A little while ago I lamented a certain kind of evangelism that is all too common. It’s basically the call to younger brother types to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech. The evangelist will even feed them a ready made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation. The whole encounter goes something like this:
“We all know who God is don’t we? He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you? Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced. Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’. And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you. I guarantee it’ll work (becausetherewasthisthingcalledthecrosswhichyoudon’tneedtoknowaboutnow butIneedtocrowbaritinbecausethesewordsaremagic). Anyway, the ball is now in your court. It’s all down to you. If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”
The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender. Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to His call?
Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focussing on Christ. Evangelism is speaking of Jesus. It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news. So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”
Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:
1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject. You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.
2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving Christ as He’s offered in the gospel. Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness. What does that even mean? What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean? Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Look and live!”
3) Decision is dethroned. We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus. Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe (Steve Holmes). Because faith is a response to contemplating Christ. The spotlight does not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response. The spotlight falls on Christ Himself.
4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace. You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him - the LORD our Righteousness. In this way conversion and discipleship are held together. The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.
5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits. Instead the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus. But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”
6) Because of this, you don’t have to fence all your promises of forgiveness and freedom and new life with ‘…if you really, truly, ruly believe’. Since faith is receiving the Christ who is offered there’s no chance of the listener trusting an abstract promise in vain. Those who receive Jesus receive Jesus.
7) The decision time at the end of the talk is de-emphasized. It is not the business end of proceedings. The real business is holding out Christ by the Spirit (and therefore in the word). The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching. They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching. It’s not about a form of words that they must parrot at the end. If you want to pray at the end that’s fine. But it’s only confirming a receiving of Christ that’s occurred during the preaching. Faith comes by hearing.