Most people are familiar with the Roman Road to salvation, if not the term then most likely the methodology and content. You've heard it in church, on the street, from a friend, or at a
crazy Christian drama that terrified me to my very soul. It begins by proving you are a sinner, followed by informing you that because you are a sinner you are separated from God and await a fate worse than death. First the bad news, then the good - so the thinking goes. Moreover, if it can't convince you of the bad news then it actually has no good news for you, so proving your guilt is integral to its evangelistic endeavour.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, however, thinks this approach to be the opposite of the gospel. John Howard Yoder explains:
...many think that to win someone for the Christian faith one must speak to him at the point of his weakness. One who makes this assumption is then predisposed to attend to the shadow side of human existence, since it is that which proves that "something more is needed." Such "methodism jumps on a man when he is down": it proves the need of God by proving we are no good without God. This is for Bonhoeffer the opposite of the gospel itself, which should be telling people, especially outsiders, about the love and goodness of God for its own sake, not trying to convince people of their misery or their guiltiness. Only if it is not seen as a response to weakness, only if its credibility does not depend on proving human weakness, is the gospel really the good news of the love of God as Creator, sustainer, Savior. Apologetic approaches that try first to make the point of human weakness and ignorance and lostness are hopeless, not because they do not say something true, but because what they are interested in proving is not the good news.
I've often heard from people that it's hard to share the gospel in these modern/postmodern/post-Christian/secular/post-secular times. "People just don't believe in sin anymore", is the lament. That may be so, but the assumption is that to be a Christian you must first believe in sin. That, however, is not strictly true. To be a Christian you must believe in Jesus, which of course amounts to much more than thinking he exists or that he was raised from the dead. It is to confess him and worship him and witness to him as the one to whom creation belongs and the one who reveals the true shape of that very creation. Only then, at the moment of our confession that Jesus is Lord, do we know ourselves as we ought to know ourselves. Only then can the word "sin" be the impossible possibility of anti-creation that we once participated in and that we are drawn to by what we now know to be perverted desires. Only then can we confess our sin, in the knowledge that the one to whom we confess is Victor over sin and death and hell. But not before Jesus. Not before the good news.
The methodological error of starting with human weakness is in fact a theological error of gross proportions. It begins the story of the world as if it is intelligible without Jesus, not to mention without the Trinitarian dance of love and the overflowing gift of creation. Beginning with sin may have worked in the past and may still work in the present and future in terms of bringing in the numbers, but Christianity ought not be be concerned about whether things work or not. Christianity is concerned with the truth, and we have no other truth to witness to than the person of Jesus, whose beauty and grace and judgements are the glory and goal of creation.