March 27, 2012

Why I respect Ray Comfort

by Jesse Johnson

A few weeks ago I gave a critique of the The Way of the Master evangelism at the Shepherd’s Conference. I plan on posting that critique here in the coming weeks. However, I want to make clear that I have tremendous respect for Ray Comfort and those at Living Waters. I personally have benefitted tremendously from them and their ministry. So before I post that critique, I want to explain why (even in light of my critique) I am such a Ray Comfort fan.

I hesitated to post this because I don’t know how to do it in a way that doesn’t make it seem superficial. If I post it after my critique, it will look like I’m back-peddling and softening what I was saying. If I post it now, it will look like I’m not being sincere. But I think posting this list now is the best approach, simply because I want my critique to be read through the lens of respect for Ray and his ministry. You can have enormous respect for someone, and still disagree on theological issues.

So, with that said…here are my top ten reasons I admire Ray Comfort and his ministry:

I first met Ray when I came to Living Waters’ office around 1999. I had a few vans full of high school students, and he treated us like VIP’s, simply because we were about to head out all over the globe for evangelism. He gave us a tour, then he lead us to Venice Beach, where he spent the day (and evening) with us doing street evangelism. I, along with the students I had with me, were tremendously blessed by our time with him. Since then I have been witnessing with him on other occasions, seen him evangelizing on an airplane, and have been blessed by his simple love for telling others the gospel.

Ray has come a few times to the evangelism class I teach at The Master’s Seminary. He has been funny and engaging, but more than that, he has been helpful in teaching future pastors the importance of evangelism. I have always wanted TMS students to be exposed to his ministry, because his love for evangelism and his concern for the lost is contagious.

 This title alone is enough to love Ray: You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, but you Can’t Make Him Think. In one title he captures the folly of atheism, the preponderance of evidence, the spirit of Romans 1, and the veracity of presuppositionalism. It is also a fun book to read.

Speaking of books, Ray’s ministry put together a special edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species with an introduction written by Ray himself. The introduction explained some of the background of Darwin’s life, and exposed the inherent contradictions in his theory. They then gave this book out at secular campuses all over the country. Grace Church worked with them in distributing them at UCLA. It was comical to consider some schools banning the handing out of Darwin’s book on campus.

This book has the best cover/title combination I think I have ever seen. The point is to critique the “sign-the-card-and-never-question-your-salvation” approach to evangelism. He appropriately mocks the folly of presenting effective gospel preaching as offering people happiness and wholeness in this life in exchange for a minimal commitment.  As the cover/title combo point out, this is not the gospel preached by the Apostles and first disciples. Imagine telling Stephen that to preach the gospel you should tell people about the blessings in this life that come to those who believe.

Ray has identified that perhaps the biggest threat to American Evangelicalism is a soft message preached by soft people. His parachute analogy is helpful to show that the evangelist must rescue people, not promise them comfort. Ray believes that the gospel is not designed to make people happy, but to make them holy. He clearly loathes any gospel preaching that comes without calling people to recognize their sin.

His relentless pursuit of Richard Dawkins was fun to watch. Again, atheism has some fairly basic inherent contradictions, and Ray has the ability to draw attention to those in a way that is both humorous and bold.

Living Waters makes some fantastic tracts. It can be a challenge to find tracts that are not insipid, luke-warm, cheesy diagrams with a sinner’s prayer attached. Ray and his ministry saw the need to make tracts that are quality and useful for the evangelist. I think the main purpose of a tract is to start a conversation, and Ray’s tracts do that remarkably well.

His life and ministry have been marked by faithfulness and integrity. He is not heaping up piles of money for himself, and he has kept his life above reproach. His ministry gives away much of what they make, those who know Ray personally often attest to the transparency in his life, and his sincerity in his faith. As Pastor MacArthur often says, “time and truth go hand-in-hand.” Over time, Ray has demonstrated that he is a faithful man, who leads with integrity.

American Christianity is better off because of Ray Comfort and his ministry. He has encouraged thousands to be more passionate in evangelism. It is not a coincidence that frequently those in our churches who are most passionate about evangelism have been trained by him. Ray has started a revival of interest in street evangelism that has spread across this country. His leadership and vision, as well as his training, has influenced thousands of people to regularly take to the streets to share the gospel with the lost.

Ray has been an encouragement to me personally, and I am thankful for his ministry.

Update: Strengths of The Way of the Master

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Scj

    On the theology thing…you could be wrong(and are BTW). Thanks for respecting Ray though.

  • CR Tolbert

    Though I have never met him, no other man who is not Jesus has influenced my life like Ray Comfort. I was a typical youth pastor when I first heard “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and it totally rocked my world. I immediately bought an Evidence Bible and began teaching the kids with the “Way of the Master” DVDs. I’ve done street evangelism using his “method” and actually have had people come back years later and tell me that God used that encounter to convert them. I share your respect for Ray and am truly grateful for him and his ministry.

    That said, and I don’t know what your critique of him contains, but I have had some theological concerns with Ray and Living Waters as well. Nothing that would cause me not recommend his stuff, but concerns none the less. I look forward to reading your critique and if Ray is as humble and godly as he seems through his videos and books (which I don’t doubt for a minute that he is), I’m sure he would take any critique in a Christ-honoring way.

    It’s kind of humorous that it was while listening to Ray Comfort on Wretched Radio that I was first exposed to John MacArthur and John Piper (thanks to Todd Friel). That exposure led to a complete transformation of my theological worldview.

    • It is amazing how God works. I’ll post most of my critique tomorrow.

  • Bill O’Neill

    Jesse, I appreciate your critique. WOTM was an instrument God used to embolden me to do what I had only ever considered as “one of these days,” and that was to approach the lost with the saving news of the Gospel. There seems to be so much attention to 180 Movie and its positive impact upon a lot of the culture. A sigh of relief would not be too far fetched as a description of what some reticent Christians would be expressing at the thought of pausing to consider alternatives to WOTM because evangelism is not easy. People who have not actually studied and trained with WOTM programs generally depict it as a plunger approach, turn or burn, hellfire and damnation. They would be wrong. And many who actually study with WOTM may misappropriate that training and use it wrongly. I appreciate your top ten list and the tenth points out that you have been blessed by the program. While I will look forward to your pending critique, I will also pray that in the end, it brings increase.

  • Larry

    Jesse, I believe you hit the nail on the head. Ray is simply a blessing to the body of Christ. And a necessary one. We don’t find many persons in the body of Christ, “given over” to grassroots evangelism. His methodology may warrant critique, but he gives an accurate presentation of what man’s problem is and what he needs to do to avoid the wrath of God. Philippians 1:15-18, (although Ray does not fall into THAT category) says it best, “The important thing is, Christ is being preached.” Enjoyed the post.

  • Azekveld

    Being one of the TMS students that benefited from one of those classes you organised with Ray, I was pleased see the title of the post and echo your sentiments. Your #2 was one I haven’t thought of, but it is so true!

  • Dvdsterna

    Jesse, Thank you for your strengthening the Body by this fine example of Christian love. I attend Grace Church, am in the Outreach Ministry, and have been praying daily for you to be blessed. I thank God for His hand upon your life,

    I love evangelism, and our Outreach group has had a discussion on your views. We will continue that discussion this week. I thank you Jesse for opening the way for me to learn so much more about the Law, God’s Word, and how to reach others for Christ.

    Please post all your notes! I listened to your seminar on shepherdsconference.org and due to time constraints you omitted some of what you planned to say. We will surely benefit from all the Lord revealed to you in your diligent preparation. I pray you and your family have found a very happy new home!

    • Thanks Dave, and thanks for your faithfulness to Grace and to the NO group. Press on brother.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “A few weeks ago I gave a critique of the The Way of the Master evangelism at the Shepherd’s Conference. I plan on posting that critique here in the coming weeks.”

    It’s all good. Some folks critiqued the decision to marry together the MacArthur Study Bible with NIV 2011, and the folks who issued the critique all said how much they appreciated John MacArthur’s ministry.

  • Larry

    I have a question. Other than grass roots street evangelism, what are some alternative methods used at Grace (or any where else) to get the gospel out into the community in and around the church?

    • David

      Sunday afternoon visits to provide a service/visitation at hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric wards… and door-to-door evangelism. Also visit migrant worker camps on Saturdays periodically.

    • Some other things Grace Church does in local outreach:

      – We send teams to preach and lead Bible studies at local prisons, drug/alcohol rehab centers, halfway houses, assisted living facilities, and rescue missions.

      – We have a group that regularly does weekly street evangelism on Sunday afternoons at Skid Row, and inviting them to a Bible lesson/sermon in a nearby church that lets us use their premises.

      – We have six Bible studies that are conducted in foreign languages as outreaches to those cultural communities in our area (Japanese, Italian, Filipino, Korean, Arabic, Thai).

      – We invite unbelievers into our gym every week for games of competitive basketball and volleyball. Basketball turns up about 30 to 40 unbelievers per week. Volleyball might get half that. Both ministries include a 10- to 20-minute Gospel presentation/discussion midway through the evening.

      – We have a visitor follow-up ministry that seeks to put new visitors in contact with those who know their way around GCC, with the goal that such relationships become opportunities to share the Gospel. If the visitors keep coming to GCC, our vision is that those initial contacts become fertile ground for discipleship relationships.

  • Josh M.

    On the theology thing…you could be right (and are BTW). Thanks for this post and the ShepCon session. Its very helpful, encouraging, and biblical.

  • The Last Chinese-Irish Samurai

    Thank you for your critique of Ray Comfort — it’s about time you said something nice about him, ha-ha! I think we can all agree with this: Why would you not want to use the moral law of God to help an unbeliever see his sin?

    Praying the Lord will give you and your congregation such a love for the lost that you would witness wherever you go!

    • Why would you not want to use the moral law of God to help an unbeliever see his sin?

      Right. I don’t think anyone is disputing that. What’s in question is: What is, exactly, “the moral law of God”?

      I think a lot of folks equate the moral law of God with the 10 commandments, or with a particular subsection of the Mosaic Law. I think the point of Jesse’s seminar (and upcoming blog posts) is to question whether that conclusion is biblical.

      • Larry

        Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. That concludes the moral law of God, because, if you truly practice love, you will not violate anyone nor anything. Certainly man is unable to manage that on his own, hence the gospel becomes a necessity. Since God is the God and father of Jesus Christ, and if we love God, we must recognize Jesus as equal with God the father, thereby making reconciliation with God authentic and acceptable. If I love my neighbour as I love myself, I don’t have to be concerned about lying,stealing, committing adultery in my mind,or anything else that would violate others. I’m interested in seeing Jesse’s critique, because based on Jesus’ response concerning “What is the greatest commandment”? Sinners arguably can be confronted about Biblical love.

      • The Last Chinese-Irish Samurai

        Hey Mike,
        I appreciate your post. Can you really confront an unbeliever with his sins without mentioning what his sins are? I don’t think you can. Many unbelievers have told me that they were sinners, but still a good person. It wasn’t until I took them thru a few of the Commandments did they realize the depth of their depravity. Thank you for your commitment to equip and encourage Christians to carry out the Great Commission !

        • Can you really confront an unbeliever with his sins without mentioning what his sins are? I don’t think you can.

          I don’t think you can either. But you seem to assume that the only way to do that is to present people with the 10 commandments. Jesse’s examining whether that’s a biblical requirement.

          And, not to jump the gun, but I personally don’t believe it is a biblical requirement. (I don’t believe it’s necessarily unbiblical to do so, either.) I can show an unbeliever what his sins are also by listening to him and understanding his worldview, and then confronting him with the particular ways he is violating the perfect standard of God’s righteousness — the particular ways he is demeaning the glory of God. And that may mean I take him to Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 or Matthew 22, and not Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5.

          Anyway, let’s wait and see what Jesse has to say.

          • The Last Chinese-Irish Samurai

            “But you seem to assume that the only way to do that is to present people with the 10 commandments.”

            Hey Jersey Mike,

            I’m not assuming that the only way to confront sin is to present people with the 10 Commandments. All I’m trying to convey is that it’s biblical and very effective: For the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, Galatians 3:24.

            Here’s Pastor MacArthur’s take on the Moral Law:

            “The Moral Law finds it’s basis in the character of God and is presented in outline form in the Ten Commandments; it has never been revoked or abolished, but finds it’s authority in the New Covenant. Every unbeliever is still under its requirement of perfection and its condemnation, until he comes to Christ, and every believer still finds in it the standard for behavior.” – John MacArthur

            Thanks again for your posts!

          • 🙂 By quoting Gal 3:24, you’re assuming that “the law” which is our schoolmaster equals the 10 commandments.

            Re: MacArthur’s quote, if the 10 commandments are an outline form of “the Moral Law” based in the character of God, then, according to MacArthur, “the Moral Law” and “the Ten Commandments” are not identical. That means that one may not legitimately (i.e., biblically) prescribe the use of the Ten Commandments in evangelism.

            Again, I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to use the Ten Commandments (my comment would have to be much longer to argue for that). I’m simply saying that I can legitimately use “the (moral) Law of God” in evangelism without ever going to Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5.

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  • That was no critique. That was an attack. Could it be because WOTM speaks against “friendship evangelism” that you promote?

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