Thursday, June 28, 2007

What is Evangelism? Part 1

I'm going to try to do a series here that answers the question, "What is Evangelism?" It may only be two posts; it may be five. No big promises here. But it occurs to me that answering this question is very important because, by all accounts at the last convention, the problem with the SBC is that we aren't doing enough of it. Even the President of the Convention said so, and I do not doubt that it's true.

So let's get a rudimentary definition of "evangelism." I'll say that evangelism is the heralding of the gospel of God. This can be one on one, or it can be done in crowds of thousands. That sounds easy enough, but the concern I have is that we have lost the key component of evangelism: the gospel itself. If we have no sound gospel, then we have no evangelism. Do you suppose this is what President Page means?

Secondly, I am afraid that we have lost the purpose of evangelism. I will say, just to get things going, that the chief end of the gospel/evangelism is not to get people saved. I believe that even if we have a sound gospel, if we try to use it in a way that it is not intended, or expect from it what it was never intended to do, then we will become frustrated with it. Sort of like trying to use a screwdriver to drive a nail. Or better yet, trying to turn a screw with the tip of a butterknife. While I believe that it is true that many "evangelicals" could not give a satisfactory answer for "What is the Gospel?" I believe that most would do even worse with, "What is evangelism for?"

I wrote that the chief end of the gospel is not for the salvation of people. Though by God's grace, many are saved through its proclamation. The reason this cannot be its chief end and primary purpose is because not everyone is saved by the gospel. Let me through another point in here; I believe that neither evangelism or the gospel fail in their purpose. My outline looks like this:

1. Evangelism is the heralding of the gospel.
2. Evangelism never fails in its chief end.
3. Often, people are not saved after they are evangelized.
4. Therefore, the chief end of the evangelism cannot be the salvation of souls.

So if evangelism's chief end is not for the salvation of souls, what is the purpose of evanglism? My simple answer is that evangelism, which is the heralding of the gospel, has for its chief end the glorification of God. This, I believe, should be self-evident and basic. It should not shock, and after building up to that point, you may have hoped that I was going for something a bit more profound.

If it is true that the chief end of evangelism is to glorify God, is it true that evangelism never fails in its purpose? I say that yes, it never fails. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16). When we herald the gospel, we are always a pleasing aroma to God, regardless of whether people believe.

If this is true, then why is it that almost every year our success in evangelism is measured in terms of conversions and/or baptisms? Why is it that we push men and women onto the mission field with pleas to go to people who are "starving for the gospel?" Do we wonder why missionaries and church members burn out after going "door to door" and living amongst the lost when they see no conversions? The reason they get so discouraged is because, on some basic level, we are taught that the purpose of evangelism is to get people saved. I cannot imagine a more potentially discouraging situation.

One of my chief discouragments, year after year, is to hear evangelism preached at the convention in terms of "we've got to win people to Jesus." God knows that I long to see people won to Christ with all my heart. But what I long for above all things, indeed the chief end of my life, is to see God glorified. Maybe missionary and evangelistic endeavor is marked as "failure" because we have forgotten what it is for. Couldn't one, just one pastor stand at the convention and preach on evangelism as if God's glory is at stake and not just the fate of wretched, rebellious people who hate Him with every fiber of their being? When I say that His glory is at stake in the gospel and evangelism, I do not mean that He is gambling His glory there as if He could lose it or gain it according to our faithfulness. Rather, I mean that His glory is at stake in terms of our seeing it manifested, by salvation or by glorious judgment, if we do not herald it.

Tomorrow, we'll have to answer, "What is the Gospel?" if we want to understand evangelism better. Stay tuned.


wana be said...

Since learning that evangelism is about the gospel and its power to change hearts, sharing the good news is much easier. There is no pressure because a person comming to Christ is not dependent on my method or fancy words. That is not to say that there is not an urgency. As you say, we should eagerly seek to glorify God. I think if more people were taught this more people would evangelize.
Loved the series on the local church.

Sojourner said...

Wana Be,

I agree with what your saying, and I want to point out something in your comment that basically makes my point. Notice that you say:

There is no pressure because a person coming to Christ is not dependent on my method or fancy words.

Why would anyone "feel pressure" about someone else coming to Christ? Pressure from whom? God? Is God putting pressure on us to make converts? If not Him, then who is it?

Lisa writes... said...

Just this morning I was chatting on the phone with a friend and she brought up the fact that in a meeting she was attending someone brought up the question of whether or not this year's VBS was "effective." How often we determine effectiveness based on attendance and conversion numbers! As I told her, the Truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed daily--how much more effective can it get?

Joe Blackmon said...

Sometimes, I think our perspective on the reality of Hell and the punishment of the lost is skewed. If we really understood what they were heading for without a relationship with Christ, we would be out in the "highways and byways" telling everyone we met about our Lord.