Welcome to a four-part series about what evangelism is and isn’t. In the first three pieces, I’ll look at why justice, ecumenism, and love are all components of evangelism. In the fourth piece, I’ll look at what’s missing–why none of those things are sufficient–and why speaking the good news is the essential component of evangelism.
Justice, ecumenism, and love are all evangelism when they are carried out with the Holy Spirit as our guide.
But evangelism is not justice, ecumenism, or love.
How does that work?
It’s because evangelism is broader than each of these other things. Justice, ecumenism, and love are encompassed within evangelism—all worthwhile components—but none of them are full evangelism.
I submit none are even sufficient evangelism.
Most will recall some version of the quote attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”
There really is something to that sentiment, but ultimately, it’s incomplete and doesn’t even reflect Francis’ own ministry. (Not to mention, Francis never really said it.)
Francis was an avid preacher—a speaker of the Word, not just a doer of it.
Speaking the Word, speaking Jesus—the Word made flesh—is absolutely necessary. It is the central fact of evangelism.
What Evangelism Isn’t
Justice, ecumenism, and love are not the end of evangelism. Ultimately, evangelism is literally speaking the words of God and the good news of Jesus with and to another person.
Evangelism is not merely justice.
Justice matters, but it is not sufficient. It doesn’t convey the fullness of the gospel, which is also grace, mercy, love, and sacrifice.
Evangelism is not merely ecumenism.
Unity is vital, but it is not sufficient. As Jesus prayed in John 17, unity is not meant purely for unity’s sake. Unity around causes and specific doctrinal beliefs is great, but that’s not the outcome either. The outcome we hope for is “that the world may believe.”
Evangelism is not merely love.
Love—good deeds and good relationships with others—is not sufficient. No “ministry of presence,” no matter how loving, can replace the ministry of the Word.
It is true that there is no testimony quite like a transformed life. And yet, a transformed life is not a sufficient retelling of the good news to others.
Certainly, the way we live is a strong testimony about the reality of Christ in our lives. If Jesus’ transformative work and the Spirit’s guiding, empowering indwelling are real, they must make real, visible difference in our lives. And that difference must manifest in deeds—and also in a vocalized expression of the good news.
No matter how just, united, or loving we are, as long as we hold to a literally silent evangelism, any affect will be muted.
And that leads us to:
What Evangelism Is
Evangelism is proclamation.
We can never underestimate the power of words. Scripture testifies to the power of words both to save (Romans 10:9) and destroy. The Bible is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh.
Words matter in our own sanctification (Romans 10:10).
“It is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
And words matter in evangelism (Romans 10:14-15, 17).
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”….
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Faith comes from hearing. Hearing comes through the word.
Jesus himself demonstrates the centrality of speech—not merely action—to sharing the good news. To be sure, Jesus lived justly, sought unity among believers, and practiced perfect love. The ministry of Jesus was one of miracles—healings, signs, and deliverance from evil spirits—and many were amazed by his acts. But the ministry of Jesus was also, irreducibly and irreplaceably, a ministry of words.
Jesus was a miracle-worker. He was also a preacher.
The same disciple who told us, “Let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18) also emphasized the things Jesus spoke (John 17:13). Jesus words are “spirit and life” (John 6:63).
The Gospel Is Humble, Not Silent
Justice, ecumenism, and loving deeds and relationships are the fruit of the gospel. We know that fruit contains seeds, which allows it to reproduce. But let us not confuse the fruit of the gospel with the good news itself.
Trying to live out the gospel is never an excuse to be quiet about the gospel.
The good news is meant to be shared. Jesus commanded us to do it. And as we become more and more like Christ, our responsibility becomes more our joy.
But whatever we think about actions speaking louder than words, the practical, day-in and day-out reality of Christian evangelism is that speaking the good news with actual words is not merely good, it is necessary.
In the Evangelism Series:
Part 4: Evangelism Is Not Justice, Ecumenism, or Love