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Make This "The Year of Evangelism" by Rethinking and Redefining It — An Excerpt from "The Unbelievable Gospel"
In his new book The Unbelievable Gospel, Jonathan Dodson throws down a challenge for us this year:
Rethink and redefine what it means to evangelize.
His aim “is to recover a believable evangelism, one that moves beyond the cultural and personal barriers we have erected in contemporary evangelism to rediscover the power of the biblical gospel.” (14)
In order to recover a believable evangelism to share the unbelievable gospel, we need a new definition of what it means to share in the first place. In the excerpt below Dodson looks to missiologist David Bosch for help and urges us to think about and define evangelism in this way:
"Evangelism: (1) is gospel-centered, (2) is proclamation oriented, (3) calls for a response, (4) includes the church, and (5) points to the Spirit." (28)
At the doorway to another year of ministry engage Dodson’s challenging book to help you and your people make 2015 the year of believable evangelism in order to share the unbelievable gospel!
Before we move on, it’s important we establish a working definition for evangelism. I like the definition by missiologist David Bosch: “Evangelism is: the core, heart, or center of mission: it consists in the proclamation of salvation in Christ to nonbelievers, in announcing forgiveness of sins, in calling people to repentance and faith in Christ, in inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life in the power of the Spirit.” Note five distinct contributions in this definition. Evangelism: (1) is gospel-centered, (2) is proclamation oriented, (3) calls for a response, (4) includes the church, and (5) points to the Spirit.
Bosch’s definition is gospel-centered in that it focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not heaven-centered, like much of the evangelism of the twentieth century. The goal is Christ, not heaven. It is proclamation oriented, unlike many deed-driven descriptions of evangelism. The gospel is good news to be shared, not good deeds to be observed, though it clearly issues into marvelous deeds of grace. Bosch also includes the importance of calling for a response, repentance and faith, as well as becoming a part of what we are converted into — the church — which is all too often overlooked in contemporary, individualistic evangelism. The church is not a loose collection of spiritually-minded individuals but a family knit together in the unshakable love of the Father. This is what we get and what the world needs to see. Finally, this definition inspiringly reminds us that our new life is not lived in our own power but in the power of the Spirit. Modern methods give lip service to the Spirit while 90 percent of training is aimed at the head. This definition gives us a clear target for evangelism. As the book unfolds, these five evangelistic distinctives will surface informally over and over again.
How, then, do we rethink our evangelism with these distinctives in view? New methods aren’t enough. Our whole understanding of evangelism needs to change—our motivations, our methods, and even our message. The sections of this book broadly correspond to each of these, though there is some natural overlap and repetition. The first section, “Evangelistic Defeaters,” addresses our motives and primarily focuses on our heart and mind — why we evangelize. The second section, “Re-Evangelization,” addresses our message and what we communicate. The third section on “Gospel Metaphors” addresses our methods, primarily how we say what we say.
Our motives, message, and methods are all intertwined, pulling us together as humans on mission. If we take the time to untangle the strings, examining what is really there, pulling out a few threads that don’t belong, and weaving in some new threads that are absent, we may end up not only with a reshaped evangelism but also with a revitalized Christian faith.
The gospel is central to how and why we evangelize. People need to see how the gospel speaks to their particular and unique needs. The gospel brings us exactly what we need: acceptance, approval, forgiveness, newness, healing, worth, purpose, joy, hope, peace, and freedom — all in Jesus. As we get started, we will begin by considering exactly why people find this gospel unbelievable. We need to pay attention to these evangelistic concerns and learn from them. Otherwise, we will perpetuate the distance between ourselves and those outside the faith. There are several obvious evangelistic defeaters — reasons why Christians often choose not to share their faith with others. Let’s begin with the first of these defeaters — a genuine concern that our witness not be impersonal. (pgs. 26-30)
By Jonathan K. Dodson
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