Jim Elliot and Penn Jillette Agree on Evangelism

“How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” – Penn Jillette

Jim Elliot died in 1956 at the age of 28. Along with three fellow missionaries, Elliot was stabbed to death by a hostile group of natives in Ecuador, because he believed this:

Surely those who know the great passionate heart of Jehovah must deny their own loves to share in the expression of His. Consider the call from the Throne above, ‘Go ye,’ and from round about, ‘Come over and help us,’ and even the call from the damned souls below, ‘Send Lazarus to my brothers, that they come not to this place.’

Impelled, then, by these voices, I dare not stay home while Quichuas perish. So what if the well-fed church in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the Prophets, and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers. American believers have sold their lives to the service of Mammon, and God has His rightful way of dealing with those who succumb to the spirit of Laodicea. (From Jim Elliot’s journal)

The first line states that people who know God’s passionate heart must deny the things they love so that they can be a part of expressing God’s love to a lost world. He then mentions all the voices impelling believers into the work. The voice from above: “Go!” The voice from around: “Come over and help us.” And the voice from below: “Send Lazarus to my brothers, that they come not to this place.”

Elliot’s conclusion from these voices: “I dare not stay home.”

In other words, if the Bible expresses the truth of how things are, then those who believe the Bible must not be complacent in sharing this truth with others. We must be bold in speaking the truth of sin, damnation, Gospel, and eternal life through Christ. That is, if we REALLY believe it is true.

Penn Jillette, the more vocal of the famed entertainment duo, Penn and Teller, is an outspoken atheist. He is an unbeliever, and the type of unbeliever who wants everyone to know he’s an unbeliever. And yet, it appears he agrees with Elliot’s conclusion.

In a popular online video, Penn recounts a meeting he had with a Christian after one of his shows. This man offered him a Bible. Surprisingly, Penn was very impressed by this encounter, which seems to come across in his demeanor on the video. Penn spoke of the way the man presented himself: “He looked me right in the eyes… He was not defensive… He was truly complimentary… He was really kind and nice and sane…”

But then, even more surprisingly, Penn stated something oddly echoing Elliot’s thoughts quoted above:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell, and that people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that – ah well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it – that the truck was bearing down on you – there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.

Who would have thought someone as radically on fire for Christ and somebody as radically on fire for atheism would ever come to such an agreement? The question for those of us who follow Christ: Do we really believe? If we do, it will be obvious, because we will be involved in sharing this truth with others. We must not hate them by being silent.

Here is Penn’s video: