Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Should we engage in "confrontational evangelism?"

I received several comments on my blog-post "How high should evangelism be on your priority list?" All of them were great and much appreciated. One comment in particular caught my eye because of a question that the author posed to me. After thinking about my response for a time, I decided that I would dedicate a blog entry to answering the question rather than simply batting it around in the comment area. It is after all a very important question, and one that I believe every Christian must ask at one time or another.

Drew Pearce asked, "[A]re you saying that there is no place for confrontational evangelism, or just that it should not be our primary evangelistic method?"

I talked with Drew briefly about what he meant by "confrontational evangelism" because I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page before I began formulating a response. We agreed on the following definition for the purposes of discussion: Confrontational evangelism is the act of sharing the gospel message with a person with which you have no substantial relationship. Drew and I are referring to situations where the Christian person finds himself/herself in a position to share the gospel message with someone on a plane, a bus, door-to-door, etc. One might refer to the intended audience as a "stranger" or at the very least a "casual acquaintance."

Anyone who engages in evangelism should be aware of certain traps or pitfalls that he/she might encounter along the way:

1) The temptation to forego our scriptural mandate to disciple. The Great Commission is not a command to tell the story of Christ. It is first and foremost a command to disciple fellow believers. All too often it is the case that the person receiving this new information (whether they decide to step out in faith and act upon it or not) is left to deal with it without follow-up, guidance, or instruction. You are never "off-the-hook" when it comes to your responsibilities to disciple. Sharing the gospel is a commitment. It is a commitment to a relationship. Even if the person does not accept Christ on the spot, you are not relieved of your responsibilities. You should always provide them with some sort of contact information and tell them to feel free to contact you if they have questions or would like to know more; but you must remember that in doing so you are committing to building a rapport and relationship with that person should they so desire. If they accept the gospel, then you've definitely got some work ahead of you! Paul understood this commitment. He didn't just run around the Mediterranean telling the story of Jesus, getting a few bites, and then moving on to new and greener pastures. The church has to be built, and the building process relies on established relationships, not casual acquaintances.

2) The danger of reducing the gospel to a story, and thereby ignoring its full power for the salvation of everyone who believes. The story of Jesus is only a part of the gospel, albeit a crucial part. The whole of Scripture and its teachings, at the very least, constitutes the entirety of the written gospel. Simply summarizing the contents of this or that narrative (e.g. the crucifixion/resurrection narrative) is not a complete gospel presentation. God may move a person to accept Christ after he/she hears the F.A.I.T.H. presentation, but don't think for even a second that the gospel has been shared in its entirety. This goes back to the relational commitment. Those whom I consider to be examples of mature Christianity are still sharing the gospel with me through their knowledge of Scripture and their living witness!

3) The danger of pointing someone down a path and then leaving him/her to complete the journey alone. Satan is our enemy, and he will try to coax us away from the path of righteousness at every turn. I am not trying to be flippant or to trivialize Scripture when I say that discipleship is God's "buddy system." Discipleship is the passing of wisdom from those who have more to those who desire more. We are to confess our sins to one another; we are to build one another up in love; we are to encourage one another. This is the core of mutual edification. Discipleship and mutual edification, when executed scripturally, function as a system of "checks and balances" designed to keep us walking in the light. If someone is left alone to fend for himself, the chances of his straying from the path greatly increases.

I could say more, but I have to stop. This post is getting ridiculously wordy. Please note that the common denominator between all of the points above is the concept of "relational commitment." When you identify someone with which you intend to share the gospel, remember that you are about to make a serious commitment. I personally believe that long-distance relationships can be more difficult to maintain than close-proximity relationships. If you are going to engage someone who does not live near you, then make sure that you are ready to assume the discipleship role if necessary (meaning if they accept). When evangelism is viewed in this way, then the phrase "confrontational evangelism" comes to mean "the discipleship journey that began with someone I did not know." Given that your gospel presentation begins at the first handshake of any relationship, the term loses any significant definitional value.

In other words, I'm not saying that "there is no place for confrontational evangelism." I'm saying there's no such thing. A stranger is simply someone whom you have yet to accompany on the path to their salvation, sanctification, and glorification; and they have yet to accompanying you on yours.


Drew said...

Gary, great post. I like the way you explained your position. Follow up question: As a believer am I obligated to have relationship with non-believers that begin with a verbal gospel "presentation"?
The reason I ask is because I've met people (I'm sure you have too) who would say something along the lines of "You can evangelize relationally, but if you're not knocking on doors, you're not doing the kingdom work!"
Are all believers obligated to have these types of relationships in which your first contact with a lost person is a verbal gospel "presentation"?

Gary Harris said...


The answer I would give is "No." I do not believe that one has to cold-knock doors or perform any other type of direct/confrontational evangelism that begins with a gospel presentation in order to do "kingdom work." We develop new relationships all the time as people wander in and out of our lives. I think a person who develops a true relationship with someone, leads them to Christ, and disciples them over the course of a year has been more obedient to God than the man who shared the gospel 100 times, got 15 acceptances (sinner's prayer and all), but never developed any sort of relationship with those people.

Thanks for giving me an interesting topic to think about and write on.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post as well. I often think of how Jesus did discipleship in John. Some people he did not talk to but healed only. Others were His audience and were available for teaching. I have often thought that it is harder to have your neighbors over for dinner and get to know them with the intent of bringing them the gospel than it is to cold knock on a door. it takes more time and cost to do the former. I think also, that we really don't love the person who rejects the gospel if we say goodbye to them after their rejection. Any thoughts on this?