Life-Style Evangelism

by Joseph Aldrich

Joseph Aldrich is the former president of the neo-evangelical, psychologized Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. (He resigned in May of 1997 for health reasons.) Though none of his other books ever reached the popularity of Life-Style Evangelism, other psychologically-oriented books he has authored include Secrets to Inner Beauty, Self-Worth, and Love For All Your Worth. To this day, Life-Style Evangelism comes highly recommended by many pastors and church leaders, yet we can find little to recommend it. Some of our major concerns are detailed below (1981:Multnomah Press):

-  Aldrich is highly ecumenical in his approach to evangelism. This is evident from just a cursory glance at the favorable quoting and/or resource recommendations in this book: C.S. Lovett's book Witnessing Made Easy (p. 22); Leighton Ford's books The Christian Persuaders (p. 56) and Good News is For Sharing (p. 97), and Ford's Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (p. 76); James Jauncey's book Psychology for Successful Evangelism (p. 97); Peter Wagner's book Frontiers in Missionary Strategy (p. 97), as well as his philosophies of church growth (p. 81); Chuck Swindoll's book Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns (p. 210); the neo-evangelical "Christian" publications Campus Life, Moody Monthly, Christian Life, Eternity, and Virtue (p. 211); the compromising ministries of evangelists Billy Graham and Luis Palau (p. 78); Hindu pantheist Mahatma Gandhi (p. 92); "Christian" world hunger relief organization World Vision (p. 92); and Bill Bright's (Campus Crusade's) Four Spiritual Laws booklet (p. 129).

-  Aldrich has no qualms in adapting both the presentation and the content of the gospel in order to make it acceptable to a self-centered, feelings-oriented culture:

"The unbeliever needs to feel the impact of the gospel (good news that Christ loves people), and not merely listen to it. When love is felt the message is heard [p. 83] ... we need to pause and underscore a crucial fact with a crucial implication. Our world has changed ... One major implication is that our presentation of the gospel must adapt itself to a vastly changed target audience [p. 85] ... God has good news for the person who needs love and affection, security or esteem [p. 88] ... Extensive research reveals that 'people will not listen to the gospel message and respond unless it speaks to felt needs' [p. 89] ... People are more inclined to respond to the gospel when they understand how trusting Christ will satisfy their needs [p. 95] ... Adapt your presentation to his needs ... If because of extreme guilt and insecurity the individual needs reassurance of God's love, spend more time making this point. If he is already broken by sin, don't belabor the issue ... Sometimes this adaptation takes the form of quotations and comments from notable scholars and leaders. These can be powerful. Start collecting and memorizing them" (p. 232).

It seems that Aldrich allows for everything but the simple "power of the gospel unto salvation" (Rom 1:16,17)

-  The following quote reveals Aldrich's Arminian theology and his pragmatic "What's in it for me?" approach to evangelism:

"Christians need to think through what the gospel can mean to a searching heart. Besides deliverance from a literal hell, it may put his marriage back together, it may end his overpowering guilt, it may free him from a burdensome habit, it may bring peace, it may bring financial stability, it may solve many of his interpersonal problems, it may be the key to coping with illness, it may be the key to resources for living. Possibly it will be all of the above. That's good news! Every basic need or motive is matched by some facet of the gospel" (pp. 89-90).

-  Perhaps the most disturbing part of the book is Chapter 4: "Practicing the Presence in Evangelism." It is a polemic for Maslow's [godless atheist's] "Hierarchy of Needs," and how it is impossible to evangelize the poor until their "needs" at the base of the hierarchy pyramid are satisfied. [ Level (1) Physiological needs (food, shelter, clothing); (2) Safety and Security; (3) Love and Affection; (4) Esteem; (5) Self-actualization.] Then at the top of the hierarchy, Aldrich equates salvation to the meeting of the needs of self-esteem and self-actualization! In Aldrich's own words: (Underlined emphases added.)

"I have used Maslow's Hierarchy of needs for four years as a teaching tool. I find it helpful in determining what level of need a person is struggling to satisfy. Motivation to act appears to be directly related to need. If I can link a solution (the gospel) to a felt need, I have created a favorable climate for action. If I'm hungry, I'm motivated to meet that need. My thoughts and desires turn to food. If my need for food is acute, all other needs are subordinated to this need. As long as any need is not satisfied, a problem exists which seeks a solution. Maslow believed that all men have basically the same set of needs and attempt to satisfy them in a definite order of importance-beginning with the bottom of the pyramid and moving upward" (p. 90).

"What a person says he wants is generally related to his basic need ... He may want a Mercedes because he has a deep-seated esteem need. He is unsure of his identity and feels a Mercedes will enhance his image and increase his esteem ... While it is true that 'man does not live by bread alone,' if he has no bread he doesn't live at all ... It was Gandhi who said, "Even God cannot talk to a starving man except in terms of bread." ... Our need to feel safe and secure runs deep. ... Fear can be a reason why we trust Christ. Many come into the Kingdom because of a deep-seated security need .... If they are basically secure, their efforts focus 'upward' to satisfy their needs for love and affection in meaningful relationships ... people have a desperate need to belong. They need a physical and emotional home in which their brokenness is accepted. Does the gospel have any 'good news' for the person struggling with a love and affection need? Many come into the Kingdom through this door" (pp. 91-92).

"Every person needs to feel he or she is valuable and important. We all struggle with esteem needs ... We all need affirmation from others. Yet there is no better news than to discover that I am somebody to God. ... Do you know a non-Christian starved for recognition, who is struggling with this need to feel valuable and worthwhile to you, God will use that as a stepping stone to Christ! ... When the individual's need for esteem is basically met he mobilizes his time, energy, and resources to become as much as he can be" (p. 93).

Not only does the Bible know nothing of this need hierarchy and all of its pathetic humanistic platitudes, the Bible teaches the exact opposite! The Bible says to love and trust God, and to love others and deny self; Maslow says to esteem and actualize self, and that this is not even possible until all one's other needs are met. The Bible teaches that we are to be content with the barest minimum of so-called needs met (1 Tim. 6:8), and that the only real need is to hear Him and believe His Word (Matt. 4:4; Lk.10:42). In fact, in Jesus' discourse in Matthew 6, He turns everything around and stands Maslow's need pyramid on its apex (Matt. 6:33)! Moreover, Jesus characterizes the quest to satisfy "lower-level" needs above "higher" ones as adopting a pagan philosophy of life (Matt. 6:28-32)! That a man of Aldrich's stature would base his evangelism model on such an obviously unbiblical system as Maslow's need hierarchy is a shameful disgrace.

-  Aldrich appears to have a disdain for doctrine. Consider his following straw man argument:

"Many pastors perceive the major and central purpose of their church as that of a Bible institute where facts are transmitted from one notebook to another. Doctrine becomes everything, as though understanding doctrine were an end unto itself. Unfortunately, most people who are exposed to doctrine alone usually sit, soak, and sour. This is true because impression minus expression leads to spiritual depression. A diet of doctrine alone will produce soul-sick people who are suffering form spiritual malnutrition. Usually their heads are 'full' but their hearts are empty" (p. 107).

-  Aldrich seems to encourage a form of the cult technique known as "love bombing":

"Create an atmosphere in which the nonbeliever feels loved and accepted ... If he does, he'll never recover. Group love and acceptance seems to be a basic need to the human heart. As they feel accepted, they have 'a built in inclination to accept the group's religious beliefs even before they know them. It becomes an easy step to graduate from the social functions to the religious activities' [Jauncey]. A congenial, accepting emotional atmosphere eases communication and increases the impact of truth" (p. 193).

-  Aldrich teaches the occult technique of visualization as the first step is reaching your neighbor in evangelism:

"So, how do you reach your neighbor? ... What's the first step? Visualize the neighborhood's readiness for Christ. Visualize the Spirit of God hovering over your neighborhood. This is the first key (p. 201).

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 9/99