Friday, April 11, 2008

"The Gospel and Personal Evangelism" - Chapter 5

It's been a while, but I'm getting back to blogging "The Gospel and Personal Evangelism" by Mark Dever. If you've read the other posts, you know I think it's a great little book.

Chapter 5 is entitled, "What Isn't Evangelism" (emphasis is the author's, not mine). Dever states that many of us have mistaken ideas about what constitutes evangelism. I think we tend to put all sorts of things into a category called "evangelism," and it's not always a good thing - especially when the Bible calls it something else.

According to Dever, evangelism is not imposition. When we evangelize, we're not imposing, or forcing, our beliefs upon anyone (although it may seem that way at times). Dever says, "In biblical evangelism, we don't impose anything. In fact, we really can't. According to the Bible, evangelism is simply telling the good news. It's not making sure that the other person responds to it correctly" (p. 70). I've heard it put by someone else that we, as Christians, don't impose, we propose. That's a good distinction.

Evangelism is not personal testimony, according to Dever. What God has done in our lives contributes to evangelism and certainly adds a personal element, but it is not the Gospel. The core of the Gospel is the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf - in our place. Testimonies can be very powerful, but in the process of telling them, we may not accurately or adequately explain who Jesus is or what He's done in time and history. I don't know how many people I've heard say something like, "Just give them (the unbeliever) your testimony - they can't argue with that. Keep doctrine out of it." People need to now what God has done in our life, but when we tell them we can't confuse it with proclaiming the Gospel. The Gospel "is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16); my testimony is not.

According to Dever, evangelism is not social action and public involvement. Social action and public involvement commend the Gospel but they do not communicate the Gospel. We should be involved publicly and politically as Christians, an issue which I think is a settled one. There are obviously many, many problems in our fallen and sinful world and they all deserve our attention. However, we can never confuse anti-abortion activism, for example, with a clear proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) does not mean, "Clean up the environment," or "stop drinking and smoking," or even "stop human sex trafficking." By themselves, these causes are not equivalent to the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is not evangelism. We're commanded to "be ready to give an answer for everyone who asks about the hope" we have (1 Pet. 3:15). We should be able to define and defend what we believe and why we believe it. Defending the faith is crucial to the church. Having said that, though, apologetics is not the same thing as evangelism because it may or may not include a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, we can explain to someone the many reasons to believe that Jesus was actually and literally raised from the dead, but never mention why He did, why it's important, or what the best response to it is. Apologetics is very useful and helpful - it commends the gospel - but it isn't evangelism.

Evangelism is not the results of evangelism. The best result of evangelism is the conversion of someone from death to life, from darkness to light, from self and Satan to the Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelism is not simply "seeing others converted." Dever adds to this misunderstanding by saying that it leads to another misunderstanding of evangelism - namely, that it is within our power to convert someone. That leads to a mistaken focus on results by many churches and ministries, which can easily lead to manipulation and pressure. Evangelism is proclaiming the goood news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting God for the results.

So, says Dever, once we understand what evangelism actually is - and we've done it - what do we do next? That's in chapter 6.

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