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Preach the Gospel at All Times — And Use Words


As I’m headed out to the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, I’ve been thinking about why we leave places– why I left LifeWay to come to Wheaton, and why I am leaving Wheaton to Talbot. Perhaps I’ll write more on it one day. 

In thinking on such transitions, and while writing a chapter in my forthcoming book on Evangelicalism, I ran across this article that I wrote for the Washington Post when I came to Wheaton College. It is shared here by permission, and I did not change the contemporary references in the article. (The WaPo editor chose the headline.)

Call Yourself a Christian; Start Talking about Jesus Christ

“Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words,” Saint Francis of Assisi is supposed to have said.

The aphorism, often quoted, expresses a well-meaning viewpoint of many Christians today. They are concerned that we’ve been too loud, demanding, and angry. Now, they say, we need to show the gospel by our lives.

It’s a good sentiment, and I certainly agree that we need to demonstrate the gospel change in our lives by caring for others. But there are two problems with the Assisi quote.

First, he never said it.

Second, it’s really bad theology.

You see, using that statement is a bit like saying, “Feed the hungry at all times; if necessary, use food.” For Christians, the gospel is good news—it’s what the word literally means. For evangelicals, our name speaks of the commitment to evangelism that defines us. The good news needs to be told.

Yet, Christians, evangelicals included, seem to love evangelism, as long as someone else is doing it. It’s time for all of us to start preaching our good news again.

Christianity Is a Missionary Faith

It’s essential to understand that, regardless of our personal comfort level, we are called to share our faith because Christianity is a missionary faith. Despite the change in our culture and the way our faith is regarded, Christians are commanded to tell people about Jesus. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus called fishermen as his first disciples and told them he would make them “fishers of men.”

His disciples are still called to be fishers of men.

Even in our multi-faith environment, this calling should not be offensive to those of other faiths or no faith at all. Evangelism does not mean coercion. We can and should respect each other and strive for tolerance across varying beliefs, but that does not require pretending those differences do not exist. One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that Christianity should be propagated.