Monday, February 11, 2008

Evangelism: Let's Check Our Method

One more quote from Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In this one, Packer zooms in on the debate about evangelistic method and lays down one principle for all who do the work of evangelism. This is long but very much worth it.

"So, in the last analysis, there is only one method of evangelism: namely, the faithful explanation and application of the gospel message. From which it follows--and this is the key principle which we are seeking--that the test for any proposed strategy, or technique, or style, of evangelistic action must be this: will it in fact serve the word? Is it calculated to be a means of explaining the gospel truly and fully and applying it deeply and exactly? To the extent to which it is so calculated, it is lawful and right; to the extent to which it tends to overlay and obscure the realities of the message, and to blunt the edge of their application, it is ungodly and wrong.

"Let us work this out. It means that we need to bring under review all our evangelistic plans and practices--our missions, rallies, and campaigns; our sermons, talks, and testimonies; our big meetings, our little meetings, and our presentation of the gospel in personal dealing; the tracts that we give, the books that we lend, the letters that we write--and to ask about each of them questions such as the following:

"Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God? Is it calculated to divert their attention from man and all things merely human to God and His truth? Or is its tendency rather to distract attention from the Author and authority of the message to the person and performance of the messenger? Does it make the gospel sound like a human idea, a preacher's plaything, or like a divine revelation, before which the human messenger himself stands in awe? Does this way of presenting Christ savour of human cleverness and showmanship? Does it tend thereby to exalt man? Or does it embody rather the straightforward, unaffected simplicity of the messenger whose sole concern is to deliver his message, and who has no wish to call attention to himself, and who desires so far as he can to blot himself out and hide, as it were, behind his message, fearing nothing so much as that men should admire and applaud him when they ought to be bowing down and humbling themselves before the mighty Lord whom he represents?

"Again: is this way of presenting Christ calculated to promote, or impede, the work of the word in the men's minds? Is it going to clarify the meaning of the message, or to leave it enigmatic and obscure, locked up in pious jargon and oracular formulae? Is it going to make people think, and think hard, and think hard about God, and about themselves in relation to God? Or will it tend to stifle thought by playing exclusively on the emotions? Is it calculated to stir the mind, or put it to sleep? Is this way of presenting Christ an attempt to move men by the force of feeling, or of truth? Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with emotion; it is strange for a person to be converted without emotion; what is wrong is the sort of appeal to emotion, and playing on emotion, which harrows people's feelings as a substitute for instructing their minds.

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the doctrine of the gospel, and not just part of it, but the whole of it--the truth about our Creator and His claims, and about ourselves as guilty, lost, and helpless sinners, needing to be born again, and about the Son of God who became man, and died for sins, and lives to forgive sinners and bring them to God? Or is it likely to be deficient here, and deal in half-truths, and leave people with an incomplete understanding of these things, and hurry them on to the demand for faith and repentance without having made it clear just what they need to repent of, or what they ought to believe?

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the application of the gospel, and not just part of it, but the whole of it--the summons to see and know oneself as God sees and knows one, that is, as a sinful creature, and to face the breadth and depth of the need into which a wrong relationship with God has brought one, and to face too the cost and consequences of turning to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord? Or is it likely to be deficient here, and to gloss over some of this, and to give an inadequate, distorted impression of what the gospel requires? Will it, for instance, leave people unaware that they have any immediate obligation to respond to Christ at all? Or will it leave them supposing that al they have to do is to trust Christ as a sin-bearer, not realizing that they must also deny themselves and enthrone Him as their Lord (the error which we might call only-believism)? Or will it leave them imagining that the whole of what they have to do is to consecrate themselves to Christ as their Master, not realzing that they must also receive Him as their Saviour (the error which we might call good-resolutionism)? We need to remember here that spiritually it is even more dangerous for a man whose conscience is roused to make a misconceived response to the gospel, and take up with a defective religious practice, than for him to make no response at all. If you turn a publican into a Pharisee, you make his condition worse, not better.

"Again: we have to ask, is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious? Is it calculated to make people feel that they are indeed facing a matter of life and death? Is it calculated to make them see and feel the greatness of God, and the greatness of their sin and need, and the greatness of the grace of Christ? Is it calculated to make them aware of the awful majesty and holiness of God? Will it help them to realize that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands? Or is this way of presenting Christ so light and casual and cosy and jolly as to make it hard for the hearers to feel that the gospel is a matter of any consequence, save as a pick-me-up for life's misfits? It is a gross insult to God, and a real disservice to men, to cheapen and trivialize the gospel by one's presentation of it. Not that we should put on an affected solemnity when speaking of spiritual things; there is nothing more essentially frivolous than a mock seriousness, and nothing more likely to make hypocrites out of our hearers. What is needed is this: that we, who would speak for Christ, should pray constantly that God will put and keep in our hearts a sense of His greatness and glory, and of the joy of fellowship with Him, and of the dreadfulness of spending time and eternity without Him; and then that God will enable us to speak honestly, straightforwardly, and just as we feel about these matters. Then we shall be really natural in presenting the gospel--and really serious too.

"It is by asking questions of this sort that we must test and, where necessary, reform our evangelistic methods. The principle is that the best method of evangelism is the one which serves the gospel most completely. It is the one which bears the clearest witness to the divine origing of the message, and the life-and-death character of the issues which it raises. It is the one which makes possible the most full and thorough explanation of the good news of Christ and His cross, and the most exacting and searching application of it. It is the one which most effectively engages the minds of those to whom witness is borne, and makes them most vividly aware that the gospel is God's word, addressed personally to them in their own situation. What that best method is in each case, you and I have to find out for ourselves. It is in the light of this principle that all debates about evangelistic methods must be decided." (pp. 86-91)

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