Gospel-Centered Evangelism: Introduction
Note: This is the first post in a series titled “Gospel-Centered Evangelism.” I am writing this material for the purpose of developing a evangelism training course for the local church.
While I was in seminary I had the honor of taking a few courses under Dr. John Hammett, who ended up being one of the most influential professors in my own theological development. In his book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches Dr. Hammett made a statement about evangelism that jolted my interest in the subject in a fresh way.
Hammett stated that “there is almost a total absence of commands concerning evangelistic involvement in the New Testament.” He then explains, “this is not to say that evangelism is absent from the pages of the New Testament. On the contrary, evangelism is everywhere…but it is almost hardly ever commanded.” In conclusion of that thought Hammett argues that, “the implication we are to draw from the New Testament is that evangelism should be a natural product of a healthy church.” Simply put, evangelism is never commanded because it is always assumed – interrelated with the whole of the Christian life.
I had always categorized evangelism as a specific type of ministry or a specifically focused activity, and thought that the Bible commanded it. And the statement that there is a “total absence of commands concerning evangelistic involvement in the New Testament” did not sit right with me. Maybe I needed to rethink ‘evangelism’? This lead to another thought.
Perhaps our understanding of evangelism is unhealthily tied to specific outreach efforts or other compartmentalized endeavors that have an evangelistic thrust. If so, it is quite possible that we have developed the wrong criteria for judging and evaluating the success of our evangelistic efforts on a personal and corporate level. Simply put, we need a more balanced understanding of evangelism that moves beyond decision-oriented presentations to gospel-centered transformation. We need to move from an exclusive focus on the after life and include an thorough understanding of the mission-life. Consider common methods of evangelism, which could be categorized three ways:
- Cold-Contact Evangelism: street evangelism, tract distribution
- Mass Evangelism: crusades: outreach programs, media broadcasts
- Visitation Evangelism: door to door, program visitor follow-up
The reality is that most of us only give a certain amount of time to such activities. In other words, these methods are best suited for specific contexts. The problem is that the majority of our “day to day” living happens in situations outside of where these methods are focused on. Yet most of the evangelism training in the American church is dependent on such programs, methods, and activities. Well, what about everyday living? I have been thinking to myself, how can we train our people to live evangelistically – or to put it another way, missionally – in the context of their everyday life?
Being unsatisfied with the compartmentalized evangelism training that is so prevalent in our day I began to desire a more holistic approach to evangelism that flowed from a robust theology into everyday missional living. My prayer is that this study is will begin to fill in those gaps. In many ways, this will be the product of my own journey from an uneasy tension in my own presuppositions of evangelism to understand what biblical evangelism actually is and what it should look like.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to write and develop this study.
- John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology, (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2005), 253.
- Hammett, 253.
- J.I. Packer argues that “evangelism is one of the activities that the Father and Son have commanded.” Packer is building this argument from Christ’s Great Commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:19. But it has been noted that in this passage Christ is commanding the disciples to go and make other disciples by teaching them to obey all that he had commanded them. In the strictest sense of the word, evangelism is not commanded here. While evangelism should not be seen in isolation from discipleship it should be noted that it is only implied in this particular passage (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1991), 74.)
- Hammett, 254.
- These broad categories come from Tim Keller’s article Evangelism through Networking, July 1992.