Reflections of a Broken Man

On Game Theory and Evangelism by StephenMac
May 25, 2009, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , ,

**Currently mellowing to Transatlanticism – DCFC**

So today, I found myself in a conversation that, as it usually does by God’s hand, ends up on the topic of Christian faith and apologetics. It was only semi-planned, but I found myself doing the usual “So how do you know?”

I am beginning to wonder why God has brought me here to college in the first place. A year and a bit, and I still can’t do much more than rant (just now at a more educated level…) But while my ineptness was salvaged by the fact that at least the Gospel was proclaimed (I think…), I began wondering if there is a game theory of evangelism.

Think of this scenario: two robbers pull off a heist. They hide the evidence, but are imageseen coming out of the bank which has just been robbed. The police arrest them, and interrogate them separately. There is only enough evidence to nail them for a minor charge (6 months gaol time). If they both say nothing, they get nailed… 1 year each. However, the police cut a deal: if one of them defects and rats out the other guy, he gets to go free, and the other guy takes the rap (10 years). If they both defect, then they both get 5 years.
The two robbers have to trust each other to get the best scenario for both of them. But the best scenario for the individual is to defect, and hope that the other is a sucker who trusts you.
There is a thing called a “one-shot game”. If you knew that there would be only one game played, and thus no repercussions, would you play differently? Would you, instead of choosing to trust, defect?
This kind of thinking is used to determine behaviour of rational humans, as well as politics and economics.

My thought is this: in evangelism, if you are planning on developing relationships, prisoners dilemmawould you do things differently than if it was a one time conversation? If you knew that you would meet this person again, you would aim to develop relationship, ensure that you said nothing that would inhibit the relationship until you were certain of the strength of the relationship (in game theory terms, you would acquiesce as you knew that there were repercussions). If you knew that this was the one conversation that you would have, you would approach it differently… perhaps say a few more controversial things, perhaps be a bit more forward than you would normally, because you knew that there would be no relational repercussions…

If you were on the proverbial train, being asked the proverbial question “What is Christianity in 30 sec”, would your answer be different to if your best friend asked you the same question?

Question: at what point is evangelism (particularly walk-up/spontaneous evangelism) a one-shot game?



9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Upon reflection… maybe there is no such thing as a “one-shot game in evangelism”…

1 Corinthians 3:6
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

There is always the possibility that there will be someone after you who will continue the “relationship”. But more importantly, it is God’s work, and he continues to pick up the pieces after you mess up the “one-shot” evangelism…

Comment by StephenMac

Interesting. I vaguely remember a ‘ministry and mission hour’ in the lead up to MTC Mission where people were suggesting the opposite, that if it is a ‘one-shot game’, then they ‘play harder’, whereas with longer relationships they take the long-term view/approach.

(Though I don’t think they were saying that in the ‘one-shot’ scenario that they’d be unloving, unethical, … in what they did)

Comment by Daniel Saunders

…people were suggesting the opposite, that if it is a ‘one-shot game’, then they ‘play harder’, whereas with longer relationships they take the long-term view/approach

Yea, i think this is what I was suggesting by the “one-shot game” idea… but upon reflection, there is no such thing as a one-shot game, as just because you may play a one-shot game, there will inevitably be someone after you that God will use… we cannot, nor should not, assume that we are the only contact they will have.

That said, if there were such a thing as a one-shot game, it would not be an unloving, unethical scenario: rather, it would be something that involved pushing buttons that might annoy people and come off as bigoted… even that description weighs against the “one-shot game” idea…

Comment by StephenMac

Another thought – the text says that Apollos waters etc (present) not that he will water (future). So maybe this text may not provide the kind of outcome you were suggesting? Christ could very well return as soon as you have had your conversation and no apolloses or anyone else would be able to water. A one-shot game certainly is a possibility because of the finite nature of history.

that is you cant say ‘there will inevitably be someone after you that God will use… we cannot, nor should not, assume that we are the only contact they will have.’

…at least not so strongly!

Comment by reubenjs

Thanks Reuben.

I think the point that I am trying to think through is that evangelism, while finite, is probably not a one-shot game, at least in the normal course of events. Sure, there will be exceptions to this rule, and point taken, we often forget the urgency that is associated with Jesus’ imminent return. Yet on the whole, it would be presumptuous to think that you are the only contact, and thus, strategically play the one shot game. Whether or not the one-shot game actually occurs, we should assume that there will be Apollos’ after us.

On the relevance of the text, Paul is referring to a specific event that happened, hence the past or even present tense, and not a future. The principle (that Paul planted the seed, he may have even assumed a one-shot game scenario, and Apollos came afterwards and watered) arguably still holds.

Comment by StephenMac

sure. normal course of event’s etc. agreed. just wanted to point out the exceptions 😉 sorry for being finicky.

Maybe a different way to analyse this would be to consider the likelihood of another ‘shot’ arising. Say in particular societies, or locales? of course it would be speculative, but what good theory is not?! In part this is what is informing the connect 09 program right? increasing the ‘shots’?

Comment by reubenjs

Good point, traditional game theory suggests that in order to increase cooperation (say between two distrustful states), you aim to decrease the projected benefits of “defecting” and increase the benefits of “cooperating”. As such, they try to develop a one-shot game into a 5- or 10-shot game.

In evangelism, particularly in the context of connect09, variables would include the mission mindset of the church, size of the church, relative size of the parish, social networks etc. Each of these would impact the number of games played. For example, if there is little missional activity, small church, non- or anti-Christian environment, an atomistic culture, then the chance of a one-shot game would increase. And obviously visa-versa.

But at that point, I want to stop. Because while logically this would make sense, it leaves out the most important variable: God’s sovereignty. “Coincidence” in chance meetings, things on TV, in secular conversations that turn to religious topics, all these things continue the work that a one-shot game player may have started… all these things occur at the Providence of God’s hand. Even in the most one-shot game probable scenario, I would argue that we should still take a multi-game strategy because of God’s hand in evangelism.

Good thoughts Reuben!

Comment by StephenMac

Interesting post. I have read some of your other posts and we have much in common. I also like DCFC, am studying Philosophy and enjoy reading Dr. Van Til.

As for this post, I find this topic fascinating. In an ultimate sense, evangelism is a one-shot game. When the HS condescends and monergistically changes a person’s heart the game so to speak is over. What is interesting is that the variable changes with every “game”. All of the antecedent causes bear upon the person to break their autonomy. For some people it takes (x) number of times hearing the gospel, (y) for others.

I am thinking of the thief on the cross, for one of them it only took (from what we know) one exposure to Jesus to convince him of his need. For the other, an infinite number would have never changed his mind. Those are my random thoughts on the matter.

Comment by blogginbaldguy

Hey blogginbaldguy, thanks for dropping by…

Very true. What I am struggling to get my head around is our tactics in the individual games. Sure, the game ends when the HS works on the heart of someone, and they are saved, and that’s awesome. But for us playing the game, we don’t know how the HS is working, and whether this is the game or it’s another game that will be the final one. In short, we don’t know if this is the last game. And for that reason, it can’t be a one-shot game, because there is always the possibility of future games (what’s called the shadow of the future).

The fact that it takes (x) or (y) games, and the fact that game (x-3) will always be dependent on (x-4) and so on (previous games will impact the current game) means that even though one-shot games in evangelism exist, and do happen, we should never treat them as such.

At this point, I’d say that I have abstracted way too much, and need a decent dose of humility – evangelism is about people and helping them see that they are dying, but there is the opportunity for salvation…

Comment by StephenMac

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: