Monday, December 31, 2007

What Evangelism Isn't

Mark Dever writes a very perceptive essay on evangelism, containing many points most Christians need to learn. Pay close attention to what evangelism IS NOT!


From Christianity Today Online

What Evangelism Isn't

We need to stop mistaking other Christian activities for the spreading of the gospel.

I remember as a little child hugging my father's leg at a gas station only to realize it wasn't his leg I was hugging. I was embarrassed! It was a case of mistaken identity.

In the matter of evangelism, I'm concerned about a number of things that people take to be evangelism that aren't. And this case of mistaken identity can have consequences more serious than mere embarrassment. Let me mention five things mistaken for evangelism.


Probably the most common objection to evangelism today is, "Isn't it wrong to impose our beliefs on others?"

Some people don't practice evangelism because they feel they are imposing on others. And the way evangelism is often done, I can understand the confusion! But when you understand what the Bible presents as evangelism, it's really not a matter of imposing your beliefs.

It's important to understand that the message you are sharing is not merely an opinion but a fact. That's why sharing the gospel can't be called an imposition, any more than a pilot can impose his belief on all his passengers that the runway is here and not there.

Additionally, the truths of the gospel are not yours, in the sense that they uniquely pertain to you or your perspective or experience, or in the sense that you came up with them. When you evangelize, you are not merely saying, "This is how I like to think of God," or "This is how I see it." You're presenting the Christian gospel. You didn't invent it, and you have no authority to alter it.

Personal Testimony

One of the classic testimonies was given by a blind man Jesus healed. When he was questioned after Jesus healed him, he responded, "Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25). The man disregarded the menacing threats of those more honored and respected than he in order to give this verbal witness to the power of God. It's a wonderful, powerful testimony, but it's not evangelism. There is no gospel in it. The man didn't even know who Jesus was.

An account of a changed life is wonderful and inspiring thing, but it's the gospel of Jesus Christ that explains what it's all about and how it happened.

Social Action and Public Involvement

Being involved in mercy ministries may help to commend the gospel, which is why Jesus taught, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Displaying God's compassion and kindness by our actions is a good and appropriate thing for Christians to do. But such actions are not evangelism. They commend the gospel, but they share it with no one. To be evangelism, the gospel must be clearly communicated, whether in written or oral form.

When our eyes fall from God to humanity, social ills replace sin, horizontal problems replace the fundamental vertical problem between us and God, winning elections eclipses winning souls.


Other people mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we've considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel.

Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism.

Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what's wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel.

By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection. Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ's agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him.

The Results of Evangelism

Finally, one of the most common and dangerous mistakes in evangelism is to misinterpret the results of evangelism—the conversion of unbelievers—for evangelism itself, which is the simple telling of the gospel message. Who can deny that much modern evangelism has become emotionally manipulative, seeking simply to cause a momentary decision of the sinner's will, yet neglecting the biblical idea that conversion is the result of the supernatural, gracious act of God toward the sinner?

When we are involved in a program in which converts are quickly counted, decisions are more likely pressed, and evangelism is gauged by its immediately obvious effect, we are involved in undermining real evangelism and real churches.

The Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion. We don't fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don't faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn't converting people; it's telling them that they need to be converted and telling them how they can be.

From The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever copyright © 2007, adapted from pages 69-82. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

Related Elsewhere:

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is available from and other retailers.

John G. Stackhouse Jr. addressed "What Conversion Is and Is Not" in a 2003 article.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Receiving" the Gospel

Paul Washer's HeartCry Missionary Society publishes a quarterly magazine available for download from their website. In Volume 54, September-November 2007, the leading article is on the Gospel. In the article, the author muses upon and exegetes First Corinthians 15:1-4. ("Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,"

In particular, I found the section on "Receiving" the Gospel to be one of the best (and most challenging) explanations of both the requirements for and the implications of becoming a Christian. 

For your edification, I reprint (via my typing, thus I take full responsibility for any typos) that section here. Any italics or bold are my emphases on the author's points. Please visit the links above to read the entire article or the entire magazine.

For men to be saved, the Gospel must be received. Yet, what does it mean to "receive" the Gospel? There is nothing extraordinary about the word "received" in English or biblical Greed, but in the context of the Gospel, it becomes quite extraordinary, and one of the most radical words in Scripture.

First, when two things are contrary or diametrically opposed to one another, to receive the one is to reject the other. Since there is no affinity or friendship between the Gospel and the world, to "receive" the Gospel is to "reject" the world. In this is demonstrated just how radical the act of receiving the Gospel can be. To receive and follow the Gospel call is to reject all that can be seen with the eye and held in the hand, in exchange for what cannot be seen. It is to reject personal autonomy, the right to self-government, in order to enslave oneself to a "messiah" who died two thousand years ago as an enemy of the state and a blasphemer. It is to reject the majority and its views, in order to join oneself to a berated and seemingly insignificant minority called the Church. It is to risk everything in this one and only life in the belief that this impaled prophet is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Secondly, for a man to "receive the Gospel" is for him to trust exclusively in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the only way of right standing before God. It is a common maxim that to trust in anything exclusively is dangerous, or at best, a very unwise thing to do. A man is considered careless to not have a backup plan, to not have an alternative escape roue, to not diversify his investments, or to put all his eggs in the same basket and burn bridges behind him. Yet, this is the very thing that is done by the man who received Jesus Christ. The Chirstian faith is exclusive. To truly receive Christ is to throw off every other hope in every other thing but Christ alone. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul declares that the Christian is of all men most to be pitied, if Christ is a hoax. To receive the Gospel is not merely to pray a prayer asking Jesus to come into one's heart, but it is to put away the world and embrace the fullness of the claims of Christ.

To "receive the Gospel" is to open one's life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is quite different from the plea of contemporary evangelism that directs men to "make Jesus Lord" of their lives. What we must understand is that Jesus IS Lord of every man. The Scriptures declared that God has made Him both Lord and Christ. He has installed His King upon His holy mountain and scoffs at those who would rebel against Him. God does not call men to make Jesus Lord, but t live in absolute submission to the Lord He has made.

The man who receives the Gospel, and with it, Jesus as Lord, does a very dangerous and sensible thing. It is dangerous in a Narnian sort of way. After all, He is not a tame Lion, and He is certainly not safe. He has the right to ask anything of those who call Him Lord, but He is good, and worthy of joyful trust. Those who do not understand the danger of the Gospel call have heard it only faintly. The same Jesus, who calls the weary to Himself, may also ask of them everything, and send them forth to lose their lives for His sake in this dark and fallen world. 

To receive the Gospel and Jesus as Lord is also a sensible thing to do. What could be more reasonable than to follow the omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who has loved His people with an eternal love, redeemed them with His own blood, and demonstrated uncompromising commitment to every promise He has made? Even if He were not this way, and all this goodness was not in Him, it would still be most sensible to follow Him for who can resist His will? It is for these reasons and countless more, the Apostle urges us"to present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God", and calls it our spiritual or "reasonable service of worship."

To "receive the Gospel" is for the world and self to be dethroned and for Christ to become our new epicenter! He becomes the source, the purpose, the goal, and the motivation of all that we are and do. When a man receives the Gospel, his entire life begins to be lived out in a different context, and that context is Christ. Although the outward signs at the moment of true conversion may be less dramatic, the gradual effects will be monumental. Like a pebble cast in the center of a lake, the ripple effect of the Gospel will eventually reach the full circumference of the believer's life and touch every shore.

Finally, to "receive the Gospel" is to take it as the very source and sustenance of one's life. Christ cannot be received as "a part" of one's life or as an addition to all the other good things that one already possesses without Him. He is not some minor accessory that dresses up our life and makes it better. In receiving the Gospel, He becomes our life. In John 6:53, Jesus taught, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." In Psalm 34:8, David cries out, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." What could make it clearer? To receive Christ into our lives is for Him to become for us not only a necessary meal that sustains us, but also an exquisite meal in which we delight.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


People toss around the accusation of "legalist" or "legalism" quite frequently. But I wonder if they have ever given thought to what it means to be a legalist or to what legalism truly means. 

For your pondering, here is a quote from Paul Washer with a quick definition:

"Legalism is legalism when there is separation from the world and not a running to God."

People so often look at a person who is advocating separating from the world or has separated from the world himself and proclaim him to be a "legalist." I think Washer's comment is right on, because a separation from the world by itself would indeed be legalism, or the attempt to attain salvation through works. On the other hand, we are told to separate ourselves from the world...but unless we are separating ourselves unto God in the process, we do indeed practice legalism. When we separate from the world and unto God, we practice holiness and sanctification...which is what we as Christians are supposed to do!