Creating a Positive Method of Evangelism
I have been thinking for a long time about what it would take to create a method of evangelism that is positive in nature. My blog friend Matt Dabbs has posted some good material on his blog, Kingdom Living, at www.mattdabbs.wordpress.com. You owe it to yourself to check out what he and his congregation have been working on.
It might sound kind of strange (well, in fact it DOES sound sort of strange) to speak of a positive evangelistic method. But in my estimation we have far too many methods of evangelism that are primarily negative in the focus and the goal. They begin by emphasizing that a person is “lost,” a “sinner,” “doomed to the fires of hell” and generally not worth a whole heap of beans. The process moves from convincing people of this despicable condition to convincing them that Jesus died for them, and that a momentary dip in a big tub of water magically removes this blight on one’s soul, and voila, if the person “responds to the invitation” then we have a new Christian and we zero in on our next target sinner, and if not then we shake the dust off of our feet and zero in on our next target sinner.
The problem with this method of evangelism is that it is so unbiblical.
When we look at the four writings in our New Testaments that bear the name euangelion, “gospel,” we see a far different story. All of the gospels begin with Jesus (two go all the way back to his birth) and explain that the coming of Jesus has far more to do with the love and the plan of God rather than mankind’s sinful nature. That is simply to say that each gospel focuses on the coming kingdom of God as the primary focus and goal, rather than man’s fallen condition. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read the parables. Read the conversations that Jesus has with the various individuals in the gospel of John. What is their major, underlying focus? Each of them points forward to the coming kingdom of God and what God is currently doing in the ministry of Jesus to usher in that kingdom. Men, and women, are then given a choice – either enter into that kingdom through faith in Jesus, or reject Jesus and therefore reject the coming kingdom.
The rest of the New Testament writings then fall into this scheme. Although written to those who have made the commitment to follow Jesus, the writings deal with a number of issues related to the kingdom of God. Some disciples are not living up to kingdom standards. Some need education as to what those standards are. Some are in need of encouragement to follow those kingdom standards. And some disciples are being persecuted for living those kingdom standards and they need to see the whole cosmic story related to them. Thus, Acts – Revelation is a record of several different writers each proclaiming in a unique way what the kingdom is all about.
Now, please, do not get me wrong. I believe that outside of Jesus men and women are lost. I believe that it is only through the name of Jesus that men and women can be saved. I believe in the reality and the seriousness of sin. I believe that baptism is an essential response to the gospel, and is that point in time in which we contact the saving blood of Jesus. But, should that be the beginning point of our evangelism? Really? Do I entice someone to eat my home cooked green chile cheeseburgers by telling them what miserable starving waifs they are? Or, do I entice them to indulge in my mouth-watering delicacy by wafting the tempting aroma under their noses and thereby allowing their stomachs to convince them that they are hungry?
The gospel writers started by telling the precious story of the Son of God and they let that aroma tell their readers how hungry (sinful) they were.
I have come to the conclusion that if we begin with a negative we are going to end with a negative, no matter how many positives we attempt to put in the middle. However if we begin with a positive (as the biblical writers do) then we will end with a positive, even though there is a world of negativity (sin) that we have to deal with in between.
I have a few more bones to pick with our modern, and primarily negative, methods of evangelism:
- Mass produced evangelistic methods often emphasize a question/response type of teaching. The problem I have with this method is that the questions come from a human author, not the text itself, and so you have to “read the author’s mind” to answer the question. You can frame any question to prove your point, so claiming that the question comes “straight from the Bible” is a meaningless claim. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists – every evangelistic organization claims that their materials come “straight from the Bible.” So then we just end up in an argument as to which human questions are “biblical” and which are “man-made” when in reality they all are. It is no wonder the un-churched lump all religious groups in one big pile.
- The other main type of method is the “Scripture chain reference” where the teacher starts with one verse, and over the next 60 minutes or so covers about 20 or 30 pre-selected verses that all lead to Acts 2:38 and the necessity to be baptized. This only gives the target sinner “textual whiplash” and very often they feel so overwhelmed with the magnitude of the argument that they feel they have to respond, even though they are not responding to the gospel of Jesus. Once again, the Mormons, JWs and other groups are just as effective at stringing their proof-text verses together, so in the eyes of the general public it just seems to be a situation of “he said – he said.”
- Mass produced evangelistic methods are usually the product of a very highly motivated “Type A” personality who is extremely gifted in what he does (and they are typically male). He is highly effective in the system he has devised, whether it be question/answer or Scripture chain reference. The major problem here is that very few individuals are that highly motivated Type A personalities, and no one except the author of the program can follow his program exactly as he designed it. Many can come close, and many are successful in using the program, but usually they are very close to the author in personality type, not spiritual giftedness! Storytellers can follow the material written by storytellers, accountants can follow straight linear thinking, and question/response people love question/response methods. If you fall outside the author’s personality type, you will not be successful using his program.
- And, finally I should add that many mass-produced evangelistic programs are even unscriptural in the sense that they expect every disciple to be an effective evangelist in the mold of the program author. This is in clear contradiction to Eph. 4:11-13, Rom. 12:3-8 and 1 Cor. 12:4-11. While all disciples should be able to share the reason for the hope that is within them (1 Pet. 3:15), not everyone is gifted to be an evangelist in the technical sense in which we use the word today. It is unbiblical, and unrealistic, to demand this.
So, I want to change the dynamic. I do not want to begin with a negative and hope somehow to end up with a positive. I want the Good News to be exactly that – Good News! I want the seeker and the un-churched alike to be able to see Jesus as the four gospel writers proclaimed him – and not the way my imperfect human mind wants to portray him.
As I work through this I hope to share the results of my study. I do not want to create another “program” of evangelism, but I would like to stimulate your thought and mind to how you, and your congregation, can move from a “negative” method of evangelism to a “positive” method of evangelism.