The proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with a view to bringing about the reconciliation of the sinner to God the Father through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The word derives from the Greek noun euangelion, goods news, and verb euangelizomai, to announce or proclaim or bring good news.
Evangelism is based on the initiative of God himself. Because God acted, believers have a message to share with others. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Like a father who longs for the return of his lost son, a woman who searches diligently for a lost coin, and a shepherd who leaves the rest of his flock to find a lost sheep (Luke 15), God loves sinners and actively seeks their salvation. God is always gracious, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God, in turn, expects his people to share in his quest to save the lost. In order to believe the gospel, people must first hear it and understand it (Rom. 10:14-15). Thus, God has appointed ambassadors, agents of his kingdom, to be his ministers of reconciliation in the world (2 Cor. 5:11-21).
A comprehensive definition of evangelism came out of the International Congress on World Evangelization (1974). According to the Lausanne Covenant,
To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the world.
In light of this statement, evangelism may be broken down into its component parts. First, there is the message. To be biblical, evangelism must have content and convey information about the true nature of spiritual things. It should address the nature of sin and the plight of the sinner (Rom. 3). It should stress the love of God and his willingness to be reconciled to the lost (John 3; 2 Cor. 5). It must include a clear statement about the centrality of Jesus Christ in God's plan of redemption: that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures (Rom. 10; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5). The evangelistic word must also contain the promise of forgiveness of sins and the regenerating gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repent of their sin and put faith and trust (i.e., believes) in Jesus Christ (John 3; Acts 2). In short, the evangelistic message is based on the Word of God; it seeks to tell the story that God has already acted out.
Good news can be told in a variety of ways. Scripture does not designate a single method of transmitting the gospel. In the New Testament believers shared their faith through formal preaching and teaching, in their personal contacts and chance encounters. Consequently, Christians have felt free to devise different ways of doing evangelism: personal, mass (i.e., revival campaigns), saturation (i.e., blanketing of a given area), friendship, etc. They have learned how to use various media in spreading the gospel, including the latest in printed and telecommunications fields. All of these means are allowable if they present the message clearly, honestly, and compassionately. Overaggressiveness, manipulation, intimidation, and a well-intentioned misrepresentation of the gospel message actually subvert effective evangelism, though they may appear to bring “results.” Whereas there is a legitimate place for aggressiveness and even confrontation in evangelism, integrity and love should be the foundation on which all methods are built. Furthermore, sharers of the Good News should know their hearers well enough to speak to their needs in ways they can understand (1 Cor. 9:19-23). When it comes to evangelistic method, Paul's words still speak with authority and insight: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message … so that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:3-6).
Finally, there are the goals of evangelism. Basically evangelism seeks to bring people into a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit it endeavors to awaken repentance, commitment, and faith. Its goal is nothing less than the conversion of the sinner to a radically new way of life. How, then, do we know when evangelism has taken place? When the message has been given? When the message has been adequately understood? When the hearer has been brought to the point of deciding for or against the message he or she has received? Theologically, of course, the results of evangelism are in the hands of the Spirit, not the evangelist. But practically, the bearer of the message determines to a large extent the scope of the hearer's response because he has stated the terms of the invitation. This means that though evangelism by definition concentrates on the need to respond to God in initial repentance and faith, its message must also contain something about the obligations of Christian discipleship.
In their enthusiasm for sharing the benefits of the gospel, evangelists dare not neglect the obligations that come with receiving it. In many evangelical circles, for example, people make a distinction between accepting Christ as Savior and accepting him as Lord. This often leaves converts with the impression that they can obtain the forgiveness of sins without committing themselves to obedience to Christ and service in his church. Such notions are not found in the NT and may be part of the reason that so many modern converts have so little staying power. They have been offered and have accepted “cheap grace” rather than the free but costly grace of the gospel. “Counting the cost” is an essential part of responding to the gospel message, not something that can be put off until a later time. Conversion to Jesus Christ entails more than the forgiveness of sins. It includes obedience to the commands of God and participation in the body of Christ, the church. As Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” Matt. 28:19-20).
One way to maintain the connection between conversion and discipleship is to keep proclamation and demonstration together in evangelism. In the ministry of Jesus and in the life of the apostolic church, preaching and acting, saying and doing were always joined (e.g., Luke 4:18-19; Acts 10:36-38; Rom. 15:18-19). Proclaiming salvation without demonstrating its transforming power in the fruit of the Spirit and good works is as inadequate as showing the effects of new life in Christ without explaining their source. Announcing the good news of salvation without showing the love of Christ in personal and social concern is not evangelism in the style of the NT. In this holistic approach to evangelism we do not fail to distinguish between regeneration and sanctification, but do contend that the two should be held closely together.
See also Conversion; Gospel; Regeneration; Revivalism.
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