Should we major in evangelism?

At least one local Christian in the Fountain City is doubting that evangelism is the Church’s most important job.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Facebook lurking to bring you this important newsflash:

At least one local Christian in the Fountain City is doubting that evangelism is the Church’s most important job.

Apparently, our young churchman has a niggling suspicion that the priority placed on evangelism is short-sighted and rife with unintended consequences. Specifically, He worries that majoring on evangelism means minoring in discipleship, an arrangement not found in Scripture. After all, Jesus didn’t say “Go and evangelize” but “Go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19).

On the whole I think our agitator’s instincts are right, especially when we consider two misconceptions that plague too many evangelism campaigns:

  1. Evangelism ≠ converts. Unfortunately, many pep talks for evangelism conflate evangelizing with winning converts. Strictly speaking, to evangelize (Greek, euangelizō) means “to announce/proclaim good news.” Thus, whenever we share the gospel with someone we have done evangelism regardless of whether or not we win a convert. Failing to distinguish between act and result leads to the belief that we’re not evangelizing unless we’re seeing new people in the pews. Maybe, maybe not.
  2. In Mt 28:19 make disciples is the main verb, not Go. It’s not uncommon to hear someone explain the Great Commission as if it consisted of two commands: Go and make disciples. The effect is that ‘go’ is taken to signify our going out to win the lost (i.e. evangelism) while ‘make disciples’ is what we do once we get them in. So there’s evangelism and there’s discipleship.

    But Go is actually a participle in the Greek which draws its “force” from the imperative make disciples [Oh, you have them on the edge of their seats now. Tell them more! -Shive]. The point is that go is tied to make disciples which is the focus of the verse.

On biblical grounds I think evangelism should neither be conceived in terms of results (i.e. conversions) nor should it be considered apart from the broader work of discipleship. By all means, emphasize evangelism, but do it for the increase of disciples not converts.

Greg Laurie, Mortimer Adler, and the gospel

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it.

As a powerful member of the clergy class I receive promos for new books and Bible studies from various publishers. True, the hoi polloi could get all the previews that I receive but they would need to ask for it. I get mine unsolicited. #blessed

005776124Tell Someone is a new book on personal evangelism from which Lifeway has developed a small group Bible study. The author is Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship (CA) and founder of Harvest Crusades. According to the back of his book, “more than 439,900 have registered professions of faith” at his crusades so he’s an experienced coach. From the Lifeway email blast:

 

Sharing your faith can be terrifying. But starting just takes one courageous step. In this new six-session Bible study, Greg Laurie will show you how to share your faith—simply by using your personal testimony. Once you begin telling the story of your own faith journey, you might find that you actually enjoy evangelism.

Laurie doesn’t really break any new ground unless you’ve never been exposed to the casual/conversational/relational/testimonial model of evangelism touted by previous authors here, here, here, and here. On the plus side the book–I haven’t seen the small group version–articulates the gospel clearly and accurately. And that brings me to my point.

In both the book (10 chapters) and small group curriculum (six sessions) “What Is the Gospel?” comes as the penultimate chapter/session which means the reader/participant hears why,

Tell-Someone-Sample_CONTENTS
Tell Someone table of contents (small group curriculum)

where, when, and how to share the gospel before they’re even told what the gospel is. What is the rationale behind this ordering? I imagine the forthcoming companion study, Marry Someone, in which the unwitting man-child is snookered (by the female author) into marrying his long-time girlfriend:

  • Session 1: Why Propose Marriage?
  • Session 2: When & Where to Propose Marriage
  • Session 3: How to Propose Marriage
  • Session 4: The Power of Romance
  • Session 5: What Is Marriage?
  • Session 6: Close the Deal

What then? Are we overreacting to the table of contents? May it never be! For it is written:

Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip. It is astonishing how many people never even glance at a book’s table of contents unless they wish to look something up in it. In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad to think their efforts are often wasted. . . a table of contents can be valuable, and you should read it carefully before going on to the rest of the book. -Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, 33.

And if the table of contents is by design then certain authorial implications follow. In the case of Tell Someone I take it that Laurie (et al) believes the enthusiasm gap in evangelism can be addressed by better methodology. For my part I think prioritizing methodology will, in most cases, end up perpetuating that gap. Lewis once said “just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it.”

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it. I don’t know how that changes when the gospel is relegated to one chapter near the end of the book.

Sometimes the ice is thick

frozen-rock-pondI wish I could point you to the originator of this analogy but I can’t remember where I heard it. {“Maybe your audience knows; you should ask him.” -DS} It goes something like:

Evangelizing your children is like throwing rocks onto a frozen pond. Nothing breaks through. But when the sun comes out to thaw the ice the rocks will fall in.

On a recent drive I was telling my wife that I’d been asked to ‘baptize’ a terminally ill convert in hospice care. Death was near but the baptism was on the following day. One of our young eavesdroppers asked what would happen if the patient died prior to baptism.

What he said was something like, “What if she dies before you can baptize her?”.

What I heard was, “Dad, I know baptism is important, but could you remind me and all my siblings that in Christ we’re justified by grace through faith?”.

So with my captive audience in tow I eloquently celebrated–in an age appropriate way, of course–the truth of the gospel. I spoke of how nothing we do or don’t do can ever make us right (or keep us right) with God. I succinctly explained that as important as baptism is (Jesus commanded it!) it’s a sign of salvation but not the saving work itself. Baptism doesn’t save us; Jesus does.

It didn’t take long but when I finished I couldn’t believe how well I had done. The only thing missing was the organ music & an aisle to walk. Maybe I should pull the car over and call for any converts to step to curb. This would certainly go down as one of the finest moments in otherwise checkered parenting career.

And then I heard the sweet voice of our scrubby, preschool cherub: “Dad, I wouldn’t kick a baby.”

I still have no idea what she was talking about. Babies played no part in my theological discourse. I was left wondering what my girl had heard. More accurately, I wondered if my girl had heard anything.

Did any of them hear what I was saying?

Reality check: I’ll never be able to talk my kids into saving faith. But “faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ.” So I’ll pile his weighty words on their cold hearts, praying for the day that his light melts the ice.

I am Jonah

Jonah 4:2-3  [Jonah] prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.  3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”

My joyful obedience as an ambassador in the advance of God’s kingdom is directly proportional to my enjoyment of God, not as I would like Him to be, but as He is. (2Cor 5:18-20)

Rational fools who worship an ass?

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

To say that the world will always consider us to be fools no matter what we say or do is not the same as saying it doesn’t matter what we say or do. No honest reading of 1Cor 1:18-31 can lead us to any other conclusion than that the world will consider us to be fools preaching foolishness but to acknowledge this fate is a far cry from suggesting that the mind is irrelevant in our witness. Our message may be ridiculed but that’s no excuse for abandoning the field of reason and persuasion.

The gospel is the power of salvation but God imparts the saving knowledge of that gospel through various means and methods. We need only look to Paul’s example in Acts to see that a self-identified “fool” will still reason from Scripture (Acts 17:2; 18:19) and attempt to persuade by argument (18:4; 28:23-24).

Fools need not be irrational fools.