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Biblical Evangelism

What the Bible says about evangelism (declaring and sharing the good news about the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus Christ whose life, work and death was to save us from our guilt, sin and hell and to make us right with a holy God).

This study is from Bill Vermeulen’s Great Truths of the Bible syllabus.

Evangelism is testifying to the mercy and grace of God as experienced in one’s personal life, and especially as declared in the Scriptures. It is “gospeling” the good news.  Evangelism is God’s task, but he has graciously made you a participant in the task. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

In the various accounts of evangelism in the Bible, we see that it is a fourfold task. It is (1) relational, (2) intentional, (3) presentational, and (4) invitational.

1. Evangelism was instituted by the Lord Jesus

a. John 20:21 – it was a commission

b. Mark 16:15 – there are recipients

c. Matthew 28:19-20 – he gave a basic strategy

d. Luke 24:46-48   – the content is repentance and forgiveness of sins based on the death and resurrection of Jesus

e. Acts 1:8 – geographically, it started in Jerusalem and continues to the ends of the world.

2. Evangelism is telling others about the saving work of God in our lives (Mark 5:19,20; John 9:26-33; Acts 2:5-11; John 4:29, 39; Acts 16:15, 40; 1 Peter 3:15; Philemon 6)

3. Evangelism is the spreading of the “Good News” message (Psalm 96:1; Matthew 24:14; Acts 8:5; 11:19-21; Revelation 14:6)

4. Evangelism is defending the faith of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27; 4:3; Acts 1:28).

5. Evangelism is to be done by the ordained (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5)

6. Evangelism is to be done by the unordained (Luke 8:39; 9:60/ Acts 5:32; 8:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; James 5:19,20; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 22:17).

7. Evangelism involves prayer (Matthew 9:38; John 17:20).

8. Evangelism involves finding, telling and harvesting (Luke 19:10; Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 8:35-38; Matthew 9:38).

9. Evangelism involves modeling and equipping others for effectiveness (Acts 13:2; 14:1; Ephesians 4:11, 12).

10. Evangelism is done through friendship and hospitality (John 1:41, 45; Acts 10:24-27, 44)

11. Evangelism is done through diaconal ministries (Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 9:35; 10:7; Acts 2:45, 47)

12. Evangelism is done through visiting homes (Matthew 10:11-14; Luke 19:9, 10; 10:5-7).

13. Evangelism is done in large gatherings (Acts 2:1-41; 17:22-34).

14. Evangelism is done in small groups (Acts 10:24-27; 16:15, 31-32; 18L7, 8, 26; 28:7-10).

15. Evangelism is done with individuals (John 1:41, 45; 4:7-29; Acts 8:34, 35; James 5:20)

16. Evangelism involves (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5):

a. A message about Jesus Christ

b. A messenger

c. A listener

d. The Holy Spirit

e. Prayer

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Finding Common Ground

A recommended book written by Tim Downs

Much of this book by Downs gave quite a bit of food for thought and consideration. Here are many quotes from the book that I found helpful or thought-provoking:

 

[There are postmodern] beliefs that are rapidly dominating post-modern culture.  The average Christian, armed with weapons designed to counter yesterday’s  modernist attack, finds himself frustrated and bewildered as the soil continues to melt away beneath his feet. p. 23

In philosophy, pluralism is “the belief that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.” By definition, to tolerate someone implies that you do not agree with his views.  You’re simply willing to indulge him. Dr. John Gray of Oxford University makes the point even more strongly”

[Tolerance] is unavoidably and inherently judgmental.  When we tolerate a practice, a belief, or a character trait, we let something be that we judge to be undesirable, false, or at least inferior; our toleration expresses the conviction that despite its badness, the object of toleration should be left alone.  This is in truth the very idea of toleration, as it is practiced in things great and small.  So it is that our tolerance of our friends’ vices makes them no less vices in our eyes: rather, our tolerance presupposes that they are vices. pp. 27-28

In our contemporary culture, Carter says, nothing is worse than an attempt to impose your religious beliefs on someone else.  Why?  Because an attempt to persuade someone else to your position presupposes that you believe his position to be flawed or inferior.  All attempts to persuade are judgmental.  They are, by modern redefinition, intolerant—and greeted with anger.  Samuel Taylor said, “I have seen gross intolerance shown in the support of tolerance.” p. 30

To me the student was only a “target.”  He was there to help me fulfill my obligation and return to my friends with a story to tell.  He was there to serve my ends.  I was communicating a message that could change his life, but it was all about me.   p. 36

Griffin argued that an ethical (and effective) Christian persuader must always seek to balance the requirements of love and justice.      p. 38

Yet in verse 12, Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  You can hear the voices of both love and justice in a single sentence.  “I have many more things to say to you,” said justice, “but you cannot bear them now,” said love.  Jesus said what He could, then backed off.  p. 39

Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen describes modern America as the “Argument Culture.”  In her book by that title she wrote: ‘The argument culture urges us to approach the world—and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind.  It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done…The war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes, politicians’ turf battles—in the argument culture, war metaphors pervade our talk and shape our thinking.  Nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern.  These all have their uses and their place, but they are not the only way—and often not the best way—to understand and approach our world. p. 41

John Woodbridge, professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote an article entitled “Culture War Casualties: How Warfare Rhetoric Is Hurting the Work of the Church.”  Woodbridge believes that when Christians join the argument culture, when we take on a warlike mind-set and communication style, it creates several problems:

· When we speak in the language of war it makes it harder for us to love our enemies because it inflames our own anger feelings.

· A war mind-set is an “us or them” mentality.  There is no room for middle ground or nuanced positions.

· The language of war makes even the gospel itself sound like angry criticism instead of good news offered in love.

· When we speak in the language of war we create the impression that we are the true enemies—and even the aggressors.

pp. 41-42

Our war mentality leads us to adopt a confrontational style of communication with unbelievers.  We assume their hostility in advance.  The unbeliever is not a seeker to be wooed and won, but an attacker to be repelled.  The Bible is no longer a love letter to the lost; it’s the gospel bomb that destroys the enemy stronghold.  When Christians no longer believe that the unbeliever will even listen, there is nothing left to do but testify.  I’ll say what I’m supposed to say, regardless of the effect it has on you.  p. 43

The church could not retreat from the world to pursue exclusively “sacred” activities because the world would not make the same retreat.  “Good philosophy must exist,” [C.S. Lewis] reminded us, “if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” p. 49

The underlying assumption is clear: If a graduate is saturated in science and briefly exposed to art,  he has everything he needs to make an impact on the world.  p. 55

Information has no power to persuade or transform until it is given art.

The Christian preference for science is strange indeed when you consider that our Sourcebook is a book of art.  Eugene Peterson wrote, “It surprises me when pastor friends are indifferent or hostile to poets.  More than half our Scriptures were written by poets.”  When God wanted to communicate His Word to mankind He packaged His message in every literary form known to man, including poetry, narratives, parables, proverbs, and even songs.  p. 56

The art of the Bible is no accident.  God wrapped His gift to us in magnificent and alluring paper precisely because the power and persuasiveness of language come through art—through the clever, creative, and memorable style of its delivery.  Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions?  Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words in the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable?  Is it an accident that the average adult in America knows almost nothing of Jesus but can remember at least one of His parables? pp. 57-58

Indirect communications share three common features.  First, there is no direct attempt to persuade—the real subject in question is often not even mentioned.  Second, the attack is against the line of supply, some underlying belief or attitude that is critical to the support of the primary belief.  Third, the style of the communication is as attractive and enjoyable as possible.  Art is the chief weapon of indirect attack.  pp. 63-64

I see the state of the spiritual battle that surrounds us this way: For the first time in many years, evangelicals have their opponents evenly matched or even outgunned on an intellectual, scientific level.  We have collected impressive weaponry and personnel, and we feel prepared to mount a frontal attack or to repel any direct attack made against us.  Look at these facts.  Read these proofs and evidences.  Listen to our philosophers and scholars.  Argue with us, debate with us, give us your best shot—we’re ready for anything you can throw at us.

But the enemy general, sensing the buildup of forces on our front lines, knows that it’s no longer to his advantage to mount a frontal attack.  If he attempts a major direct offensive and loses, he faces a crushing setback.  But even if he wins a direct attack, he only pushes us back against our reinforcements; he rallies our troops and creates a sense of solidarity and unity. pp. 64-65

The obvious objection to this suggestion is, “We can’t just go out tomorrow and make a film.”  No, we can’t.  Nor did our opponents begin making their film yesterday, nor did they begin learning the craft of filmmaking last week.  Many of them have devoted their entire adult lives to developing a craft that they can now use with great skill to promote whatever worldview they desire.  We will not be able to compete with that kind of artistry without a similar investment of time and energy—an investment that we won’t make, because we don’t value filmmaking.  p. 66

We must lose our fear of art without beginning to worship it.  Art alone is no greater virtue than science alone.  We must always work to strike a balance between the two—clear, scriptural thinking communicated in a powerful and relevant style.  p. 67

The greatest attacks on Christianity now come through art, not science.

The most devastating blows to Christian belief are indirect, not frontal.

The most damaging assaults on the Christian worldview are gradual, not immediate. pp. 70-71

We, too, can learn a lesson from the mole: There is great potential for spiritual impact when a Christian becomes an insider by working his way to a key position of influence and trust. p. 74

From the outside-in perspective, there are two options: (1) you can come out and be trained to harvest, possibly losing valuable influence you once possessed, or (2) you can remain inside and attempt to harvest, muddling by the best you can with competing time demands and no training.  You can harvest as an insider or you can harvest as an outsider.

But there is a third option, an option that has tremendous value—though few Christians currently recognize it as true ministry at all.  It is the philosophy of inside-out, in which insiders are encouraged to stay where they are—and to sow.  p. 81

Imagine, as [C.S.] Lewis would say, if every time a teenager turned on a radio, the music he heard was not proclaiming a Christian message, but was simply consistent with a biblical worldview.   Would that be of any value?  Would it have any effect on the mind-set of the teenager over time?  And could it have any effect on the way that teenager might one day respond to the direct appeal of a harvester?  p. 85

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known stories in Western literature.  Like all great stories, it operates on a number of levels.  It’s like an onion; as each layer of truth is removed, another layer is revealed.  On the surface, it’s a story about racism and prejudice.  Near its core, it’s a story about separatism and pride.    p. 91

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus said, we are to be both shrewd and innocent.  One commentator described the tension this way: “His followers were to be, not prudent toward outsiders and innocent toward God, but both prudent and innocent in their mission to outsiders…The balance is difficult, but not a little of Jesus’ teaching combines such poles of meaning.”

The strange thing about this tightrope is that evangelicals almost without exception choose to fall off to the same side, as though the other side doesn’t even exist.  What a peculiar anomaly!  The law of averages tells us that roughly half should err to each side, yet some strange suction draws us all irresistibly toward innocence and away from shrewdness.   p. 94

It’s important to take note of the timing of Jesus’ warning to His disciples.  The disciples had watched Jesus teach the multitudes, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even walk on water without any mention of their need for shrewdness.  The disciples had worked, traveled, prayed, and fasted together without any special need for prudence or practical wisdom.  It was not until they were sent out to have personal contact with unbelievers that they were warned of the need to be both innocent and wise.    p. 95

What I discovered after several years of this kind of interaction is that, because of the separatism that exists in the evangelical world, Christians tend to learn the Bible as an isolated topic.  They understand biblical doctrine, but not what it has to do with business or politics or the family.  They understand biblical morality, but not how to apply it to the complexity of modern relationships.  They are superbly prepared to answer questions that non-Christians quit asking two generations ago.

John Wesley once commented that a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in the Bible and work from that point to the gospel.  That’s an admirable goal, but I would like to suggest another skill that’s needed just as much because of those modern construction techniques: A mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in today’s newspaper and work from that point to the gospel.  Christians today must stop being satisfied with randomly collected biblical data and begin to aggressively pursue wisdom—the ability to apply what they know to their own lives and to the lives of unbelievers around them. pp. 98-99

What can we do to help reverse this dangerous polarization?  What can we do to reach out not only to those who are like us, but also to those who are most unlike us?  We can begin to think in a different way about communicating our faith.  When we think of communicating with those around us, we can begin to use this thought process: I may not be able to harvest yet with the Hindu, the feminist, or the evolutionist.  But what can I say to each of them?  Where can I at least begin?  How can I sow?     p. 107

 

Soil Deficiency 1: Ignorance of All Things Biblical:

The increasing biblical ignorance in America has one very serious consequence.  In more and more cases, when Christians try to witness to non-Christians, the non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about.  Talking to an American about the Bible is now a cross-cultural experience.

The citizens of Cambridge intuitively understood a basic principle of human communication: The less knowledge a person has in common with us, the more carefully and thoroughly we must communicate with him.  Strangely, modern Christians rarely apply that principle when communicating with nonbelievers.  We forget that, when it comes to all things biblical, most Americans are from out-of-town.   pp. 110-111

Soil Deficiency 2: Prejudice:

It seems like almost everyone today has had some encounter with religious “proselytizing,” from a knock at the front door to a request for funds at the local airport.  The image of these encounters portrayed in the media is always negative: a lengthy, boring, irrelevant, unwanted intrusion by a glassy-eyed, too-friendly, Scripture-quoting devotee of some religious sect.  Thanks to these images, even those who have never had the direct experience feel as if they have.

I once asked the students at the Communication Center to describe for me the stereotype of an evangelical Christian in the eyes of the average American.  Here is a part of their list:

· Phony   · Intolerant   · Pushy  · Know-it-alls  · Manipulative   · Out of touch  · Politically conservative  · Out of date  · Socially conservative  · No sense of humor

How is this [the sower breaking the unbeliever’s stereotypes so he will listen] done?  A simple look at the Christian stereotype list above suggests some possibilities:

· Don’t be pushy or manipulative.  Don’t feel that every conversation with your neighbor must be turned to spiritual issues.  Don’t insist on forcing the harvest even when the fruit is not yet ripe.

· Don’t voice all your political viewpoints.  Your co-worker doesn’t have to know how you feel about welfare reform, capital punishment, and Rush Limbaugh.  And maybe it’s better that he doesn’t, if you want to talk about God later.

· Don’t know everything.  On some subjects, withhold your opinion.  Tell him you’re still thinking about it.  Ask him for his.  This shouldn’t be false humility either—you don’t know everything, and he can teach you something.

· Stay in touch.  Who won the World Series this year?  What was on TV last night?  Do you care about anything that he cares about—or are you so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly value?

· Lighten up.  Nothing shatters the stereotype of arrogance and stuffiness as fast as the ability to laugh—especially at yourself.    pp. 114-116

Soil Deficiency 3: Personal Issues   p. 116

Soil Deficiency 4: An Inadequate Worldview:

The goal of the program is simple: To desire repentance you must feel guilt; to feel guilt you must believe something was wrong; to believe something was wrong you must experience the pain you caused.  Each belief is supported by a prior belief.   pp. 117-118

 

Soil Deficiency 5: Cultural Issues:

Books on cultural trends abound, but consider just a few societal attitudes that culture watchers have observed in the last few years that could greatly affect the reception of the gospel.

· Deeply imbedded skepticism

· Insistence on privacy

· Resistance to persuasion

· Relativistic view of truth

· High value on tolerance

· Commitment to diversity  pp. 119-120

 

Soil Deficiency 6: Personal Cost:

The story is told of a chicken and a pig who decided to have breakfast together.  “Why don’t we go out for some bacon and eggs?” suggested the chicken.  “No, thanks,” said the pig.  “For you, bacon and eggs is just a contribution.  For me it’s a total commitment.”    p. 121

The lesson is simply that timing is one important consideration; there are good and bad moments to try to inject the spiritual into a distracted life.  p. 127

An old principle of persuasion says, “The first purpose of a persuasive speech is to show that not much persuasion is needed.”  In other words: A wise communicator seeks to build agreements, not arguments.  We’re not that much different, you and I.  We come from similar backgrounds.  We want a lot of the same things out of life.  We only differ at this one point. p. 133

Many writers have observed that one of the most important elements for an unbeliever considering conversion is his perceived sense of Christian community—or lack thereof.  In other words, “I know the community I would leave behind; is any community waiting for me on the other side?”  People in general have a powerful desire to belong and to be accepted, and these desires are not eliminated by faith in Christ.  An unbeliever considering the gospel is not only asking, “Can I believe this?” but also, “Who would I know there?  Would I belong?” pp. 138-139

We live in a cynical age.  When a stranger is unexpectedly friendly, the first thought that comes to mind is, What does he want?  Is he selling something, or does he want to sign me up for his multi-level marketing scheme?  In the busyness of modern life, we often seek out others only when we want something from them.  Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes guilty of the same fault.  What comes to our neighbor’s mind when our first sign of friendliness is followed by an evangelistic presentation?       p. 139

As Christians we are essentially translators.  Our job is to take complex theological principles, first recorded in ancient Near Eastern texts, and express them in terms so simple and clear that the most uneducated modern listener can understand them.  Translation takes time, and it requires the knowledge of at least two languages: the language of your original text and the language of your listener.  A truly effective translation is faithful to both.   p. 146

Think of the term “Christian movie.”  What does it suggest to you?  How would you characterize it?  Sometimes after seeing a movie we will report to one another, “It was really good, but it wasn’t exactly a Christian film.”  What we mean is either that the movie violated some Biblical norm—there was profanity or illicit sexuality—or that the movie wasn’t blatantly and openly about Christian things.  There was no mention of God or Jesus or heaven or hell.  There were a lot of good questions, but no clear answers.  As I said before, Christians are answer people, and a film that gives no answers can hardly be called Christian.  We reserve the term “Christian movie” for Billy Graham films and the evangelistic videos we use in our youth groups—films that give answers.   p. 149

Psychologists tell us that two of our most compelling needs are the need for love and the need to work.  Sometimes in our hunger for fulfillment we confuse these two longings.  A lonely middle-aged man immerses himself in his career, consciously hoping to find acceptance, appreciation, and admiration—hoping to be loved.  But ultimately he feels unfulfilled in his work and unloved.  His work seems somehow unsatisfying, though his performance is outstanding.  There’s still something missing, a kind of gut-level craving he can’t quite put his finger on, so he pours himself ever more deeply into his profession.  He has made the tragic mistake of seeking to meet his need for love through work, and although the work can be fulfilling and meaningful, it simply cannot substitute for love.   p. 165-166

To put it another way, before the sower can introduce his co-workers to God, he must introduce God into his work.    p. 167

Work, when it truly fits us, may cease to be work at all.  “Find work that you love,” the old adage says, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”   p. 172

To introduce God into our specific jobs, we need to think deeply about questions like these:

· What does it mean to both be a Christian and hold this job?

· How would I do my job differently if I were not a Christian?

· What biblical principles most apply to my daily responsibilities?

· How should my faith affect the way I relate to my co-workers, superiors, or employees?

· Do I know any experienced or successful Christians in this line of work?  Is there a way

I can benefit from their experience?

· Has anything been written by a Christian in this or a similar field?

· Can I meet with other Christians in my field to continue to explore these questions? p. 174

 

 

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