Have you ever called someone’s faith a fire insurance policy? Bonus points if you referred to it as an eternal fire insurance policy…
Fire insurance is one of those Christianese terms that aren’t all sugar and spice. Referring to someone’s faith as “fire insurance” is a metaphorical way of saying that this person is more worried about avoiding hell than they are excited about “loving the Lord their God with all their heart.”
It’s a clever catchphrase, though, and many an evangelistic conversation has been started with the famous words “Excuse me, sir, but do you have a moment to talk about a fire-insurance policy?” What does that say about evangelism when it makes sense to pretend (for only a second!) to be an insurance salesman? Maybe door-to-door life insurance salesmen should pretend to be evangelists.
The term seems to have arisen in the 19th century, and because of it we sometimes refer to evangelists as fire-insurance agents. There is also the term fire-insurance gospel for any preaching that seems to be focused on getting people to accept Jesus just so they can avoid hell fire and brimstone.
Where have you heard people using the term fire insurance? What other terms have you heard for saying that someone’s faith is superficial?
fire insurance n. Also: fire-insurance policy; eternal fire-insurance policy. [From the idea that faith in Jesus is a means of avoiding condemnation in hell] Faith in Jesus Christ, especially a faith that is primarily motivated by a desire to avoid eternal condemnation in hell.
Also used in combinations: *fire-insurance agent; *fire-insurance Christian; *fire-insurance gospel.
• 1893 Blackwood’s Mag. (Dec.) 816 : “I have always striven according to my lights to impress upon Mary Donne a sense of her sinfulness, and to lead her to better things. Only yesterday morning, before she went away, I placed a precious tract, ‘Have you an Eternal Fire Insurance Policy?’ with my own hands on her dressing-table. 1921 The Epworth Era XXVIII. 108 : He wasn’t selling fire insurance to save men from the flames of hell. He was offering them life insurance—a big chance for a life of joyous, fruitful service. This was the abundant life he came to give. 1971 The Episcopalian CXXXVI. 28 : Christianity is not, nor has it ever been, a kind of cosmic fire insurance for eternity. 1974 Schreiber My Redeemer Lives 58 : Sometimes the church has been guilty of presenting the gospel of Christ as if it were offering, at reduced rates, an eternal fire insurance policy: “Stick with us and you won’t get burned!” 1979 Pippert Out of the Saltshaker and into the World 46 : We talked directly about how becoming a Christian isn’t merely fire insurance; it’s a relationship that affects every aspect of our lives. 1985 Carter Help for the Evangelistic Preacher 39 : If you look on salvation as nothing more than fire insurance from hell, then you have an absolutely warped idea of salvation. 1987 Fickett Let’s Keep Growing! 60 : Many self-professed Christians today interpret this to mean that they can do as they please; that as long as they have their eternal fire insurance policy, everything is all right. 2010 Pennington One Year Alone with God 204 : Some people treat salvation like a fire insurance policy. They walk up to an altar or say a prayer and assume that they are covered when they die. On that day, they plan to whip out their “fire insurance policy” to avoid going to hell. God’s gift of salvation does save us from an eternity spent apart from Him in hell, but it does so much more.
fire-insurance agent n. [From the idea that evangelists possess knowledge of the means (see *fire insurance) of avoiding eternal condemnation in hell] An evangelist.
• 1900 DN II. 35 : A preacher.
fire-insurance gospel n. [see *fire insurance] A presentation of the gospel that pressures its audience to convert to Christianity or else face eternal condemnation in hell.
• 2001 Warren King Came Preaching: The Pulpit Power of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 123 : Social gospelers insisted that it is not sufficient to preach a fire-insurance gospel to save a person from hell.