The bottom line: Evangelism is…
more like dynamite, and less like data.
What is Evangelism?
- Is declaring that God is Father to a single mother who didn’t have a father herself and worries about her fatherless daughter evangelism?
- Is praying for the healing of a ruptured disk evangelism?
- Is casting out the evil powers influencing your friend evangelism?
I say YES.
But some do not think so. Why?
Evangelism is Not…
I recently came across the blog genre of “something is Not” in regard to evangelism (by Jared Wilson). For Jared, evangelism is not personal testimony. It is not social action. It is not apologetics. Each of these things may commend the gospel, may assist in the plausibility of the gospel, but they are not sharing the gospel and therefore they are not, strictly speaking, evangelism.
Now I believe Jared’s post does not come from some mean spirit of “I’m going to show you all how you are wrong” but from a genuine hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ and his salvation will increase and grow within the world for the salvation of all. And I hope and trust we will all join him in this longing.
But I am worried about the attempt to narrow the definition of evangelism to ‘preaching’ the ‘gospel’ of “what Jesus Christ has done to save every sinner who will ever turn from their sin and trust in Jesus” (Jared’s definition, emphasis in original).
In the comments Jared backs up this claim of evangelism and preaching through reference to Mark 1:38 where Jesus says, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” If there ever was a purpose statement, then this is it, right? Jesus came to preach, everything else is subordinate to this preaching.
Jesus Came to Preach?
Well, it is here that we need to push back against what might seem so obvious. If Jesus came to preach, and says so himself, they why would we add anything else (our testimony, or social action, or apologetics)?
Well, because the context, the story in which this passage is found, demands more.
To understand Jesus’ mission in Mark we have to begin at least in Mark 1:15 where we are told that Jesus came declaring: “Behold the time has come. The Kingdom of God is here/near. Repent and believe the good news”.
It is safe to say that the Kingdom come is the content of the preaching referred to in Mark 1:38.
But what is the Kingdom?
Between 1:15 (my proof text) and 1:38 (Jared’s proof text) we are given a picture of a “day in the life of the Kingdom”. Verse 22 tells of Jesus teaching in the synagogue. Yes he is teaching. But not just giving information, but doing so with authority and power such that the people are amazed. This power is also recognized by a demon (v. 23) who Jesus promptly casts out (more authority) and the people are again amazed (v. 27). They are so much amazed that the news spreads about Jesus (the implication is unity, not the disunity, of the words and wonders of Jesus). After this we have a report of many healings and exorcisms (vv. 29-34).
IN SUMMARY: When ignorance is enlightened, when sickness is healed, when demonic oppression is overcome, THIS IS THE KINGDOM COMING. And this only happens through Jesus. Certainly Jesus preaches, but he is more and does more than preach.
Preaching and Exorcism
This all leads us back to Mark 1:38 where Jesus says that he came to preach. Well, that is true. But the narrator follows this up with “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”
If the main thing that we want to keep as the main thing is preaching, why doesn’t the narrator give us more instances of this preaching, or the actual sermons of Christ? Instead he notes the unity of preaching and driving out demons.
In essense, we have to remember that not only does Jesus preach the Kingdom, but his is making the Kingdom present. And God’s Kingdom is known to be present when demonic forces flee.
- Mark 3:14 says that “Jesus appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”
Ah ha! See the apostles are supposed to PREACH.
Not so fast. The next verse says, “…and to have authority to drive out demons.” (3:15)
- Or in Mark 6: 12, “They went out and preached that people should repent.”
Yes, PREACHING IS CENTRAL.
But then the next verse say “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (6:13)
Much more could be said about driving out demons and healing and all that, but it is enough that we seriously need to rethink what Jesus’ ministry really was and exactly how he extended this to his disciples. Jesus expected them to both preach and drive out demons as the way of making the kingdom present.
So, What is Evangelism?
What, then, is evangelism (at least according to the Gospel of Mark)?
Evangelism happens whenever the power and presence of Jesus is manifest (through preaching, healings, exorcisms, or other miracles) calling for a change.
Evangelism must be holistic and contextual, meeting people where they are in the sin they are found in, and this sin isn’t always first and foremost individual-moral sin. But to be clear, I’m not discounting individual-moral sin or our need to repent of it because I believe that all have fallen short of the glory of God. I just don’t think this is the apex and standard of the gospel or of evangelism.
Evangelism manifests the power and presence of Jesus over sin in all its forms.
- When I declare to a fatherless, single mother that God is the Father she never had, and is the Father to her fatherless daughter, this is evangelism. The power of God is breaking into the sin of broken families.
- When I pray for the healing of a ruptured disk, witnessing to the power of God to make all things new, this is evangelism.
- When I cast out evil powers harassing my friend, in the name of Jesus so that he might be free, this is evangelism.
These are all examples of evangelism because they are making the Kingdom of God in Christ present to a world that desperately needs it.
So, all this to say, evangelism is more like dynamite, and less like data,
for the gospel is the “power of God for salvation for all who believe” (Rom. 1:16).