After I have published (see HERE) Howard Snyder’s text on evangelism, somebody asked if indeed the author’s position was aligned 100% with what the New Testament has to say about evangelism. In other words, is not evangelism primarily a communication of good news and is not ‘conversion evangelism’ the prime emphasis of the biblical text?
Here is my answer to this absolutely legitimate question:
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In my opinion, the question of the meaning of ‘evangelism’ cannot be decided based on an etymological study of ‘euangelizo’ or of an exegetical study of the occurrences of this term in the NT, which is similar to the fact that the meaning of ‘church’ in the NT cannot be legitimately decided on the basis of an etymological study of ‘ekklesia’ (as coming from the Greek ek-kaleo) and the exegetical study of the occurrences of this term in the Bible (74 in the Septuagint and 114 in the NT).
The reasons for this are multiple:
1. neither ‘euangelizo’ nor ‘ekklesia’ are exclusively determining the respective theological meanings of ‘evangelism’ and ‘church’; for both concepts a multitude of terms and metaphors are used by NT authors in order to describe pretty complex realities – to reduce the meaning of these concepts to these two terms (as important as they may be) is… well… reductionistic;
2. such a ‘biblicist’ approach is quite levelling, ignoring the fact that various Biblical authors have used these terms at different times during the first century and have addressed different contexts – mixing it all up into a uniform image would be like reducing a tri-dimensional object to a two dimensional one or a full colour image to a black an white one; I have to confess I have done this countless times during my fundamentalist period, but I cannot do it anymore; not after studying and teaching hermeneutics for so many years;
3. finally, as Snyder alludes to, the meaning of these theological (not just biblical) terms cannot be assessed without taking into account the meaning of two other theological terms: a. ‘gospel’; and, b. ‘kingdom of God’. Neither of these can be reduced to a propositional statement, as Campus Crusade does with its reductionistic ‘four spiritual laws’.
As Scot McKnight rightly argues in his book The King Jesus Gospel, the ‘gospel’ of Jesus Christ, unlike most modern versions of it, is not a sort of ‘sin management’ solution to help us escape going to hell or a ‘formula on how to get saved’ – that would make us mere ‘soterians’ (from the Gr. soter – saviour), but the story of Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled through his incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection ans ascension God’s promise for bringing the whole of the fallen creation (Eph. 1:10), not just fallen humanity, back into communion with him – a story into which biblical authors invite us all.
Thus, the scope of the ‘gospel’, and implicitly of ‘evangelism’ is not the mere communication of the good news of how we, as sinful individual human beings, can be saved, but is something of cosmic proportions.
Similarly, the scope of the ‘kingdom of God/heavens’, as described by Jesus in his sermon on the mount, and as we know from Amos 5:21-24, is not just about the lordship of God in our individual lives, but also about discipleship, justice and bringing the whole of reality under the authority of God.
This, I believe, is the gospel we have to incarnate (‘life’), demonstrate (‘deed’), preach (‘word’) and point to/pray for (sign’) [World Vision defines ‘witness to Jesus Christ’ as being done through ‘life, deed, word and sign’.] Anything less is not the entire gospel, and, as Rich Stearns summons us, we should not allow for any ‘hole’ in our gospel.