Two years ago I took an Evangelism class—a seminary graduation requirement I had put off. Rehearsing for disaster, I envisioned a mandatory assignment that would leave me covered in eggs and tomatoes. Although my hair would have shone like the sun, I would have preferred a night of thumb-hammering over having to share the gospel with strangers at a grocery store.
I remembered from Systematic Theology 101 that we cannot prove that the Bible is true. Awesome. At least this frees me to believe without the pressure to convince mockers why I believe. But my eczema still wouldn’t fare well under splattered tomato. Finally I took the class and had to read True Evangelism by Lewis Sperry Chafer. Two words: Game Changer.
Churches emphasize making converts, or what Chafer calls “trying to make the unready and unwilling understand the gospel.” Intuitively this seems futile and harmful if nothing else. Because churches tend to celebrate numbers of conversions rather than true heart transformations. And a large number of these new converts fall away. Who doesn’t know a Christian who relapsed into carnality with a hardened heart?
In True Evangelism, Chafer points out that evangelistic efforts prove ineffective due to incorrect approach. (Please tell me again how much I suck in God’s eyes. Because that worked so well the first time.) When Christians accost unbelievers with the gospel they do more harm than good to the soul. Going into the world to evangelize and share the gospel at random, begging people to accept Jesus lest they go to hell makes for awkward exchanges. At best, these appeals may lead to (short-lived?) decisions for Christ, but at worst prove ineffective and repulsive. New Testament evangelism differed in methodology compared to modern-day evangelism. In biblical times, urging and coaxing were uncommon.People did not get their sins smeared onto their faces without first demonstrating a personal need for God.
"Fundamentally, then the personal element in true soul-winning work is more a service of pleading for souls than a service of pleading with souls. It is talking with God about men…rather than talking to men about God."It seems prayer stands as the most powerful way to help win lost souls. Good to know, Dr. Chafer. Because oftentimes my eloquence and persuasive abilities run low.
Before I lived in the Bible belt, I associated with many non-Christians of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. I have shared the gospel with some of these, but I can’t call all these attempts spirit-led. These educated individuals saw Christians as narrow-minded bigots who believe in a mythical man. Not wanting to reflect poorly on Jesus combined with an inability to evangelize to hostile listeners with debating skills superior to mine, I often failed at the task. True Evangelism helped me understand why. Coming to saving faith ought to involve intelligent decision, not blind acceptance borne of fear-mongering. Accepting Christ as Savior ought to remain a private personal matter. A genuine decision cannot be solicited.
The Bible says we are not to cast our pearls to swine, or give what is holy to dogs. (Matt. 7:6). In Matthew’s time, pigs were viewed as unclean, wild, and vicious. And dogs were seen the same way—unlike the sweet domesticated American house mates. I’ve seen dogs in India. They are filthy and despised. This verse forbids proclaiming what is sacred to persons who will trample on the gospel with vicious scorn and hardened contempt. Should Christians evangelize? Yes. Just not to dogs and pigs.
Only God can prepare one’s heart for salvation. Spiritual discernment is necessary to understand and accept the gospel (1 Cor. 2:14). The unprepared or unwilling heart cannot believe. If God wills salvation of a soul, the unsaved person will come to saving faith by default, without the need for coercion by people.
So maybe I need to step out of God's way, move only if prompted by the Spirit, and pray for lost souls. I can stop putting pressure on myself to share the gospel with those who do not seem ready to hear it (2 Cor. 4:3-4). The world may already be preconditioned to reject Christ. Inappropriate evangelization approaches should not create more cause for rejection.
I grew up in a Hindu family with a hunger for God. I sought after him, questioning every spiritual person I knew. Christians responded to me out of my hunger and seeking, never trying to apple-polish the gospel. The point is…I pursued them. Maybe it doesn’t always work this way. But the descriptions made in True Evangelism remind me of a Bible belt brand of Christianity. Good thing Jesus saved me long before I got here.