Is it Wrong to Confront Unbelievers Head on with the Word of God?

By Mike Ratliff

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38 ESV)

The Emergent Conversation appears to be nebulous, that is, not rigidly constructed. Its defenders even proclaim that this is so. However, it does hold to one standard, which if it did not it would be back on the path of orthodoxy. That standard consists of the following belief, “It is wrong to confront the unchurched (the politically correct name for unbelievers) with the Word of God.” We see this plainly in how they “do church.” The New Testament model of confronting sin head on with God’s truth, which is the law, followed by the solution for reconcilement to Him, obeying the Gospel, is seen as divisive, legalistic, narrow minded, and unloving.

Carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post. It is an excerpt from Peter’s sermon and its result on the Day of Pentecost ten days after our Lord’s Ascension. Notice that the Holy Spirit worked through Peter’s sermon to cut to the heart of those who heard it. This working of the Holy Spirit brought them to that incredible place of knowledge that no matter how religious they are they are; they remain guilty before our Holy and Righteous God. They knew they had no solution to this so they pleaded with the Apostles in utter desperation for God’s solution. That solution, of course, was to repent in belief followed by baptism into the Body of Christ. Forgiveness of sins is found nowhere else and this is the problem all must face. They came to the right realization, which is they knew that they had no solution of their own.

On the other hand, the leaders of the emergent conversation insist that it is wrong to do as Peter and the Apostles did in Acts 2. They say, “We should instead lay aside our desire to preach or share the truths from the Word and spend more time developing relationships and friendships with the unchurched…They often use Jesus as an example, saying He did not confront people but always accepted them for who they were.”1 Is this true? Can this be supported in Sacred Scripture? We must ask this question for it is our only source of unblemished, complete truth for it is God’s Truth.

In his book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, Dan Kimball attempts to use our Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 as an example of our Lord’s non-confrontational style. The woman Jesus met at the well was a Samaritan. Their religion was a hybrid form of Judaism. Kimball states in his book, “He [Jesus] stopped and asked questions of the Samaritan woman (John 4) and didn’t just jump in and say, “Samaritans are all wrong.”2 It is interesting that the chapter that contains this statement is titled “The Church Arrogantly Claims All Other Religions are Wrong.” Is arrogance the motive for giving God’s absolute truth? You see, this is the crux of the contention between genuine Christianity and all those forms that claim to be Christian, but are false. No, it is not arrogance, but obedience to the commands given to the Church by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV) 

When we obediently share our faith we are making disciples and that begins with the confrontation of the Gospel for you cannot make a disciple of an unregenerate enemy of the truth. No, the Holy Spirit must cut them to the heart and that requires them to be confronted with the truth of their utter lost condition before our Holy and Righteous God, including their eternal destiny unless they repent and believe. Carefully read how our Lord confronted the Samaritan woman at the well.

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:5-26 ESV)

It is clear that Kimball is very wrong. Jesus did not just ask questions and avoid confronting this woman with the truth about her false religion and the ONLY true religion, which is worship of God in spirit and truth in Him, the Messiah. No, He did not ask even one question. The emergent stance that direct confrontation is a terrible thing to do is exactly what our Lord did here.

The emergents also hold that offending people with God’s truth is wrong. My brethren, the Gospel is offensive. It is exclusive. It is these things because it is God’s truth, not man-made truth. If Jesus preached and taught as Dan Kimball and the rest of the emergents, along with the seeker-sensitive bunch, insist that is correct then He would have never offended anyone nor would He have been crucified. The center of the message of the Gospel is that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that His is the only way to salvation. The focus of the Gospel is to come to belief now, be sanctified now and through our daily walk, then live in eternity with our Lord in the age to come. The emergent view of salvation is quite different. It is to become part of the emergent or seeker-sensitive movement then live to improve the world now, to bring into fruition God’s Kingdom through making the World a better place. I watched a video the other day in which Rick Warren said this very thing is the goal of salvation. The Word of God nowhere teaches this. Instead, it teaches that the age to come is going to be ushered in as things on this earth are at their worst.

Yes, the emergent conversation and the seeker-sensitive movement appear to be quite different, but they both adhere to the non-confrontational mode of ministry for they are both part of what has come to be called the “new reformation.” This “movement” is ecumenical and seeks to be united with other religions. Those of us who resist this, as we are told to in Sacred Scripture, are seen as obstructionists and enemies of the one-world spirituality and global peace. When I first began encountering the apologists for this paradigm, I became confused because of the flash points, which seemed to bring in some of these folks to attempt to silence me. These points were always scriptural confrontations. Absolute truth, which is only found in God’s Word, is their enemy and any who proclaim it, hold it, and defend it will be accused of being “confrontational” and “legalistic” and an enemy of this “new reformation.” They imply that they are the true Christians and those who resist the movement are only backward in their religiosity.

We cannot “give in” to this my brethren. There is a prevalent lie that is accepted in most of the visible Church, which states that Christians should never be confrontational with heresies or the apostates who hold and proclaim them. This lie is from our enemy. We must obey Sacred Scripture, not man-made religion. When we do this God gives us clarity of vision so that we are able to see the lies very clearly and we can easily see the hand of our enemy in all of the false forms of Christianity and their leaders. They reveal they are false by what they say, both verbally and in written form. The Word of God gives us clear instructions for times such as this.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:13-23 ESV) 

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

1Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Silverton, OR:Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007), p.45.

2Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007),p. 167.

25 thoughts on “Is it Wrong to Confront Unbelievers Head on with the Word of God?

  1. Once again Mike, you have explained with truth and scripture not only the core of the biblical Gospel but also, the split that is taking place within American evangelicalism.

    The emergent/seeker/purpose-driven movement was born out of frustration with orthodox Christianity to appeal to the lost. Unfortunately, in their efforts to reach the unregenerate, they have softened, diluted and out-right ignored the heart of the Gospel message. Without conviction of sin, there cannot be forgiveness of sin. By making the Gospel easy to digest, those in this movement without “rigid construction” are at serious risk of creating a new generation of false converts.

    The sad thing is they see themselves as being successful.
    Mega-churches are overflowing w/people. Those who previously did not go to church appear to demonstrate a changed life. Those who were disenfranchised by the church have returned with enthusiasm for God. Any book that comes out with even a hint of spiritualism becomes a best-seller. It would appear that their marketed approach to “doing church” is working.

    Things are not always as they appear.

    Consider the survey & poll results. Consider how many Christians voted for a Pro-Abortion President. Consider how many Christians believe there is nothing wrong with homosexuality or that Jesus is not the only way. Even the basic tenants of the faith are being re-examined/re-written. Hell, Justification, the Trinity and Biblical inerrancy are being redefined according to heretical teaching authors & pastors.

    With so much emphasis on the social/moral gospel, these new-found Christians are convinced that doing good is what it’s all about. There is more emphasis on providing food for the starving in Africa than there is providing on the truth of the Gospel to that same starving child (not that there is anything wrong with compassion; we should be doing these things). The problem is many have been led to believe that the social gospel IS the Gospel.

    This is where things have become distorted.

    Over at my blog “The Way of Truth”, I’ve attempted to share much of what you’ve written above (though not nearly as clear, concise and as professionally written as yours). As you’ve pointed out, not everyone is in this same ‘camp’. Those in the emerging/seeker/purpose movement are greatly offended by posts like this. Personally, I’ve been ‘reminded’ several times by the Pastor and Elders to lighten up on my blog as the things I’m saying are contradicting to what our church stands for. As a result, my wife and I have been searching for a new church that still preaches the Word and believes in what the Gospel stands for. It’s frustrating and at times, discouraging to take a stand for the truth when those around you brand you as a dissenter who is rocking the boat with criticism of what they perceive to be biblically sound methods for doing church.

    Thanks for the constant reminders of what is taking place out there and more importantly, to remain steadfast in contending for the faith by remaining faithful to the one true Gospel.



  2. Mike, the remnant is getting smaller. We stand in the gap, on the Word of God, which is highly offensive. Those who will believe will hear and respond. I would rather get commendation from my Lord one future day than a thumbs up from emergent and apostate leaders in the hear and now. Keep persevering, Mike. The Lord is speaking through you.

    I am in the process of reading Oakland’s book right now. It encourages me that our discernment is a gift from God that I don’t wish to waste.


  3. Excellent truth here, Mike. Thank you again.

    And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand:* repent ye, and believe the gospel.* Mark 1:15

    *Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.*Heb 13:9a

    Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, *giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils* 1Thes. 4:1

    For such are false apostles, deceitful workers,* transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. *2 Cor.11:13

    By the *word of truth*, by the power *of God*, by the *armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left* 2 Cor. 6:7 ~~which is:

    The Sword- Heb. 4:12

    ‘glad to see ref. to Faith Undone by Roger Oakland– awesome, informative, scripturally sound book!


  4. Pingback: Is it Wrong to Confront Unbelievers Head on with the Word of God? - Reformata

  5. Oh, Mike… please do read the actual book instead of only pull quotes from articles or research which isn’t accurate. If you read what I wrote, you will see I talk about sin and repentance, hell and the whole chapter on world religions is about explaining why we must be able to intelligently articulate why we believe Jesus is the way of salvation and I give examples of how to express that. The whole point is saying that we don’t ever hold back truth, but how we say it with love, listening, dialogue etc. is what then gives us a voice where we now aren’t trusted as a voice.

    From what I know of you, I do believe you want to be blog posting with integrity, so I do wish you would take the time to fully research and read things before making reports which don’t share the whole story and what was actually written. Thank youso much! If you ever have any specific questions of clarification, always feel free to email me. You have my email by when I post this it shows you.

    Anyway, peace to you!



  6. Good morning Dan. My question for you is, “Did I accurately quote from your book?” There were several things about that chapter that raised red flags for me beginning with the title, “The Church Arrogantly Claims All Other Religions are Wrong.” To many of us who are addressing these issues, this is the crux of the problem between the “Emergents” and the “Orthodox.” You see, our Lord said that He is the only way to eternal life and that way is defined for us succinctly in the New Testament. Therefore, Christians are to proclaim Christ and Him crucified as they preach the exclusive Gospel. It is not arrogance to claim that other religions are wrong, but biblical truth. I am not saying that some do not abuse this and are arrogant because I have witnessed this very thing myself, however, their error does not mean that what we preach is false. I believe we must preach the Gospel from the motivation of both love for our Lord and love for those we are preaching to.

    I will send this reply to you in an email as well.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  7. Hey Mike. Been out of the circle for a few. Good post. We have figured out after a number of years, that for the most part, the best thing to do is not read other ‘mans’ books. Stick to the Word and a concordance along with a good dictionary, and we avoid other peoples interpretations. We have the Holy Spirit in us for a good reason. Because of the rampant false ‘teachers’ out there, which outway the true ones by droves, to just let the Bible interpret the Bible is a good way to avoid mans messes.


  8. I agree with that Paul and Luann, but I needed to address this issue and I had to “document” where the unbiblical non-doctrines were coming from. Glad to have you back!


  9. Hi Mike! You didn’t accurately do that, as you pull-quoted which as you know can be used to mean anything. I could pull quote a sentence form this blog of your words and make it sound like you are saying something entirely different than you meant.
    What I get horribly sad about, is when people don’t read someone’s writings but make assumptions. I stand by the title of the chapter you mention – “the church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong”. The key word is “arrogantly” and my point of the chapter. Jesus didn’t “arrogantly” confront the woman at the well. He confronted her, but had dialogue – he didn’t walk up to her and slam her. If you would only have read the chapter, you would see how I tell the story of a Hindu who I was in conversation with. We talked about her faith, I listened and how through dialogue she ended up understanding that Jesus is the way of salvation and she became a Christian. I explained how all paths cannot lead to God, and clearly explained the gospel. But how that happens is the key I was addressing. I told another story of a young man who was pluralistic in his view point and after hanging out with him and talking, I eventually had the opportunity to explain how “all roads don’t lead to the same God” – but different “gods” and therefore they cannot all be right. I then explained why I believe Jesus is the way, truth and life – and He then put faith in the resurrection of Jesus which He didn’t believe before. I “confronted” an opposing belief, but earned trust with him (and her) first.

    When you listen to the stories of many non-Christians you hear how they don’t trust Christians, we are arrogant and judgmental etc. and therefore we don’t have a voice in their life. But if we break the stereoptype of coming across arrogant, then they are more open to listening. We have the reputation of our tone and approach being arrogant. So it isn’t changing the truth, it is changing when we come across arrogant with our attitudes, not listening, no dialogue. The Pharisees knew Scripture and could quote it, but their hearts were hardended. So the way we speak, our tone, our actual interest in the other person as a human being makes a difference. So many sad stories are there when Christians don’t even take the time to learn about the person, they simply force information which then comes across arrogant by their tone.

    So you have made assumptions I did not write we don’t have confronting of beliefs happening, which is incorrect and I tell stories in the chapter to show that. In our culture, we have lost our trust and voice due to stinky attitudes. As we live out more Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit lives, people will not see us as arrogant and listen more to what we have to say. Will some still reject the gospel? Yes, of course. But they then hear and listen and many do trust Jesus if we don’t come across arrogant in tone, but loving, still holding to the truth and communicating the truth.

    And for Paul and Luann, if you don’t think you should read books apart from the Bible – isn’t reading blogs like this the same as books?

    Anyway, hope that makes sense. You made very strong accusations in your post, which were not correct and because you didn’t even read the book is why I am defending what is not true. If it was true and that it was I meant, I wouldn’t even take the time to post anything here.

    Thanks again! And peace in Jesus,



  10. Dan,

    So, you are saying in that chapter that it is okay for me to talk to an unbeliever about the exclusivity of the Gospel as long as I don’t do it arrogantly? Well, I certainly agree with that, if that is what you mean. However, in your book you did not tell the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well as it is stated in scripture. You stated that Jesus asked questions and dialoged with her, but a careful reading of the text in John tells us that He most certainly confronted her, asking no questions. He dealt with her false religion and because of the work of the Holy Spirit in her, she believed. We cannot forget that it is not the messenger who saves anyone it is the work of God in the heart that does that. We are to preach the Gospel with love and obedience. I nowhere advocate being arrogant in this nor do I know of any personally who are. I have seen videos and have actually witnessed people trying to share the Gospel from some other motivation, but not very successfully. However, I am convinced that God will save those whom He has chosen regardless of the messenger.

    The missing part in most people’s understanding of evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is as if most believe it is up to one’s power of persuasion when it most certainly is not. We give the facts. We tell the truth. We know that it is God who saves people, not us.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  11. Hi again! and I am going to be off internet blogs for a few days so won’t be responding back quick after this. But Mike… you still are not reading the whole context. She asked Jesus questions, and He responded with answers that would provoke further questions. He didn’t just see her and then jump into condemning her. The dialogue He had with her, enabled her to discover who He is as well as have her agree on her situation with Jesus. My point in that story is that there were questions being asked by the woman – Jesus then gave her partial answers which by what He responded with causes her to ask more questions. Again, Jesus didn’t see her – and then do all the talking, tell her she is wrong and who He was. His example was engaging in dialogue, allowing her to ask questions.

    OK… gotta dash but my usage of that was then leading to how I have seen over and over again, how we need to be more engaged in 2-way dialogue and with care and listening and Jesus also went into her world. He went to Samaria which “religious” people wouldn’t normally do AND he broke the taboo of even speaking to a female! That is why His disciples were uzzled when they saw Him talking to her. So our lessons learned are that Jesus went out of Hi way to meet those in need of a Savior, even to places religious people wouldn’t go (provided it did not compromise scripture) and that it took engaging in 2 way conversation. I am certain Jesus’ attitude with this woman was gentle, but also truth-telling (not arrogant).

    Anyway, hope this makes sense – and if I was someone who felt we should hold back truth and not have “confrontation” of truth, then I wouldn’t be responding here. I am trying to show that you are incorrect in what you are saying that I wrote that we don’t tell people about truth when we know they would disagree or about sin, repentance, hell etc. It is HOW we go about it, which I am trying to raise up.
    Bye again!


  12. Yes you bring out a good point Mike. And we agree totally. Its awful when people misdirect others into thinking falsely by the way they said something and someone took it wrong.

    We are under tornado watches……….you be careful too!


  13. And sometimes, no matter how much we season our words with salt, the gospel will offend the world……….period. The ‘natural man’ will view the Christians displeasure with sin as strange and peculiar. Too often we want to believe that our light that shines is brighter the more nicer or generous we appear to non Christians. Our generosity, humility, and patience is a virtue and a testimony to others, while our uncompromising stand on absolute truth is a characteristic that all must have who serve Christ. There is nothing worse than a man who claims the name of Jesus but folds under pressure in order to give an answer that will appeal to the world or please men’s ears.
    Jesus was not a pushover who ignored sin and looked the other way. The scene in the temple with the moneychangers demonstrates his severity and his displeasure with corruption. God is holy and mighty. When he drove out the moneychangers, I don’t believe that those blows and snaps from the whips always landed on nothing like they show in the movies. I am sure that he drove them out because he was angry and full of righteous indignation. If he drove them out, he did it because he meant it.


  14. Dan, I understand what you are saying. I also agree that the Christian should be Christlike in manner and character — all the time. I am what you would probably call a Calvinist. That means that I believe God is 100% in control of salvation. No one comes to Christ without being drawn by God first. This drawing culminates in Regeneration, Repentance, and Belief. Then God justifies the believer, sanctifies him or her, then He adopts them into His family. It is all His work. I am not saying that God wants us to be obnoxious or arrogant in our dealing with the Lost, no, we are to be Christlike with all. However, He was pretty rough with many, for example John 6 so do not think that obeying Christ and being Christlike does not mean confronting sin, apostasy, and showing lost professing Christians that they are not on the narrow way that leads to life rather than the broad way that leads to death.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


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