Today’s post continues the previous post on Evangelism as a dirty word.
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” Acts 8:35, NKJV.
The “him” in question is an Ethiopian traveller, a court official from Egypt. He had been reading the Suffering Servant prediction from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. God supernaturally leads Philip to an encounter with him just at the right time.
I love the verbs here. Peter 1) opened his mouth. 2) preached Jesus to him. May I lovingly, humbly suggest the same two verbs for all who would practice evangelism today?
The word preached translates the Greek verb euaggelelizo (evangelizo). Jesus gospelized Jesus to him. The content of his communication was Jesus, specifically in his suffering on the cross for our sins.
There is a move afoot to separate the proclamation of Jesus from the works of evangelism. This move, coming at us from emergent churches, defines evangelism much more as doing loving, compassionate deeds than proclaiming Jesus. Before I’m accused of anything, let me say that I ADVOCATE BOTH.
In fact, I advocate THREE parts to an evangelistic movement, like a golf swing. Backstroke. Contact. Follow-through.
BACKSWING: these are the compassionate deeds, the friendship building, the relationships. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, taking in the widow and orphan. This is PRE-EVANGELISTIC, in my mind. It is not a complete evangelism. Three reasons: 1) The Bible does not use the words euaggelizo in these kinds of context. 2) What good is it to save a body and leave the soul in darkness? 3) What would be the difference between the church and any other social service agency? Who would need us? What distinctive would we have from any secular or government agency? Isn’t our distinctive that we preach Christ and him crucified? (I Cor 1:23; 2:2).
This pre-evanglistic backswing gives US credibility. (Not Jesus. Us, his followers. Jesus does not need to be “given credibility”.) It opens hearts and opportunities for the next step.
It not only gives us credibility, it also EXPRESSES THE LIFE OF JESUS. That’s the main point, as I see it. Christ in me DOES care about hungry bellies and hurting bodies and hopeless hearts. And when I serve with compassion, I am expressing his life flowing through me. Therein lies the power of Christian service in the world. But that service is not enough.
CONTACT: this happens when the gospel itself is presented. The gospel is a set of data. It centers on Jesus and his cross. It includes his resurrection life too. I won’t go into it, because I’ve already done so. Click here if you’d like to read that. Or here. The gospel is an invitation to personal faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and only hope. This is the CENTERPIECE OF EVANGELISM. The communication of information, doctrine, truth, facts… call them whatever you like. It is an impartation of biblical data. These things must be HEARD and BELIEVED/TRUSTED IN if a person is to be saved (have a connection with God). I have shared the gospel in relationships over coffee, or while jogging, or driving in a car with a friend, or in youth ministry at sporting events, or from the pulpit. The mode/manner/time/place is highly flexible. It can be explained in one sitting, or in tidbits over time. It can be explained in full, or in part (there is an irreducible minimum, I believe). The point is that evangelism doesn’t occur until Jesus and his saving work are in some way communicated.
I believe this is the task of every follower of Christ. This is the GREAT COMMISSION.
I spent a year of graduate school in an Urban ministry program called SCUPE. A wonderful plunge into urban ministry training, but with a decided theological slant toward a more liberal end of the spectrum. Most of the churches/leaders we visited viewed evangelism as doing social justice and compassionate ministry, with or [usually] without the communication of Jesus and the gospel.
I was getting depressed and confused until we visited a church known for its compassion ministries: feeding, clothing, sheltering, taking in the homeless, the mentally ill, etc. Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. Jim Queen, the pastor, walked in and said to our class:
“I don’t care how many people you feed or homeless you shelter… if you’re not getting people saved, you’re not Christian.”
That’s my main point in this series of blogs. Thanks, Jim. You settled my spirit that day (1991 or so).
FOLLOW THROUGH: To me the follow-through is simply continuing the same loving actions as in the back-stroke… but with one all-important addition. The follow through includes instruction in the basics of Christianity and Christian living. This instruction usually happens relationally. In the context of friendships. That can be informally, over coffee (or good Italian food). Or formally, in a church class. Or through books, writing, blogs, etc. The goal is to continue on a track toward maturity in the Lord (Heb 5:12-6:1). Hopefully the tracks were laid in the backswing.
Bob sent me a very encouraging quote from Scot McKnight, a professor at North Park Univ. and a self-proclaimed postmodern Christian.
This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.
Personally, I’m an evangelist. Not so much the tract-toting, door-knocking kind, but the Jesus-talking and Jesus-teaching kind. I spend time praying in my office before class and pondering about how to teach in order to bring home the message of the gospel.
So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God. [click here for the source]
Like I said: 1) open your mouth. 2) preach Jesus.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the supernatural dimension in evangelism.