Communicating God’s word
Christian speaker and author Lindsay Brown will be leading the main seminars at the next Counties Day Conference.
Lindsay , from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, will talk around the theme of ‘shining like stars in an ever-increasing dark world’ on Saturday, 4 March at Langley Grammar School, near Slough.
Here he looks at the most effective methods to use to share the gospel:
Means bywhich we should communicate God’s truth
Throughout the world in IFES movements many different evangelistic methods are used, including drama, questionnaires, open air preaching, book tables, camps etc.
I however want to focus on several of the methods which, it seems to me are the most essential biblical methods which we must use if we want to see biblical fruit in our movements. It is clear in Scripture that God communicates His truth primarily through:
1. The spoken word
2. The written word
Many people today argue that we live in post-literate cultures, and therefore argue the case for more use of drama, dance, music, film and the media in general. It may well be that we have to employ these methods in our evangelistic work, but I suggest that if they take the place of the spoken and the written word, we are being unbiblical in our evangelism. I would like to suggest therefore the following primary methods which should be employed by all Christian groups, whether they are university Christian groups, or churches seeking to win unbelievers to Christ.
1. Public Evangelistic Proclamation or Preaching
This has always been used throughout the history of the church and has been ordered by God. We neglect it in our student movements at our peril. In the New Testament it was the approach the apostles used to those with nominal Christian backgrounds (see Acts 2, where the sermon is full of Scripture references), as well as to those with pagan backgrounds (see Acts 17, where Paul includes very few references to Scripture and starts off with pagan poetry). A lack of public proclamation implies either a lack of confidence in God’s word, or bad experience with poor preaching, or both. In the early church they sought to understand their local culture as their starting point for the proclaimed word, but in the end, the core of the gospel message was always proclaimed. This included an emphasis on:
- One creator God to whom we are morally responsible
- The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ
- The necessity of repentance and faith
Good preaching will aim to satisfy the mind, prick the conscience (leading to repentance), challenge the will (thus calling for a response) and finally, move the emotions. We should aim to provide models of preaching where the proclaimed message is clear, including little theological jargon and making provision for the definition of terms which are unknown to the secular world like sin, grace, justification, repentance, etc. We should also speak where people are, being clear and simple, but not simplistic and we should finally aim to proclaim Christ, always aiming to confront people with Him personally.
Of course, preaching should not be done in isolation from preparation and this leads us on therefore to a second approach.
2. Small groups in the home
The use of the home, dormitory, apartment, small group, especially focusing on the evangelistic Bible study, in which we seek to confront people with the person of Christ.
Perhaps one of the first examples of the evangelistic Bible study is where the evangelist Philip opens Scripture up to the Ethiopian treasurer. But there also seems to be much justification in the New Testament for small group work in the context of a warm atmosphere, namely a home where people were invited to hear the gospel shared in a loving, relaxed atmosphere. This was done in Jason’s home (Acts 17:5), in the home of Justin (Acts 18:7) and elsewhere (Acts 21:8, 20:7, 10:22, 2:46 - where we are told of a house full of seekers). The emphasis on an evangelistic Bible study, or the home/dormitory based small group, Is not a peculiarity of student work in the twentieth (21st?) century. The Puritan, Richard Baxter, in the sixteenth century wrote, “I find more signs of success in this work (small home groups) than in all my public preaching”.
Another form of public evangelistic work is that of apologetics, which can be defined as a reasoned defence of the gospel. This is especially important in a university context, where many people think that to become a Christian is to commit intellectual suicide. Even many Christians have been brought up in an environment where they have been encouraged to stop thinking and ‘only believe’, without asking any questions. Many people do not understand that this is not a replacement for the Holy Spirit’s working, and it is not a rational substitute, but rather a basis or ground for faith. A clearly reasoned presentation of he gospel can be a means by which the objective truth of God’s word can be made clear so that men will heed it as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Examples of the apologetic approach in Scripture are Acts 17:2-3 where Paul talks with Jews who have some biblical knowledge and Acts 17:16-31 where he talks with non-Jews who have no biblical background.
Apologetics is valuable because it answers the question – ‘Is Christianity rationally defensible?’. It can be used to demolish apparently rational arguments against Christianity so the evangel can be heard, and it is often a means of communicating with friends in words and terms which are understandable to them. It also has the useful by-product of encouraging Christians by providing honest answers to questions they are often asking themselves.
Of course on the other side, some people tend to think that Christianity is exclusively rational. But there are also moral considerations and the moral always overshadows the intellectual in terms of a decision of faith. Reason alone will never pin people down; faith, prayer and love are needed. We must not pander to people’s intellectual curiosity, but we are to give them a basis for believing. Whichever question we start off by seeking to answer in our apologetic approach, we must ultimately present people with two things:
- The objective person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ
- Our own personal subjective testimony of our experience of Him
It is true to say that the Christian faith goes beyond reason, but that does not mean that it is against reason.
4. Working in teams
There seems to be justification for this in Jesus’ own ministry, where he gathered together not only the twelve apostles, but a larger body of people who often travelled with him, which included both men and women. This example was later copied in the life of the apostle Paul, where he sometimes had, it seems from his writings, over twenty people travelling together with him. Though on occasions we are told that he travelled with Silas or with Barnabas etc as his principal co-worker, nevertheless, if we read carefully the last chapter of most of his letters, we will see his references to other co-travellers who often did apparently menial things, like carrying manuscripts, delivering letters, etc. I take these two examples of the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul as justification for the development and value of Summer Teams or any form of working in a team context. Team evangelism is valuable not just in terms of the possibilities of reaching larger numbers of people, but where team leaders are effective, their enthusiasm and example rubs off on other team members, especially younger ones who are looking for some kind of model on which to base their life and actions. In Matthew 9:35-10:20, we can see how Jesus told his disciples what to say, sent them out with a particular task and instructions on how to complete it, and received them back for evaluation. This seems to be a method worth copying in our Christian fellowship.
Finally, I want to emphasise the necessity of the use of literature, especially the
importance of exposing people to the Scriptures, whether it be through small group discussions and evangelistic Bible studies, or just through distribution of gospels. Often in my experience students lack faith in the power of the written word of the gospel to convict and with the help of the Holy Spirit transform people’s lives. We need to encourage them to liberally distribute and use Scripture to expose people to the gospel.
6. Personal Evangelism
It is my conviction that these five methods are principal methods in the Scripture which we must aim to incorporate into our means of proclaiming the Christian truth in addition of course to personal evangelism.
In addition to these six primary approaches there are many other methods which are used fruitfully in different countries, including houseparties and camps – sports camps for skiing and sailing etc, seminars on particular topics from a Christian perspective, possibly even in the relevant faculty, debates, distribution of Christian literature and book tables, talks with slides and other visual aids and films (Christian or non Christians, as discussion starters, you may choose to use biographical Christian films like Joni etc, films on contemporary ethical issues like abortion, or secular films like Bergman’s Winter Light, which though prepared by a non-Christian, can be an excellent means of preparing people to hear the gospel.)
Finally, for consideration, I would suggest that the following general truths seem to emerge from the Bible about communication of God’s truth.
1. By words, either written or oral, and those oral utterances are to be underscored by a life that reflects what we are saying (the principle of incarnation).
2. Related to the theological understanding of the people, (see a classic example of this in practice in a secular society in Acts 17) and in the every day language of the people. We need to spend time understanding the mindset of the non-Christian world, putting ourselves in the shoes of non-Christians, looking at posters, reading student newspapers, generally getting a feel for what is happening in people’s mind (cf, Paul wandering around Athens before he preached in Acts 17), we need to learn to ask the right questions, to really work at and pray about understanding our non-Christian world, so that the world might actually hear what we are saying!
3. The message needs to be taken to the people. We are not only to meet people where they are intellectually and spiritually, but also geographically. The apostles and the prophets did not wait until the people came to their meetings; rather they went out to the market place and proclaimed God’s word there as well as expecting unbelievers to be in their gathering
(I Corinthians 14:22-25).
4. Both spontaneous and planned. The two are both necessary if we are to remain fresh (spontaneity), and make an impact on the majority (planning).
5. The communication of God’s truth must always at some point include a call for specific, practical response (repentance and obedience).