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This Isn’t Your Mama’s Evangelism

I blogged earlier this week on the loss of Gospel proclamation in the local church. I suggested the need to recover this practice. I assumed a broader Scriptural understanding of “Gospel,” one that encompasses but is not equal to the “soterian” Gospel (Scot McKnight’s words) of the evangelicalism that proclaims (only) “we are forgiven for our sins in Jesus Christ.” I assumed proclaiming Gospel is so much more than communicating “the four spiritual laws.

Why is this so important? Am I reasserting that preeminence of verbal proclamation as in the evangelism of my youth growing up in evangelical church?

Yes and no.

I am reasserting the importance of words but in a different way. The evangelism of my youth used verbal words to communicate information. We were to present the Gospel in a Romans Road format or something similar. If this presentation took place “to” someone outside the church, it often turned into an apologetic exercise. It was NOT born out of everyday relationships.

And this presentation often sought to secure a result, usually the respondent praying the sinner’s prayer. Enough has been written on the way this plays off a Christendom world that no longer exists. It was often coercive (which works against the Holy Spirit). It was often pre-packaged. It was often unrelational. All of which, I suggest, disqualifies it as the Gospel.

I am suggesting three things about proclamation that make it an incredibly miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

1. It is always contextual. 

Pronounced over (notice I did not say “to”) a situation or a person’s life out of one’s relationships. Here, out of no pre-conceived agenda, in the midst of hurting, pain, confusion, loss of hope, the Holy Spirit prompts us, “gives us the words to say” (John 16:13).

In this way it is always the work of the Holy Spirit. It is miraculous.

2. It is always a reality-creating event.

In the words of Paul Ricoeur, the reality is unfolded in front of the text (the words spoken). I do not mean somehow there is no ontological reality behind the truth of the words.

Rather I am saying the hearer, upon hearing, can see a reality, he or she could not see or know before. The words “I declare” or “I proclaim” or some version thereof, suggest in the midst of the confusion, despair or illusion, the truth that “Jesus is Lord” and what this means, pierces through the air and makes way for us all to see something that could not be known before.

It is something akin to Jesus saying “today these words are fulfilled in their hearing” in Luke 4 after the end of his proclamation there.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is miraculous.

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.