Hell's Best Kept Secret
Reviewed date: 2008 Jan 29
Modern evangelism neglects the Law
In Hell's Best Kept Secret, Ray Comfort explains why traditional evangelical methods of preaching the gospel result in an eighty to ninety percent backslider rate. Modern evangelism preaches a man-centered gospel, presenting Jesus as the answer to worldly problems. Come to Jesus and you'll have a happy, fulfilled life. So what is Hell's best kept secret? The preaching of the Law. Without an understanding of the seriousness of sin, the sinner still views himself as a pretty good person. Unless and until the sinner experiences a genuine conviction of sins, his conversion is a false conversion. Without conviction, there can be no repentance; without repentance, there is no saving faith.
The four step RCCR method of witnessing
Comfort explains a four step method for witnessing to unbelievers.
- Relate - Begin by making smalltalk or by discussing something mundane. The idea is to take a genuine interest in the person you're talking to. Engage them in conversation and put them at ease.
- Create - Find an opportunity to swing the conversation to spiritual matters. Giving someone a tract can be an easy method to do this, or you can do something as simple as asking "Do you have a religious background?" If you are alert for opportunities, you can work it into the conversation naturally:
Let's suppose that you've been discussing with a friend the problem of increased violence within our society. You decide to swing to the spiritual by saying, "What this nation needs is a return to Christian principles."
- Convict - Use the Ten Commandments to lead the sinner to an understanding of the seriousness of his sin and of its consequences.
- Reveal - When you see evidence of conviction of sins, then you reveal the good news of the grace offered by Christ's sacrifice.
The step that modern evangelism skips is the conviction step. This is an incomplete presentation of the gospel. Without preaching the Law, the sinner does not know he is in danger of eternal punishment. Once he understands the Law, his sin is revealed to him, and he understands the need for a savior.
Conviction of sin vs. Fire and brimstone
It is critical that the sinner understand that the consequences for sin are reasonable. If you just preach fire and brimstone without explaining the Law, the sinner may turn to Jesus out of fear of hell, but he won't really believe that he deserves hell. He will be a bitter convert, and there will be no genuine repentance.
Jesus and the woman at the well
Comfort relies heavily on the story of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well to lend support to his witnessing methods. He uses it as an illustration of the RCCR (Relate, Create, Convict, Reveal) method of evangelism. Essentially, he develops his whole theory of evangelism from this story. While the RCCR method is compatible with Scripture, it is not reasonable to draw an entire theory of witnessing from this one story. That's neither the purpose nor the intent of the biblical account, and for Comfort to interpret it that way raises some questions about his handling of Scripture. However, the RCCR method of witnessing is still in accordance with scriptural principles and should not be discounted just because Comfort defends it poorly.
The parable of the sower
More troubling is Comfort's interpretation of the parable of the sower. He interprets the parable as an illustration of false converts vs. true converts. That is, a false convert will appear to believe, but when persecution comes, his true unbelieving nature will be revealed. A true convert will flourish under persecution. The conclusion Comfort draws is that a new convert should not be sheltered, but should immediately be exposed to trials and persecutions so that he might grow in faith (if he is a true convert) or fall away (if he is a false convert.) Unfortunately this is contrary to most of the New Testament teaching. The New Testament is composed largely of letters written to various churches, to encourage them in their faith, to teach them how to live righteously, to flee from temptation, and to warn them to guard their faith. Comfort, on the other hand, seems convinced that a true convert needs none of this.
That brings us to the concept of follow-up. Ray Comfort uses the story of the Ethiopian eunuch as proof that following up on a new convert is unbiblical.
Follow-up is not Biblical. It's not. You check it out. You won't find follow-up in Scripture. You can find feeding, nurturing, discipling, but you'll not find following new converts. ... The Ethiopian eunuch was left without follow-up. Why? Because if he's genuine, he's going to last, if he's false, he'll wither and die.
This is a mistreatment of Scripture. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is not about follow-up. In fact, the Bible is silent on whether there was any follow-up. Comfort interprets that silence to mean there was no follow-up. Such a conclusion is warrantless. He would do well to heed Thomas Campell's motto: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, the Bible is silent about follow-up but Ray Comfort speaks about it at length. Comfort's methods risk leaving a new convert without the resources to grow in understanding and faith. Considering that most of the New Testament is letters written to various churches to teach them and encourage them to grow spiritually, I'd say that follow-up is very biblical. We can't just leave new believers without any help. They can easily be misled by false teachers.
Ray Comfort believes in the Calvinist idea of once-saved always-saved. This perhaps explains why he values follow-up counsel so little, and why he is so eager for a new convert to immediately experience trials and persecution. After all, if he's really saved he can't be lost, and if he isn't saved then his hypocrisy will be exposed. But even with a once-saved always-saved view, would it not be better for a false convert to receive follow-up counsel and sound biblical teaching before he is exposed to persecution that might drive him from the church? It might be that teaching that brings him to the point of true conversion.
The main point
The issues of Ray Comfort's interpretation of Scripture and his belief in once-saved always-saved are secondary to the main point of Hell's Best Kept Secret. The main idea of the book is the preaching of the Law to bring conviction of sin. In this, Ray Comfort is absolutely correct. One can agree with him in this matter while disagreeing with his interpretation of parables and with some of his doctrine. (And of course, if you're a Calvinist then you probably agree with his doctrine, you dirty heretic.)