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Toward a Theology of Evangelism

Well, I am back. Actually, I’ve been back in the great and wonderful land of Oregon since last Saturday, but couldn’t resist extending my blogging seista a bit longer. But now I am truly back.

The question that’s been recently on my mind is that of evangelism. This is currently a topic that my congregation is exploring, mainly with a view towards figuring out how our common life can be turned towards evangelism. Now, part of what makes any sort of discussion of this topic difficult is the sordid conceptual mess that obtains in most western churches that strongly emphasize “evangelism.” In broad strokes I think most Christians assume to quickly that they know what evangelism is, and given a rather superficial understanding thereof, find themselves stuttering about oddly constructed tensions between “evangelism and social justice”, or between “being the church” and “being missional”.

In light of some of this I’m going to turn my attention back toward William Abraham’s excellent book The Logic of Evangelism and a handful of other books on theology of mission that I’ve stacked up for the last few years. I’m sure I’ll post more on this topic in days to come, but for the moment let me leave off this discussion with a couple of points and some questions.

The first and most important point I would emphasize is that evangelism is an ecclesial practice. Evangelism is not something that takes place outside the context of the church in which individual Christians (sic) invite non-Christians to establish an individual relationship with Jesus. At the very least our definition of evangelism must emphasize that the Christian practice of evangelism is the action of the Christian ecclesial community in which that cultural body makes itself visible to the cultures of the world and invites persons from those cultures into the culture of the church. Evangelism is about the manifestation and presentation of a different way of being and becoming persons in community.

Thus, my second claim would be that evangelism is fundamentally political. The church is called to be about embodying an alternative cultural reality which centers around the acknowledgement that Jesus alone is Lord. Evangelism is nothing less than the political proclamation that all other claimant to people’s loyalties are false gods and false lords. To practice evangelism then, is a dangerously subversive activity that calls persons away from their bondage to the principalities and powers and into the new life of the church, which is actualized through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Now, here are some questions I would pose:

What is the best way to define evangelism?

How does evangelism relate to the doctrine of the Trinity, particularly the reality of Jesus as the Logos?

What forms of evangelization are appropriate for a post-Christendom church?

5 Comments

  1. WTM wrote:

    Halden,

    It’s good to have you back in the theo-blogosphere. Your two claims are, I think, spot on. I’m looking forward to more posts on this topic.

    Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  2. rjperalta wrote:

    Hello,
    I appreciate your post on “Evangelism”.
    I would like to comment on your post, but will not take the time to comment on it’s entirety. After all this is suppose to be a comment, not a post, right?
    I will pick out the second paragraph for comment.

    “how our common life can be turned towards evangelism”
    Everyday “common life” is at the heart of evangelism. Most believers are those out there that are leading a common life. Working or going to school is most common. Our lives must first be a “light set on a hill that cannot be hid”. As our light shines, The Holy Spirit will guide us as to what to do or say.

    I am going to need some clarification on “sordid conceptual mess that’s in our western churches?”

    “Christians assume to quickly that they know what evangelism is”
    I don’t believe we can put the blame on Christians in general here. In most cases, they have not been taught the basics by their church.

    “tensions between evangelism and social justice or between being the church and being missional”
    The best I understand it, all four of these need to work together in evangelism. The church cannot truly be the church without being mission minded, both at home and abroad.

    Evangelism is the force or power of The Holy Spirit working through an individual or individuals committed to the furtherance of The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    God’s blessings to you,
    Richard

    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 4:14 am | Permalink
  3. rjperalta wrote:

    Hi it’s me again.
    Regarding your comment “Evangelism is an ecclesial practice”. I agree, but is it really? It should be. What do we see out there?
    How do you evangelize those who don’t want anything to do with church? As far as first reaching them? Many at first, if they sense anything about church in your sharing, you have lost them and they say “see you later”.
    This takes on a much different approach now days, and it’s worth looking at. Just sharing from experience.

    Grace to you,
    Richard

    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Hello Richard,

    Let me try to address your questions as best as I can.

    On “common life”, what I mean is not just the things we commonly do everyday (though certainly it includes all of that). What I mean is the life that the members of the church share in common – their communal life. What I’m trying to get at is how evangelism should be engaged in as a function of the total life of a committed community of believers that are committed to living into the gospel together before the world. The problem, of course is that many churches don’t have much “common life” to speak of. Just a bunch of individual lives that happen to intersect briefly on Sunday and/or Wednesday.

    What kind of clarification do you want about the conceptual mess that’s in our churches? I think I make clear what I think about that – namely that Christians today by and large view evangelism in very individualistic and disembodied ways. It’s just me telling some non-Christian a bunch of propositional truths about Jesus and asking them to agree with me about that. This certainly may be the fault of bad Christian education, but it wasn’t really my point to say that most Christians are lazy or stupid or something. Just that whatever the reason, it is the case that there is confusion over this issue in the church.

    On your last question, I have to say unflinchingly that it absolutly is an ecclesial practice. Are there people want nothing to do with the church? Sure, but I don’t think we have some sort of life in Christ to offer besides the church. The church is the body of Christ and you can’t be in relationship to the head without being part of the body. Now, certainly sometimes the church is unfaithful and has to be brought back to faithfulness by the Spirit. But, in that situation what we need is not some way to make evangelism a non-church thing so others will find it palatable. What we need to do is return to what it means to be the church.

    In my experience (which is certainly limited), I’ve found that there is nothing more powerful for proclaiming the evangel than a community centered on the cross where people live lives committed to serving one another and being hospitable to the stranger. If there are many in the world who will up and run away at the sight or sound of this, then I think that ultimately they’re rejecting the life that Christ offers the world. And in that case I think we have to acknowledge that the gospel is a stumbling block. We can’t offer something more attractive than Christ or be more spiritual than God.

    Hope that clarifies some stuff. Thanks for the comments.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  5. rjperalta wrote:

    Halden,
    Thanks for your reply.
    I would agree that we don’t see much “common life” as you put it, as far as the church goes.
    Oh yes, we see it in the cults or exclusive churches or groups. How much of a turn off is that to a lost world?
    There indeed needs to be some clarification and some good examples on the subject of “communal life evangelism” in this day.
    And yes, I would agree that the church is the body of Christ.
    Amen, to “returning to what it means to be the church”.
    We must let people in. I see too many “clicks” or “exclusive clubs” out there.
    May God help us all.
    Grace to you,
    Richard

    Friday, June 8, 2007 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

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