What Is Evangelism, Anyway?

Almost half of millennials who say they follow Jesus believe it’s wrong to evangelize. That is, they believe it’s wrong to tell other people who do not follow Jesus about the Jesus they follow.

This is according to a new study released by Barna, Christianity Today reported last week. Barna found that 47% of practicing Christian millennials agreed that “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Not scary or difficult or intimidating.


Compare this to 22% of Gen X, 19% of Boomers, and 20% of Elders. It’s a significant enough of a percent to take note. And it begs, well, lots of questions. Here’s two. First, do these millennials really know the real Jesus? Second, how do these millennials define evangelism, anyway?

Do these millennials really know the real Jesus? We speak the gospel because the Jesus we meet in Scripture spoke. He is, after all, the Word made flesh. 

We don’t have to pit speaking about Jesus against doing loving deeds in the name of Jesus. That’s a false dichotomy. We don’t have to pick. We do both. If any self-proclaimed practicing Christian—myself included—begins to think it’s wrong to share Jesus with someone, then it may well be the case that we do not really know the real Jesus. Or perhaps we simply need some serious recalibration and repentance.

The real Jesus tells his disciples to go proclaim the kingdom with their words (Matt. 10). The real Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses (read: “testifiers”) to the ends of the earth (Acts 1). The real Jesus sends his disciples as he has been sent (and Jesus did his fair share of speaking) (John 21). The real Jesus employs his disciples as ambassadors who represent him to the world and “speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2). We could go on and on.

Now, what is evangelism, anyway? Many millennials may indeed agree that Jesus speaks good news and sends out his disciples to do the same. But perhaps the way Christians have sometimes (though not always) been taught to evangelize for the past several decades has left a nasty taste in their mouths. It’s hard to know. It makes me wonder: do millennials believe particular methods of evangelism are wrong? The study doesn’t go there.

So let’s ask the question here: what is evangelism, anyway? If evangelism is arming yourself with intellectual ammunition in order to prove someone wrong. You know, really stick it to ’em, for God’s glory, of course. Then, yes, that’s wrong. No Christian should do that. (I’ll be the first to say I have.)

But what if evangelism–sharing Jesus–was just that, sharing Jesus? I often tell our students in Cru, evangelism is not providing information, it’s presenting a Person. Or I’ll say it this way: Evangelism is not a sales pitch, it’s seeking people.

Evangelism is not sharing theological propositions. It is not arguing doctrinal points. It is not debating philosophical positions. It is not forcing people to download information about God.

When you evangelize, you are offering a gift that you have received. It’s offering the person of Jesus to another person in a way that they can understand and embrace. We are presenting God to people, seeking to find those people whom God is drawing to himself. And usually, we’re doing this with friends in the midst of everyday life.

Do you see how this shifts the conversation entirely? When he was on earth, Jesus was on a mission to find people and give himself to them. Nathaniel. Levi. Zacchaeus. The Samaritan woman. Nicodemus. Jairus. The Syrophoenecian woman. When this sinks in, it will radically change our methods to be more like the Master’s.

Barna’s study shows me that there’s work to be done among believers. There’s encouragement to give. There’s repentance needed. There’s modeling and training to begin and continue.

All the while, there’s a dark and lost and broken world in desperate need of redemption. They are waiting.

And all we need to do is share the Redeemer we have with them. That is evangelism.

Life Theology

More Links on Rob Bell

Simply searching for and reading all the material that has been written about this in the past week about Rob Bell and his new book, Love Wins, could be a full-time job. Unfortunately, the pay would be awful.

I didn’t get paid to read all of this, but still enjoyed it thoroughly. For your enjoyment and benefit, here are some more links to blogs and articles about Bell:

  • The Tenth Leper, a seminary student in Dallas, has somehow obtained an advance-reader copy of the book and will be reviewing it in a series of posts.
  • Christianity Today puts Rob Bell in context.
  • Trevin Wax writes about Rob Bell and the Judgmentless “Gospel”
  • Justin Taylor has a follow-up post on some questions J.I. Packer asks to those who believe that once in hell, God ultimately will restore all people.
  • Jarrod McKenna explores the battle between Bell and the Neo-Calvinists.

And finally, drum roll please…

  • A sermon from Bell entitled “Love Wins.”  I have not listened to this message yet, but hope to before the weekend is over.  Perhaps it gives us insight into what the book is about.  (To save to your computer, right click and click on “save link as”.)

Read the links I posted on Wednesday.


Jesus and John and Kate Plus Eight

This is a good article from Christianity Today  on the popular TV show John and Kate Plus Eight.

Here’s an excerpt:

When the first few episodes revealed the earning potential of this “everyday family,” Jon & Kate Plus Eight became a brand name that was packaged and sold. And many Christians were happy to comply by opening up their wallets and their fellowship halls. When the network and the couple were not satisfied with the money generated through high ratings and book sales, the Gosselin home was filled with product placements and the children were filmed for long hours each week. All the while many (though not all) evangelicals watched with undiscerning eyes. Somewhere along the line we, like Jon and Kate, seemed to forget the warnings of 1 Timothy 6:9-10:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (NRSV)


I Might Be Giving Up on Christianity Today

Christianity Today (CT) recently interviewed Rob Bell about his book Jesus Wants to Save Christians.  And at the end of the interview, Galli asked Bell how he would present the gospel on Twitter.  Bell said:

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

That’s the gospel?  Really?  That is not anywhere close to the gospel.  What Bell said had nothing to do about Jesus Christ’s person and work.  His gospel is not saving.  It is not God-centered or biblical.  If you had to Twitter the gospel, keep it short and sweet, how about this:

I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1, 3-4).

Mark Galli, the interviewer, wrote at the beginning of the article that his book is “nothing less than a holistic, biblical theology of salvation — written, paradoxically, in Bell’s typical sentence-fragment style.”

That might even be more concerning to me given that CT calls themselves a magazine of “evangelical distinction.”  If Bell’s gospel is “evangelical,” then please, don’t call me that.