I have been reading “The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge) who pastors at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. This book is simple, clear, and straight to the point. I would recommend this book as a good lay level introduction to evangelism. In the middle of this book Dever writes a chapter titled ‘What Isn’t Evangelism’. This chapter is composed of five sections, one of which caught my attention. Dever argues that ‘personal testimony’ is not evangelism.
Now, some of us were raised in churches that trained evangelism methods which centered around personal testimony, so this concept is not going to sit well at first. Don’t get me wrong, I think your personal testimony is important. But, I do think Dever raises an important distinction between personal testimony, and the Gospel. Yes, personal testimony plays an important role in the witness of the Christian life (Ps. 66:16; John 9:25, 1 Cor. 1:5-6), but one can give a personal testimony without ever presenting the Gospel.
You will often hear things in evangelism training like ‘no one can refute what God has done in your life’, which is true. But we must be careful. Without a clear presentation of the Gospel, a personal testimony alone can give a non-Christian the freedom to agree that ‘God changed your life, and that’s great for you’. This is the postmodern mentality, where subjectivism meets ‘personal faith’. One can agree with your testimony without ever being confronted with the truth of the Gospel.
Dever writes, “It’s good to share a testimony of what God has done in our lives, but in sharing our testimonies we may not actually make clear what Christ’s claims are on other people”. (73)
The Gospel does not center on what God ‘can do for you’, or how ‘God can make your life better’. Yet sometimes we focus too much on the testimony aspect of a Gospel presentation, and give others the impression that this is what the Gospel is all about.
The Gospel is much bigger than you and I. The Gospel is the good news of God, the fact that there is only one God, who is holy, loving, and just. This God created you and I in his image, enabling us to have a relationship with him. But man sinned, thus turning their backs on the promises and blessings of God. But God, being rich in mercy became a man in Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, died as punishment for our disobedience, and was raised from the dead.
Jesus fulfilled the law, and took on the punishment of mankind, consuming the wrath of God for all those who would accept Him as God’s own Son. Jesus now calls all to repent and turn to Him alone for forgiveness, offering eternal life to all who believe. This is the Gospel of God.
Sure it’s important for me to tell others that ‘I used to be a heavy drug user’ or ‘was raised in the church and turned my back on God’, and God gave me the hope, purpose, and power I needed to change. But that in itself is not the Gospel. The Gospel is the story of God. Personal testimony may give me creditability with someone, or help me break down walls in order to share the Gospel, but in the end the good news is about God. Dever provides a good reminder, and a call for clarity on this issue.