The Need for Verbal Evangelism
Posted on May 27, 2009
Every Christian believes the ‘good news’ is at the centre of our faith. But that’s not saying much – that crucial questions are What is the good news? and How should we communicate it? To name my beliefs on this, I want to briefly retrace my personal journey of faith.
In the Christian youth community I was formed in, we once ran a church service with the title “The E Word”. Seems trite now, but that’s how many of us felt about it, although we knew it was important enough to address in our bumbling stumbling way. Not that it was a foreign concept: I grew up in a climate of Anglican evangelicalism in which sharing the good news verbally is an indispensable dimension of mission.
But the aim of persuading people to believe in Jesus, or gain a personal relationship with Jesus, begged a question that was not easily answered. What for? I wanted to know why we evangelised…where was it leading people? The answer I got usually involved our sin and separation from God, the need for restoration and Jesus’ death and resurrection as the means of that restoration. Simultaneously I, along with a group of young adults, were experimenting with a theology and practice of the Kingdom of God, which we then understood as faith expressed in works of compassion, community, justice and public protest – all focussed primarily on the marginalised. I no longer believe that these 2 positions are in conflict (or that there are only 2 positions), but then they seemed in tension. It also was obvious that our concentration on one tended to put the other in shadow.
Evangelism, to me at that time, became suspect unless the evangelist had, well, pretty much perfect life to back up the message. Which fitted with my unreasonably judgemental mindset. But I have continued to believe that there must a serious and sustained attempt to live out the message.
But what of the initial questions: (1) What is the good news?; (2) How should it be communicated? Having read a good many books (and some not so good) on the topic, it is clear that those questions can’t be answered quickly; Paul used countless images and arguments to explain it. But let me quickly add that such an attitude is a cop-out. If the core questions of faith can only be answered by intellectual types who read a lot then it’s a sham. Let me give a one-sentence answer to each of these questions, and then explain why I believe in verbal evangelism.
1. The good news is the redemption & transformation of every aspect of Creation, which works through humans as we accede to the truth & grace of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our individual and common life. (OK, that’s probably a few sentences).
2. We should communicate the good news through integrated lives that witness to the life of Jesus Christ.
However, doesn’t this definition leave verbal evangelism as a core expression of Christianity? Well, no, because “integrated lives that witness to the life of Jesus Christ” can’t help but evangelise, which is simply the verbal parallel or corollary of our ‘active’ expression of faith. Humans do things, and we talk about them. That is communicating the good news. That is evangelism.
One last point. Can we talk about Jesus if we don’t have the walk sorted out? Of course we can. We wouldn’t dream of not doing the walk just because we didn’t have the talksorted. With all the biblical provisos of humility, integrity, respect and truthfulness, we can talk more than we walk if we so wish…the only question I would raise is a cultural and missiological one – is such an approach effective in post-Christian Australia?