Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What is Evangelism?

What Is Evangelism?What Is Evangelism? by George W Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What is evangelism?  That is an important, and debated, topic.  What is Evangelism? is a booklet in the Basics of the Faith series from P&R Publishing that seeks to answer this question.  This is the first of the series that I have had the chance to read, but there are quite a few titles available that look very intriguing.

George Robertson starts off by giving the 3 P’s of evangelism, proclaim, persuade and pray.  I would have been quite comfortable with him maintaining this alliteration as an outline and looking at the “practical” aspects to follow all under the persuasion heading.  Looking at the practical as a subset of the whole leads to some confusing points and applications.

When Robertson began to look at the practical,  I began to read this book with much skepticism, due in large part to the fact that it was not initially made clear that these practical aspects (testimony, being invitational, intentional, compassionate and intellectual), listed in the remainder,  was part of, to large degree,  the persuasion aspect of evangelism, not part of the proclaiming.  Even with that bit of clarity from the conclusion, I still have some substantial reservations.  Here is what I mean.

Robertson argues that testimony is one of the primary means of Evangelism and clears it up slightly at the end by putting it in the category of persuasion but it is still a bit off.    The author seems to argue in a way that would imply you can win converts simply with your testimony and that you can be basically ignorant of Scripture but “everyone can have a testimony.”  But that is the problem, everyone can have a testimony.  Stories of changed lives are fruit of any worldview.  What makes the Gospel so profound is the objective nature of its truth.  Christ is risen regardless of whether your life is changed or not.  He is Lord whether you suppress or or rejoice in that truth.

Our testimony is not primarily our changed lives, it is the Gospel.  Robertson uses the story of the blind man healed by Jesus as evidence of the effectiveness of personal testimony.  The only problem with that was that it was not his personal testimony that warranted the scorn of the religious leaders.  His “I was blind now I see” is not what got him kicked out of the temple; it was his attributing it to a “sinner” like Jesus and asking the leaders if they wanted to be His disciples as well.  It was the truth about Christ, not his changed life that got him excommunicated by the leaders.  If personal testimony is simply used in a manner of persuasion, rather than proclamation, I have no problem with it.  Often, too often, it is not simply a support proof of the proclamation, it is the entirety.

The second practical part of evangelism was that it needed to be invitational, like those being invited to the wedding feast in Christ’s parable, but the author presents this as inviting to church rather than inviting someone to repent of their sins and enter into the family of God, the Kingdom of God.  I agree that evangelism must be invitational, I just do not think that “You wanna come to church with me?” is sufficient.  This may be embryonic in the development of invitational evangelism, but it is far from fully developed.

The other three practical aspects, I thought, were excellent.  Evangelism must be intentional.  ”One must be willing to place limits on his or her rights to win some for Christ” becoming “slaves to all” so that some might be won.  Robertson encourages the reader, to quote Andy Mineo, to “go where the wild things are.”  He argues that,
Most contemporary Christians are surrounded by those who have few conscientious scruples and little religious training. What will becoming a servant to them for the gospel’s sake look like? It may mean sitting in the break room with people who tell off-color jokes and use the Lord’s name in vain. It may mean going to a concert of an artist you do not appreciate, because an unbeliever has invited you. It may mean attending a party where no one shares the same values as you and the talk is all of getting ahead. It may mean listening to someone’s syncretistic spiritual ideas. The Christ-like evangelist must go where unbelievers are and expect to come out smelling like the sewer that engulfs them. He or she must not insist on conversing only after the unbeliever cleans up his mouth or changes her ways or comes to church or sits well behaved in the living room.

I could not agree with him more.  His point that the evangelist must be compassionate is also spot-on.  “Compassionate and practical acts of service open doors for the gospel.”  Beyond being compassionate and intentional, evangelism is intellectual.

“The Christian faith can withstand whatever question or attack is brought against it because the truth of the gospel empowered by the Spirit is able to penetrate, convert, and renew the will of any unbeliever. Out of love, the evangelist must not back down from any challenge. Listen carefully and lovingly to questions. Pray for insight into what is provoking the questions. Gently probe to find the points of suppression and expose the inconsistencies. And then compassionately but firmly surround the friend with the evidence of the resurrection and call him or her to repentance that leads to life.”

This booklet has much in the positive column and some significant negative marks as well.  I wish Robertson had been clearer on the testimony and invitation aspects of evangelism.  Those shortcomings aside and especially when viewing the rest of the book through the clarity offered in the conclusion, I feel this is a pretty decent little book.

I received a review copy of this book.

View all my reviews