Author: Eddie Gibbs
Category: Proclamation Evangelism
To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.
A response to our lead articles this month:
Nothing Rhymes with Orange. False. Nothing and Orange do not Rhyme - Rev Richards Gibbons
Preach The Gospel Wherever You Go - Use Words if You Have to - Rev Derek Simpson
Toward a Biblical Approach to Understanding Proclamation Evangelism - Thomas Johnston
The following “further thoughts” are stimulated by reading the papers submitted by Thomas Johnson, Richard Gibbons and Derek Simpson, exploring various aspects of proclamation evangelism. Thomas Johnson is on sure ground when he establishes the indissoluble relationship between evangelism and proclamation. The urgent need for proclamation is as valid today as it has been since New Testament times, for the gospel consists of good news centered on the works, and words of Jesus Christ, with particular emphasis on the universal significance of his death, resurrection, and ascension for the salvation of humankind.
The vast majority of the human race remains ignorant of the Jesus story and its role within God’s plan of salvation revealed over centuries, through his calling of Israel to be light bearers of God’s intention for all peoples of earth. Thus the proclamation of the Good News has to be rooted in the person of Jesus. This was the intention of the four Gospels–to relate that basic message to targeted audiences, but also available and applicable to a broader constituency. That message has to be reliably communicated to all peoples in every age.
However, evangelization requires more than proclamation. It is not a pre-packaged message to be delivered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The gospel must be communicated “incarnationally” or relationally. The vocabulary used and the approach adopted must engage each group of recipients so that it speaks to their condition. Within the New Testament itself we see a variety of approaches adopted in the case of Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. What the evangelist says does not necessarily equate with what the audience hears. As JR Mott questioned in 1909, does the presentation provide “a sufficient opportunity shall be offered to all men to become acquainted with Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, and to become His disciples?”
Consequently proclamation must be followed by explanation in response to questions arising from people’s conflicting worldviews. Richard Gibbons draws attention to this challenge in relating the gospel to today’s postmodern, relativistic and pluralistic cultural contexts. He argues, that Luke’s Gospel is of special significance in communicating the story in a more relational way. For this and other reasons Luke’s Gospel was chosen in preference to John in the Mission England series of Billy Graham meetings in 1984 as being less philosophical and full of human interest.
As an evangelist with many years of experience Derek Simpson expresses his concern for the declining confidence in preaching as the mainstay of proclamation evangelism. Perhaps the problem for many is with their mental images of the evangelistic preaching to which they have been exposed in churches or on television. The word itself carries so much baggage that it means different things to different people. Evangelistic preaching is geared to persuasion, which must be distinguished from manipulation. I remember the late David Watson defining persuasion as “by sweetness to convince.”
A chronic problem facing many evangelists relates to the degree in which they have been marginalized from the ongoing ministry of most local church, especially in Europe, North America and Australasia. Their contribution is all too often regarded as peripheral and occasional, whereas in the churches of the New Testament it was integral to their day-by-day ministry. Effective ministry by visiting evangelists is not limited to doing evangelism on behalf of the local church but energizing and equipping that church to continue that ministry on an ongoing basis.
One last word remains to be said on the relationship between evangelization and good works. Clearly one cannot be an adequate substitute for the other, but neither are they simply run on parallel tracks. If evangelization is understood as bringing individuals into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, it also includes their becoming life-long apprentices in Jesus’ school of discipleship. This entails modeling our ministry on that of Jesus himself, made possible only through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Proclamation and demonstration go hand in hand.
Dr. Eddie Gibbs is a Professor Emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary.