Thursday, March 4, 2010

Biblical Evangelism Anyone?

Working on a lesson about healthy church members being Biblical evangelists, I posed a question: “How does a Biblical understanding of the gospel and a Biblical understanding of conversion impact our understanding of evangelism?” The last two lessons in this series have been addressing just these two themes – a Biblical understanding of the gospel of Christ, and a Biblical understanding of conversion. So just how do these two foundational building blocks of gospel ministry affect the way we understand our mission as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)?

What is evangelism? It’s the heralding of the message of reconciliation of lost sinners to a holy and righteous God through faith in a perfectly substitutionary sacrificed Son and expressed in a life of obedience to Him. That in a nutshell is the evangel, the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, and only that, and all of that, is the propositional truth that must be communicated. There are many methods, approaches, tactics and strategies for doing so, but all of those methods must include a clear communication of these core gospel truths or they are not evangelism. This is why so-called lifestyle evangelism or “witnessing with our lives” may be helpful, but is not evangelism. Sharing our testimonies of God’s grace in our lives through Christ is a good and right thing to do, but it’s not evangelism. A Biblical understanding of the gospel requires that those objective gospel truths be clearly communicated. A Biblical understanding of the gospel, then, impacts the content of our evangelism. It defines the message to be proclaimed.

So what then about conversion? How does a Biblical understanding of conversion impact how we do evangelism? When we understand that conversion, in Scriptural terms, is far more than what we often strive for today, it transforms our view of what the objective of our evangelism is. Praying to “accept Jesus into your heart”, signing a card, walking an aisle, “making a decision”, are all too often viewed as the sign of successful evangelism. But none of these popular ideas and terms are even close to being found in the Scriptures. They tend to put our focus on closing the deal and getting a name on a card or a profession of faith. But the Biblical model of conversion is far, far more demanding. A profession of faith without a corresponding confession of life is in fact a dead profession, according to James chapter 2. The Scriptures constantly use terms of repentance (metanoia) and conversion (strepho) when referring to coming to saving belief in Christ. Not just profession with the mouth, but confession with the life through surrender to Him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10). So then, a Biblical understanding of conversion impacts the objective of our evangelism. We seek to see God make converted disciples, not simply gain professions of faith.

Does this Biblical informing of the content and objective of evangelism match what’s seen in much of postmodern American evangelicalism? Sadly, no it does not. A widespread superficial understanding and communication of the gospel, combined with a decision-focused objective in conversion, is producing generations of professed Christians who at best have a tenuous hold on eternity, and at worst (and more likely) are still in their sin and given false assurance of salvation.

As Thabiti Anyabwile states in his excellent little book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, “Apart from a Biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism, a church member will be most unhelpful in completing the churches mission of making disciples.” God, save us from being unhelpful to your work in building Your church and Your kingdom. Give us a solid reliance on the understandings of the gospel of Christ and the nature of true conversion that You reveal to us in Your word. And give us unwavering confidence in Your power to save Your elect by Your gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” – Romans 1:16.

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