3. Separatist Evangelism
Separatist evangelism is an overly literal interpretation of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:17 to “come out from among them and be separate.” Separatist evangelism assumes that by withdrawing from the world, we are somehow witnesses to the world. It is the “evangelist” who prides himself or herself on having no non-Christian friends or acquaintances or never spending time with someone outside of the faith.
The Solution: A Hospitable Evangelism
Jesus himself “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG). We should seek to build relationships with people who are far from God, but not because sharing about Jesus is a hidden ulterior motive. Instead, we recognize that an essential aspect of relationships is that we talk about those things that are most important to us—so if Jesus is important to you, he will naturally be a topic of conversation as relationships develop. We need to revive the practice of opening our homes, our tables, and our lives to people around us, creating space for hospitable evangelism to take shape.
4. Assimilation Evangelism
Assimilation evangelism is like legislative evangelism in that it seeks to modify people’s behaviors through pressure or force. But assimilation evangelism is different in that it seeks to conform others into our image, culturally speaking, as they journey toward Jesus. Assimilation evangelism says that, in addition to following Jesus, one should also change one’s cultural distinctiveness to become something more familiar and comfortable to the one doing the evangelizing. One classic example was during western frontier expansion in the Americas, Christian missionaries would travel to Native American tribes and talk about Jesus. However, coupled with the gospel was the expectation that Native Americans would begin to dress like the European settlers. They would need to sit in rows, like a European church, instead of in circles as the Native Americans were accustomed.
The Solution: A Pure Evangelism
John’s vision in Revelation 7 of a redeemed people from every tribe, nation, and people group is a post-resurrection vision. Meaning, John is seeing what will be after the final resurrection of the dead and what he sees is a representation of the wonderful and incredible cultural diversity represented within the global and historical Church.
Coming into the family of God does not mean conforming to Western cultural norms. Instead, it’s a matter of the Spirit of God redeeming and transforming cultures into his likeness while still retaining the beautiful distinctiveness with which he created them. We shouldn’t confuse the two. We need to keep careful attention to maintaining a pure evangelism that is gospel only, stripped of any cultural add ons we might desire to attach to it.
5. Conversion Evangelism
When people think of evangelism, they often think of conversion—a sort of holy “closing the sale.” While a moment of conversion is important, conversion is both a point and a process. Meaning, there is indeed a moment where someone surrenders their life to Christ, but that moment has both a process that leads up to it as well as a process that follows it. Simply focusing on the moment while neglecting a commitment to the broader process that’s taking place in a person’s life can do an injustice to people making a choice to follow Jesus.
The Solution: A Holistic Evangelism
We need to begin to envision evangelism and discipleship as two interlinked components of the same process: participating with God to birth new spiritual life into the world. Evangelism is the “prenatal care” that naturally gives way to the loving, patient, parental work of discipleship. Both prenatal and postpartum care of a child is part of the early stages of parenting. When we view our evangelistic task through this lens, it becomes less about closing a sale and more about stewarding a beautiful, yet very fragile, spiritual new life coming into the world.
This holistic approach to evangelism, that views our call to share the gospel less like a sales pitch and more like welcoming people into our family is not only more biblically faithful but is also the answer to the heart cry of many in our society today. People long to belong. And we have an opportunity to welcome them into our spiritual family as chosen kin.
Trustworthy. Grassroots. Hospitable. Pure. Holistic. I’m convinced that this is the shape of an evangelism for the twenty-first century. The irony is that this form of evangelism is less intimidating, less complicated, and less confrontational than what we’ve made evangelism out to be. But it is also more biblical, more holy, and more effective at reaching people who are far from Jesus.