The other day while doing an outreach on local college campus, we had a college student say she thought our religious commitments were based on felt needs. Thus, if people have the need to believe certain things and it helps them, that’s fine. But she said she doesn’t have that need. This made me think of a great quote by Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland:
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus,”– J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30
What was my response to the student “What if it is actually true?” I went on to explain the claim “The God of the Bible exists” or “Jesus rose from the dead” has nothing to do with whether I have a felt need. I also said, there is a difference between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ truth. You rely on objective truth every day. Objective truth is something that’s not based on your feelings, emotions, or preferences. It is something that is true whether you believe it or not.
Let’s give some examples:
- “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and George Washington was our first president.”
- “Donald Trump is our current president.”
These statements are objectively true. It has nothing to do with how you feel about it. These are ‘facts’ of history.
Subjective truth is based on your personal preference or feelings. You might say, “Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream in the world.” This is all based on our personal likes.
Once I explained this to the student, she began to see my faith isn’t based simply on a felt need. After all, I might see the need for Mormonism or Islam. But that doesn’t mean the central claims of these faiths are based in reality.
In conclusion, the “Felt Needs” Gospel falls short. I hope we ditch this approach.