an idea-and one as powerful as the gospel-be accorded any less of a
guarantee for its survival?
When preservationists argue for the protection of endangered species they
usually appeal to some variation of three basic reasons. First, from a research
perspective, all species have potential medical and medicinal properties that
may benefit humanity. Plants often fall into this category. Second,
environmentalists argue that endangered species are necessary to maintain
biological systems in balance. The presence of insect populations, for example,
can have tremendous ramifications for the world's ecology. The third reason is
one of aesthetics. Proponents insist that all species ought to be protected if
for no other reason than for the sake of human enjoyment. Thus, virtually all
mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish fall into this category.2
I would like to marshal the same three reasons to defend the gospel from those
who would see its extinction from our daily conversation. First, we must ask if
the gospel fits the criteria of it having potential medical value. Certainly,
it does not in the same way as an endangered plant might have a quality that
could lead to the cure for a disease. But, then again, it is ideas that
ultimately advance the therapeutic potentialities of a species. Without an idea
the potential remains dormant. In this sense, ideas are exponentially more
powerful and valuable. And it is beyond doubt that the gospel has a 2,000-year
track record of therapeutic value to the human race.
Take prison recidivism, for example. Anthony Brooks, a correspondent for
WBUR-the Boston-based National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate-investigated
whether Christianity makes a measurable difference in the lives of prisoners.
In his article entitled, "Leap of Faith," Brooks examines the Inner Change
Freedom Initiative, a faith-based prison program founded by Chuck Colson.
Recidivism is a national problem: about 40 percent of prison inmates end up
back in jail within three years of being released. Compare that to Inner
National operations director Jack Cowley says, of the first hundred or so
inmates who went through the first Inner Change program in Texas, only six have
landed back in jail. That's an arrest rate of just 6 percent. Cowley says it's
the religion that makes the difference.3
Many people have been liberated from self destructive vises by the power of
the gospel. Countless hospitals exist today because of the gospel. Multitudes
of people have surrendered to the mission field to help in the most deplorable
spots on the earth because of the call they receive whenever the gospel is
unapologetically proclaimed. Christian relief agencies abound. While there are
always exceptions, most people who undergo biblical conversion are made the
better for it.
This first reason is basically an appeal to the unique properties that are
lost when a given species succumbs to extinction. We appropriately value
endangered species for their uniqueness. We understand that if we lose a
specific plant or animal species, all the others combined do not recover the
loss of the one. This is why industries are often denied access to an area for
the sake of an endangered plant or fish.
We reason that if the spottedowl is lost to us, all the
horned owls in the world do not a spotted owl make. Do we not see why
it is equally important to champion the right, and the necessity to let the
voice of the gospel be heard for what it is? It is a unique message, unlike
that of other religions. And if it goes, all the other religious messages
combined do not equal its singular message.
What about the second reason? Does anyone truly believe that if the gospel
were silenced it would not be a profound loss for the North American culture?
Recently, we heard of the burning of the Iraqi National Library in the
aftermath of the war. Nearly two-thirds of the books in the library were burned
to ashes. The tragedy was reported as a loss to the world, and rightly so. Why?
Is it not because we know that the history and knowledge of ancient
civilizations contained in those books and manuscripts were truly priceless?
And what was in those volumes if not the thoughts and reflections of past
It is legitimate to ask how some ideas can be deemed more costly than gold,
while the gospel-which arguably has had a beneficial impact on our world-is
treated with such disdain?
For example, communism, as a political theory, is largely a failed experiment.
Recent history has shown this in dramatic fashion. And yet, I doubt libraries
across the globe have discarded all the writings of Marx, Engels, and others.
Why not? Again, it is necessary to preserve even flawed ideas in order to
provide context for understanding our history. Together they provide background
to where we are as a thinking people. In fact, their absence would leave a void
rendering some aspects of contemporary culture indecipherable. The presence of
millions of evangelicals in North America and beyond is unintelligible apart
from the born again conversion experience. If the gospel goes into
extinction because of political correctness, what does that say about the
millions who have found meaning and significance in the experience?
We must admit that the gospel is intrinsically offensive to people. It tells
us we are all sinners and in need of God's grace through Christ. However, since
when has offensiveness been the criteria for extinction? The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife agency does not use pleasantness or offensiveness as criterion when
deciding which species to protect. Is the endangered razorback sucker
fish not offensive to people throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, New
Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, who have had to modify their water
management for a fish that weighs no more than several ounces? What is often
characterized as offensive, however, turns out, rather, to be unique. And
because it is distinctive we go to great pains to salvage it from extinction,
regardless of the offence to other interests.4
Finally, some species are rescued from extinction primarily because of the
enjoyment they offer humanity. The California condor is a prime
example. Nearly extinct in the 1970s, today it flies over the Grand Canyon for
all visitors to enjoy. Does the gospel have human enjoyment value? It does if,
by enjoyment, we mean entertainment in the classical sense. Watching the
California condor soar is certainly enjoyable, but it is more than that. It is
entertaining. Let me explain. Seeing this great vulture spread its 10-foot
wingspan won't make you laugh. Its majestic presence as it soars in the sky
will capture your undivided attention. Similarly, the Bible message is sheer
entertainment in the most profound sense.5
With its open invitation to one and all, its message of unconditional love
will hold the reader. Its message of grace grips the mind and will not let go.
Arguably, no other book has entertained the mind of man more than has
the Bible. Is the gospel entertaining to humanity? You bet!
Not long ago I was confronted by an Orthodox Jew who berated the efforts of a
group of evangelical Christians to evangelize a community where there was a
sizable Jewish presence. The man stood no more than a foot away and virtually
screamed directly into my face. He went on for about five minutes, accusing
Christians for the Holocaust, and of attempting to adulterate Jewish culture.
There were three other evangelicals who fully believed that I would be allowed
to respond to his charges, but the man was not interested in an honest and
civil discussion. No sooner did he finish his tirade, but he stormed out,
giving me no time to respond.
I have reflected much on that event and have concluded the man believed his
message was all important, while mine was of little significance. He accused
evangelicals of cultural genocide-and worse-and ultimately did not consider the
Christian message to be worth a hearing. In the end, his actions reflected what
many would like to see happen to Christianity. Enough with the evangelistic
appeals for conversion-no one wants to hear it. But, is this right? On all
counts, even the most ardent detractors of evangelism ought to concede that
because there are so many in the culture who would see the demise of biblical
calls to conversion, evangelism should be placed on the endangered list of
ideas. For, if they had their way, it would disappear from public discourse,
and the world would be diminished by its absence. This must never
The American society prides itself in being a culture where the marketplace
dictates if an idea will have continuing relevancy. So, what of the gospel? In
spite of those who would silence the message, the call to repentance and faith
in Jesus Christ is as relevant today as it has ever been. Countless people who
turn to Christ daily testify by their lives of the power of the gospel to give
life and to give it abundantly.
1 According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the time of this
report, there are 746 species of plants and 516 species of animals on the
endangered species list in North America alone (see http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/TessStatReport
and http://species.fws.gov). Earth
Witness, an environmental organization has compiled a list of species of
animals that have become extinct in North America over the past two centuries
2 The foregoing reasons are clearly articulated in the Endangered Species Act
signed by President Nixon in 1973.The law has the expressed aim of protecting
species of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and
the full article.
4 The charge that Christianity is offensive to people from other cultures is
baseless when we realize it isn't only in North America that people are
confronted with the claims of Christ.This happens regularly through native and
indigenous expressions of Christianity all around the world. North American
evangelicals are not advancing some unique American custom. They are engaged in
the gobal mandate of the church. Only in North America and the West do people
make such a charge. The fact is, not only do Christians evangelize around the
world, but also Islam, in particular, is actively involved in proselytizing
efforts of its own. Chris Wright, The Uniqueness of Jesus, (Grand
Rapids: Monarch Books, 1997), 28.
5 From the Latin entretenir, meaning to hold between, to maintain in the
mind.Webster's New International Dictionary, Second ed., s.v.,