Positive Evangelism – Focused on Jesus

Words of Christ - 6/52

Words of Christ – 6/52 (Photo credit: Roger’s Wife)

[Continuing my thoughts about creating a method of positive evangelism]

In evaluating several mass-produced “programs” of evangelism I have come to realize one thing: the more “formal” or “rigid” the program the less it focuses on Jesus. That is to say that if you must have a brochure in front of you, or a list of questions, or a list of Scripture chain references (even if you have them marked in your Bible so that your student cannot see them) the ultimate goal of the program is not to get the student to become a disciple of Jesus, but to agree with the author of the evangelistic program that his view of Jesus/the church/the end times is correct. Stated another way, most mass-produced programs of evangelism are more about psychology and ecclesiology than they are about discipleship.

Notice the “question/answer” type of programs. Often the first two or three lessons don’t even mention Jesus or discipleship. They are focused on proving that history has been divided into three “dispensations,” or that the old system of  Jewish sacrifice has been abolished, or that the teachings of Calvin, Luther, et al, are all false.

Contrast those systems with the four gospels. Read the opening paragraph of each of the four gospels and see if you can identify any of the major issues dealt with in these question/answer type programs. Using the NLT because of its more dynamic translation principle (a major consideration in teaching someone who has never read the Bible – more to come later) we read in Matthew 1:1, “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and Abraham.” Now that gets us immediately into the story of Jesus – his birth! What is important about David? And why was Abraham mentioned? Here we go, off to the races and we have only used one verse of one gospel. Now Mark, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written.” Now here is a gospel that gets us into the story! No long list of ancestors (although for Matthew that was critical!), we jump immediately into the Good News. (Very important aside – if using the NLT, I would ask my student why he/she thinks the translation capitalizes those words. That lets me discuss the word “gospel” and it’s importance to Mark. Once again, the text is all I have used to stimulate the thinking of the student.)

Now, on to Luke. Luke is a little long-winded in his introduction, so bear with the long quote: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.” Wow! Luke refers to “many accounts” using “eyewitness reports” and how he “carefully investigated” everything so that Theophilus could be “certain of the truth” of what he was taught. Do you think you could fill an hour discussing that paragraph and the profound relevance it has in today’s “postmodern” world? Without one mass-produced brochure or one set of “follow the bouncing Scriptures” we can just let this text speak to the student and allow the student’s questions to frame the movement of the study. What a profound thought!

Finally, consider John. Matthew, Mark and Luke are all left-brain writers. John, on the other hand, is utterly right-brained: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” Wow, again! Left brain people will get lost in this stream-of-consciousness thinking, but right-brain students will love it. Questions will pour out like water bursting a dam. What/who is this “Word?” How can the Word be “with” something and simultaneously be that thing? What is the light? And why is this light impervious to darkness?

You see, when you focus on the four gospels, the gospels prompt all the questions, and the questions all relate to Jesus. A positive method (or program, if you so desire) of evangelism begins, continues and ends with Jesus. There will be time to discuss the Law of Moses (if the student raises the question!!), the importance of the Old Testament to New Testament disciples, and maybe even some discussion of end time theories. But if the questions arise from the study of the text of the gospels the answers will also come from the study of the text of the gospels and not the theological musings of somebody born over 1900 years after the gospels were written. I do not want my students to become my disciples, I want them to become disciples of Jesus!

In the “great commission” of Matthew 28:18-20 there is only one verb in the imperative tense: make disciples. All of the other verbs are participles, which share the imperatival sense of the “make disciples,” but the going, the baptizing, and the teaching are all describing how the command to make disciples is to be carried out. This should be a solemn warning about what kind of materials we use in the process of evangelism. Is it focused on Jesus? Is it positive, transforming the life of someone into a disciple of Christ? Or is it narrow, legalistic, and designed to defeat “straw men” who collapse easy, but really have no meaning in terms of a new Christian’s faith?

The solemn warning of Matthew 23:15 should always be on our minds as we seek to share the gospel of Jesus with our friends.

About Paul Smith

Paul was born in Santa Fe, NM. He graduated from high school in Albuquerque, NM, and has lived and worked in NM, TX, OK, and CO. He is married to Susan and father to Kylee. Paul has a BS degree in Youth Ministry, a MS degree in Biblical and Related Studies and an M.Div. degree, all from ACU. In June 2015 he received the D.Min. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Paul has served as a youth minister, preaching minister, hospice chaplain, and as a flight instructor and professional pilot for a freight company.

Posted on June 5, 2012, in Evangelism, Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Paul,
    I have written a post about the sinner’s prayer questioning some similar issues. I was wondering what you think about this issue of not being focused on Jesus being widespread in Christian teaching. It seems to me most sermons are about how to live a better life, how to apply scripture, and very few messages are about Jesus. It seems to me that if we focused more on helping people get to know Jesus, then the behavior stuff would naturally come into line. Have you thought about this at all?

    • Keri, thanks for stopping by and for raising this question. My response is a “yes and no” type of response. First, I would agree with you that we preach far too little Jesus today. I think the reason for this is multi-faceted, but the end result is the same. I especially see this in evangelism, which is the topic of my posts, but even in the larger arena of preaching and teaching we focus too much of our time on extraneous issues. My caveat is that when we look at the texts of the New Testament, Paul in particular, he goes into great depth as to the nature of Christianity in the first part of a letter, and makes some very specific and pointed applications in the second part of a letter. Thus, in Colossians for example (what I am preaching through on Sunday mornings) Paul has some of the richest Christology in the entire New Testament in the first two chapters, but in chapters 3 and 4 he even condemns the use of “filthy language.” So, preaching to a congregation of individuals who have already committed themselves to Jesus demands that I speak to issues of common, everyday life. But, and here is the key, those issues must be framed in a context that emphasizes the divinity of Jesus – which is exactly what Paul does!

      I see evangelism as the process by which a person decides to commit their life to Jesus. Teaching about the “cost” of discipleship is important in this first part of the journey, as all four gospels bear out. But Paul makes a clear distinction between the gifts of an evangelist and those of a teacher (Eph. 4, Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12) and that is what I am trying to emphasize in my blog posts. Evangelism obviously requires teaching, but an evangelist brings a person to Christ and lets that person make the decision to accept Christ or not. Once that decision is made, it is the role of the teacher to perfect and to mature that Christian within the body of Christ.

      Thanks again for reading my blog. I have visited your blog and appreciate your thoughts.


  2. Thanks Paul for your detailed response. You really make some good points. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while…I will be sure to look out for your future posts.

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