FORT WORTH, Texas – A lady once criticized the evangelism methods used by Dwight L. Moody, the famed 19th century American pastor, to win people to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In response Moody replied, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” Moody’s critic answered, “I don’t do it.” Moody quipped, “In that case, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
Like Moody, I would rather be a criticized personal evangelist than a non-evangelistic critic. Sometimes another’s critique of our evangelism is biblically warranted. At other times critical comments about our evangelism discourage us without cause. Perhaps the evangelistic enterprise would be served best if before 1) we critique and/or question the evangelistic practices of someone else, and/or 2) our evangelistic practices are critiqued and/or questioned by someone else, we sternly look ourselves in the mirror and say, “I question your evangelism!”
What questions might a believer ask himself in order to assess his evangelistic practices? In Tell It Often–Tell It Well, Mark McCloskey offers three essential questions every believer should ask himself in order to assess his evangelism and its methods biblically. In addition to McCloskey’s three questions (which are enumerated first in the list below), I suggest five additional questions. A believer’s response to each of these questions assists him in discerning 1) whether or not someone else’s critique of his evangelism proves warranted, and 2) what aspects of his evangelism fall short of the biblical ideal and need adjusting.
Concerning your practice(s) of evangelism:
1. Does the New Testament teach it?
Evangelism finds its origin in the New Testament. A believer who assesses his evangelistic practices should begin by ensuring his evangelism conforms to the evangelistic doctrines, instructions and principles found in the New Testament. McCloskey offers a few follow-up questions that frame the context of this particular question for personal evangelistic assessment. These questions include the following: “Is my approach to evangelism grounded in theological convictions regarding salvation, the gospel, and evangelism? Is it grounded in the certainties of God’s plan to redeem a lost creation, the lostness of man, and responsibilities of our ambassadorship?” Because it serves as the authoritative and foundational source for evangelism, the New Testament must inform the reasons for and way(s) in which a believer evangelizes.
2. Did the first century church demonstrate it?
The first-century church initially received the Great Commission of our Lord, who passed it down to all ages of His church. For this reason a believer interested in assessing his evangelism should consider the philosophy, practice, and pattern of the apostolic church. To assist someone in this dimension of his evangelistic assessment, McCloskey suggests the following supplemental considerations: “Has my philosophy and practice of evangelism been modeled by the first-century church? Have the theological realities that drove the first-century church to proclaim the gospel with boldness and sensitivity caused me to develop similar patterns for communicating my faith?” Biblical evangelism results from one’s evangelistic consistency with the philosophy, practice and pattern of the early church.
A personal evangelist faces temptations to adopt worldly, even sinful, standards in order to gain a hearing and become relevant. Nevertheless, he must be convinced that an evangelistic lifestyle incorporates a lifestyle of biblical holiness. While not every evangelistic approach practiced today can be found in scripture, an evangelistic practice consistent with scripture conforms to its standards of holiness, as the first-century church practiced it.
3. Does it work?
While a believer should evangelize with all excellence and purge ineffective practices, McCloskey has something else in mind here. He frames the intended meaning of this assessment question by offering another: “Does my philosophy and practice of evangelism make me effective in getting the gospel out to as many as possible, as soon as possible and as clearly as possible?” In other words, does what you believe about evangelism encourage or hinder your practice of it? No matter how “biblical” someone perceives his beliefs to be, any belief that deters him from evangelizing inevitably will lead him to deter others from evangelizing.
4. Does it ground itself in the authoritative command of Jesus found in the Great Commission?
McCloskey suggests we ought not to ask ourselves, “Why are men not coming to us?” Rather we must ask ourselves, “Why are we not going to men?” Though many symptoms prevent us from going to men with the gospel, they all result from disobedience to Jesus’ authoritative command in the Great Commission.
In his day William Carey confronted such disobedience when he published “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” He contended that all believers have a duty to obey the Great Commission of our Lord.
Evangelism is not the result of mere coincidence. Evangelism rarely occurs when someone relegates it to a pastime activity. Evangelism ensues when a believer in Jesus Christ submits himself to the authoritative command of Jesus and disciplines himself to make disciples.
5. Does it demonstrate urgency considering the reality of heaven and hell?
Concerning the reality of heaven and hell, evangelism can be described in terms of two, opposite extremes – either lethargic or urgent. Though most evangelicals identify themselves as believing exclusivists, those who exercise a less-than-urgent kind of evangelism appear as practicing universalists. If heaven and hell really exist and someone’s eternal destiny in one or the other depends on whether or not he repents of his sins and believes in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for salvation, how then will he believe and be saved if he does not receive the gospel by means of evangelism (cf., Romans 10:14–17)? An unbeliever will not be saved on the basis that we have heard and now believe – he must hear the gospel of Christ in order to believe! Therefore, ensure that you exhibit an urgency to evangelize as many as possible, as soon as possible and as clearly as possible.
6. Does it consider the role of the Holy Spirit?
According to the Bible, a personal evangelist and the Holy Spirit cooperatively partner with one another in the evangelistic enterprise. Evangelism that fails to depend upon the Spirit of God has a tendency to become manipulative. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does not evangelize on His own apart from the evangelistic witness of a believer. Rather, He assists a believer in the proclamation of the gospel to an unbeliever. For these reasons a personal evangelist should rely on the evangelistic role of the Holy Spirit in preceding (e.g., Acts 10:19–22; Acts 8:27–35), empowering (e.g., Acts 1:8;Acts 6:10), and emboldening his witness (e.g., Acts 4:8–13; Acts 4:29–31), as well as convicting an unbeliever of his sin and need for Christ (e.g., John 16:8–11) and sealing him for salvation after he hears the gospel and believes in Christ (e.g., Eph 1:13–14).
A believer who evangelizes without utilizing a helpful technique may experience frustration. However, a believer who evangelizes without depending on the Holy Spirit will find failure.
7. Does it incorporate the scriptures?
The previous assessment questions appeal to evangelism that incorporates a biblical model derived from the New Testament, the practice of the first-century church, and the Great Commission. This question, on the other hand, helps a believer assess the extent to which he includes the scriptures in his gospel presentation. Hearing the Word of Christ is prerequisite for biblical faith (Romans 10:17). Evangelistic proclamations in the New Testament overwhelmingly incorporate the scriptures (e.g.,Luke 24:14–32; Acts 2:14–41; Acts 3:11–26; Acts 4:1–12; Acts 7; Acts 8:4, 35; Acts 13:13–49; Acts 16:25–32; Acts 17:10–13; Acts 18:5, 28; Acts 20:27; Acts 26:22–23; Acts 28:23–27). When he evangelizes, a personal evangelist often summarizes the gospel in his own words or in the words of someone else (if he utilizes a witness training model). Whether he uses his own words or the words of another, a personal evangelist should ensure that his evangelistic proclamation incorporates and structures itself around the Word of God.
8. Does it call for a decision?
A personal evangelist does not evangelize merely to convey information about Jesus. Rather, a personal evangelist evangelizes in order to call people to faith in Jesus. An evangelistic presentation must include a call for decision for at least two reasons. First, evangelistic presentations recorded in the New Testament include a call for unbelievers to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation and to repent of their sins (e.g., Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14–15; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 14:15; Acts 26:20). Second, unbelievers do not know how to respond to the gospel apart from receiving instruction through an evangelistic invitation (e.g., Luke 3:10–14; Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30). For these reasons, ask yourself, “Does my evangelistic proclamation emulate those recorded in the New Testament?” Also ask yourself, “After I present the gospel to an unbeliever, does he know how he can receive the gospel?”
Though not an exhaustive list, the previous eight questions can assist believers in both evaluating and articulating a biblical philosophy of evangelism.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matt Queen is assistant professor of evangelism & associate dean for doctoral programs in the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first was posted at www.TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)