Why Is it Popular Theology to Believe Blackmail and Duress Are Central to the Gospel Message?

Teenager student with fear at his school (selective focus)
Teenager student with fear at his school (selective focus)

I recently read Misery by Stephen King. The story is of a writer, Paul Sheldon, who has a car crash and is found by a crazy woman, Annie, who is also his Number One Fan. She brings him into her house, keeps him prisoner and 'nurses' his severely broken legs. When she finds the manuscript for his latest book, she reads it and hates it. In fact she hates it so much that she brings a barbecue grill into his room and puts the book on it, then hands the writer a lighter and tells him to burn it.

He considers this book his greatest writing ever, and this is his private copy, the only copy in all the world. It took him two years to complete and he just cannot destroy it, no matter how much pain he knows the woman will make for him by refusing, but she continues to harass him, telling him he must burn it. Eventually he throws the lighter at her and tells her if the book must be destroyed, then she can do it. Annie refuses, insisting it must be him who burns the book. With great terror and frustration, he asks why he had to do it? "Because," she said primly, "you must do it of your own free will."

Annie, the crazy woman, believed it had to be a free will decision. But this of course is not a free will decision. This is what is called duress. When one is asked to make a decision with a gun to their head, this is duress, even if the person with the gun insists the victim freely chose to hand over their wallet and money. Or if someone asked to buy your house for $100, but if you didn't freely sign over the deeds, then they would burn your house down. That's not free will, that's duress.

I think many Christians confuse the idea of free will with duress. The way the gospel has traditionally been preached comes from the mouth of the preacher with similar words of Annie, "You must do it of your own free will," while pointing an eternal fire gun at them, with the finger on the trigger if they don't choose correctly.

A ticket to heaven, but if you refuse you'll be thrown in the eternal torture chamber, but it's your choice. Is such an offer free will? No. That's duress. It's not only illegal within the world's court system, it is, like Annie in King's novel, nothing short of crazy.

Surely the gospel is better than duress? Surely this dark version of the gospel preached by the establishment for the past 1,800 years, the establishment that is guilty of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, to name but a few large scale atrocities, is simply wrong. What does putting people under duress have to do with good news?

I believe in Jesus. I believe in his salvation. What I don't believe in is torture. Not in any form. Not in any place. Not for any reason. The gospel is better than that.


This was an excerpt from Mick Mooney's new book: An Outsider's Guide to the Gospel. You can connect with Mick on his facebook page.