Peter Bolt, the head of New Testament at Moore Theological college, has just written a challenging blog on evangelism called Evangelism: The Simplicity of Changing the World. In it he is seeking to correct a view that evangelism is hard and that we need to be”Mapping conceptual worlds.” and “Integrating lofty ideas into unseen mental frameworks.” He feels that he couldn’t do this kind of evangelism and I agree with him that I couldn’t either! Bolty (as I affectionately call him as a former student of his) then dips into different point in the book of Acts to show us what evangelism was like for the Apostles.
Bolty reminds us of the importance of evangelism in the last days and that he linchpin of our evangelism is the message of the resurrection and the proof of the resurrection. And he finishes his blog with these words:
“For the rest of us, evangelism is not complex at all. The eyewitnesses have done the heavy lifting already. We simply repeat their word. As we read Acts we hear their message. As we believe, we speak (2 Cor 4:13). The gospel message in Acts works to change our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). Out of the overflow of our heart, our mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). We simply say what they said. We simply say what the original eyewitnesses said they heard and saw. Forgiveness of sins can be ours, because a crucified man has risen from the dead. The world has been turned upside down forever.”
If I have read him right, (and I am happy to be corrected if I haven’t) Bolty gives the impression that all I have to do is proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead or a simple gospel message and that is evangelism. Now on one level he is true, if we go around telling people about the resurrection of Jesus that is technically evangelism. But there is a huge issue with this. If I go up to someone in the Suburb of Newtown (where my Church Resolved is located and where Bolty lives and teaches) and I say to them “Jesus has risen from the dead therefore you have to repent and believe the gospel!” I think Bolty is implying that I should go home thinking I have done good evangelism. But if the person I spoke to is a typical Newtowner I might as well have spoken Klingon to them because the gospel I have just proclaimed assumes a Christian worldview and in telling them the gospel I have assumed they understand what the Resurrection is, what repentance is and why I need to repent, what belief is, and what the gospel is. Only if they have a Christian worldview will this presentation of the gospel make sense! I think Bolty’s blog comes from a right place in trying to demystify evangelism but ultimately to one who leads an aggressively evangelistic church and who seek to evangelize as much as he can it comes across a little naive. It makes me ask the question “Has Bolty really tried to evangelize in the simple way he is commending here?” I hope that he does evangelize and I pray that he has seen many people come to knows Jesus and he will see many more saved through his gospel proclamation. But, I think if Bolty just evangelizes in the way he says we should do I am not sure that the message of the gospel would communicate.
Why is this so? Well I think Colin S Smith gives us the reason and also shows us the problem in Bolty’s thinking about evangelism
In the past, a great deal of effective evangelism has been done by teaching key Scripture verses about sin, grace, and salvation. Christian preachers have been able to assume the basic building blocks of a Christian world view. Even when people chose not to believe in God, it was the Christian God they chose not to believe in! Evangelism was rather like hanging washing on a clothesline that was already in place…. The problem in trying to reach postmodern people is that there is no clothesline. So when we try to hang our texts, they fall to the ground in a messy heap.
“The great challenge before the preacher is to put up the clothesline. Our task is to present the big story and to persuade postmodern people that it is true. In pursuing this, we have much to learn from our friends in northern Thailand and India. They know that it is not enough to present disconnected truths about peace or fulfillment or family life. We will certainly speak about all of these things, but we must find ways of connecting them clearly to the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
—Colin S. Smith, “Keeping Christ Central in Preaching” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, 112
What we have to do as Christians is to help people see the Christian worldview. So in my evangelism I may only talk about an aspect of the Christian worldview and then another the next time we meet and so on and over time the people I am trying to evangelize hopefully will understand why the resurrection is of critical importance, why they need to repent and what the gospel is.
Is evangelism really that hard? As Bolty has pointed out, it isn’t. But is at easy as telling people that Jesus rose from the dead? No it isn’t. What we need to know is that evangelism will be a longer and slower task nowadays and will require many more chats about specific aspects of the gospel. Gone are the days when we can utter a simple gospel message and people will get it. But these are exciting times because people are hungry for more than this world has to offer. And so I know I speak for Bolty when I say we want more evangelism to be done in these last days so that many people would come to know Jesus. But we need to also proclaim the message in ways that are culturally appropriate. Just like Jesus and Paul did.