A few weeks ago I looked at the question of the Gospel (i.e. the Good News) here. More importantly I set out what I think are five chief characteristics of the gospel, as set out in the Bible.
Having re-read the article, I thought I had missed one or things out, but on receiving a copy of a leaflet called “Evangelism for the Local Church” in the post on Saturday, I think it’s kind of OK. That’s because the Gospel is a message about Jesus – in other words its the content. The process of telling others the good news, well that is evangelism. We need to know about both as Christians.
In order to comment on the leaflet, I found it helpful for my own thinking to set out the basic steps of evangelism. One of the most concise examples of evangelism is set out in Acts 8, verses 26-39. We know this because the passage tells us in v35: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” That passage that Philip references is Isaiah 53:7-8.
What is going on in this particular evangelistic incident? Let’s see:
(1) Philip trusts and hears from the Lord, who initiates the whole incident (v26,29)
(2) Philip was observant of the Ethiopian’s circumstances – he saw the Ethiopian reading OT scriptures (v28)
(3) He didn’t start with a statement. No, he then asked a good gospel question (v30).
(4) He listened to the Ethiopian’s response (v31).
(5) He answered by taking the Ethiopian Eunuch to Jesus from his point of misunderstanding through scripture (v35).
(6) The Ethiopian heard the good news and responded – by asking to be baptised,
(7) Lastly, and with great joy I suspect, Philip did just that.
It is an exemplary description, and the use of Isaiah 53 is important. Why? Because:
(1) Isaiah 53 recognises that the Lord is sovereign (vv1,4, 6, 10)
(2) All humanity has acted with treachery to the Lord’s sovereignty – our transgressions and iniquities (vv 4,5,6,8)
(3) The suffering servant – which Philip will have pointed out was Jesus – suffered the punishment due to us (vv2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,1011,12) in fact this vicarious atonement is the strongest theme in these two verses.
(4) The suffering servant will rise again in great power (vv 10,11,12).
This is the classic structure of setting out the good news. Or, should I say the classic structure of the good news follows this structure: God’s creation; Humanity’s failure; Jesus’ death, and then his resurrection to his kingdom.
If set it out simply and well, it should demand a response from each of us:
Do I now recognise God’s sovereignty?
Do I now see that we are traitors by nature?
Do I see that our only hope is for someone to do something about our failure, which is what Jesus did on the cross?
Do I recognise that Jesus will return in full power to judge each of us?
So what am I going to do? Repent, and be baptised like the Ethiopian eunuch, or carry on in my own particular chariot?
So let’s now turn back to that evangelism leaflet. It’s not bad at all. In fact it’s probably one of the best things I’ve had sent to me by the national church as an institution.
Now, as someone who has spent most of my church life steeped in evangelism, it is a bit fudgy in one or two areas. My two main frustrations are these:
- firstly, it doesn’t describe much in the way of content, whereas Acts 8 does, by quoting Isaiah 53. In other words, the leaflet talks about the gospel, but it doesn’t actually set out the good news -the gospel itself. But it does, largely go through the process that Philip did above.
- Secondly, it doesn’t mention repentance. The process of coming to faith involves recognising that we are sinful, and turning to Christ isn’t just about having the benefits of following him. In other words, the booklet should note that coming to faith involves repentance.
Yes these are pretty major – I wouldn’t consider instructing others in evangelism without looking at both these areas carefully.
But otherwise, hats off. There’s much good stuff here. Contact is made with “those who God [in his sovereignty] has brought into his path”; nurture is our “intentional investment” in relationships. Commitment is “the specific invitation to people to follow Jesus Christ”, and growth starts with “becoming a Christian and joining a worshipping community”. Further it rightly points out that it’s not about getting people to church; that we need to live our faith with integrity, and that mission is clearly a lot more than being in ‘contact with people who might use our building or might be part of a wider network” (all p8).
And here’s the best thing: every member of the clergy has been sent this, and it implicitly says “look church, this is what we’re really here for: to evangelise – to tell people the good news of Jesus Christ.” Compare this with the great commission that Jesus gave to us his church in Matthew 28:19–20:
“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The booklet isn’t so far off. Encouraging isn’t it?