Christ-centred Evangelism

A little while ago I lamented a certain kind of evangelism that is all too common.  It’s basically the call to younger brother types to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech.  The evangelist will even feed them a ready made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation.  The whole encounter goes something like this:

“We all know who God is don’t we?  He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you?  Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced.  Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’.  And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you.  I guarantee it’ll work (becausetherewasthisthingcalledthecrosswhichyoudon’tneedtoknowaboutnow butIneedtocrowbaritinbecausethesewordsaremagic).  Anyway, the ball is now in your court.  It’s all down to you.  If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”

The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender.  Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to His call?

Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focussing on Christ.  Evangelism is speaking of Jesus.  It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news.  So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’  We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”

Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:

1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject.  You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.

2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving Christ as He’s offered in the gospel.  Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness.  What does that even mean?  What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean?   Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Look and live!”

3) Decision is dethroned. We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus.  Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe (Steve Holmes).   Because faith is a response to contemplating Christ.  The spotlight does not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response.  The spotlight falls on Christ Himself.

4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace.  You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him – the LORD our Righteousness.  In this way conversion and discipleship are held together.  The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.

5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits.  Instead the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus.  But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”

6) Because of this, you don’t have to fence all your promises of forgiveness and freedom and new life with ‘…if you really, truly, ruly believe’.  Since faith is receiving the Christ who is offered there’s no chance of the listener trusting an abstract promise in vain.  Those who receive Jesus receive Jesus.

7) The decision time at the end of the talk is de-emphasized.  It is not the business end of proceedings.  The real business is holding out Christ by the Spirit (and therefore in the word).  The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching.  They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching.  It’s not about a form of words that they must parrot at the end.  If you want to pray at the end that’s fine.  But it’s only confirming a receiving of Christ that’s occurred during the preaching.  Faith comes by hearing.

Anyway, those were some of the thoughts motivating my recent evangelistic talk here.

Thoughts, comments?

Picture ht Bobby

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Posted on by Glen in evangelism, preaching

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

16 Responses to Christ-centred Evangelism

  1. Bobby Grow
  2. Gav

    Hey Glen……for me its a good time to be reading this as we prepare for CE again.

    Love what you have to say….what seemed especially good to me was what you had to say in point 4. It just makes discipleship alot simpler if we think of it like that.

    But I’m a bit uncomfortable with the comment of……..

    “The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching.”

    I dont think a person delivering the gospel message can “win” anybody. Thats God’s job. Our job is to just tell the message isnt it? It might sound a bit picky or I could have the bull by the horns but I’m getting the vibe from your last couple of posts that all a person has to do is process the right information and they will believe.

    OK, set me straight.

  3. dave

    Gav – a person needs a new heart and the Holy Spirit – but surely that’s something the LORD does as the gospel is persuasively spoke, heard, understood, believed… Christ saves them, and yet it’s through the preaching/hearing of that that this happens. Same too for “discipleship”.

  4. Glen

    Hey Bobby,

    Guilty! I’ll put up a link. Do you remember where you got it from?

    Hey Gav,

    Paul (who definitely believes conversion is the sovereign work of the Spirit!) also speaks of ‘winning’ people – e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:

    “19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

    It’s not the most fundamental thing he says about conversion (see something like 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 for that) but what’s key is that we don’t divorce the Word of God from the Spirit of God. Yes it’s the Spirit’s work, but He works through His Word – He doesn’t just zap people willy-nilly. And the Spirit’s work through the Word is so united that the speaker of that word can even say “I try to save some”. It’s not the bottom line, you’re right – and we need to constantly remember (as Paul does) the sovereign work of God in salvation. But He really uses *us* in that – we really are co-workers with Him in the gospel. (1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1) Amazing!

    Hey Dave – totally!

  5. Gav

    I hear what you are saying but I’m still left with:

    So…the better I get at gospel preaching, the more people “I” save?

    Or….if I’m not good at gospel preaching, the more people “I” lose?

  6. Glen

    Hey Gav,

    I really appreciate what you’re trying to protect here Gav. And I want to protect it too. The power is not in me, the preacher. No sir. Not at all.

    But that doesn’t mean that the power is therefore in some arbitrary divine lottery above the preacher’s head – maybe the message will get zapped with Holy-Ghost-power, maybe not.

    Where is the power? Romans 1:16 says, the power is in the gospel itself. So it’s not in the preacher, but it is in the Word that the preacher preaches.

    See this old post for more on this:

    http://christthetruth.net/2008/09/24/barcode-gun-or-magnum/

    So, think about Romans 10:17:

    “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

    Faith comes when the word of *Christ* is heard. The power is in the Word of the Risen Lord who continues to call people to Himself through the word of gospel preaching.

    I am not advocating that preachers get better at preaching in order to save more people. See this post:

    http://christthetruth.net/2009/08/21/we-dont-need-better-preaching/

    But what we do need to get is preachers who hold out *Christ* because it’s Him the hearer must be presented with. This is another advantage of evangelism that focuses on Jesus – it takes the spotlight *off* the preacher and any oratory skill they may have. The spotlight should only be on Jesus and the preacher must get out of the way of Him as much as possible.

    Preaching that is full of Christ is good preaching and the Lord loves to use it in saving people. Preaching that is Christ-lite is awful preaching. God may still choose to use it to save but – Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

    And if anyone is saved – ALL the glory goes to God. Again, this becomes even more obvious if the preacher is determined to get out of the way and just hold up Jesus. Christ-focussed evangelism is glory-to-God evangelism.

  7. John B

    I love hearing Spurgeon’s account of his own conversion, which appears 280 times in his published sermons. Here’s a link to one such account: http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biospurgeon3.html

    God works his sovereign grace through his ordained means; Word, gospel, preaching, water, bread, wine, priests…

  8. theoldadam

    The Holy Spirit creates faith ‘when and where He will’.

    We are not born of our own decisions. We are born of God.

    I think you are right on target here, Glen.

  9. Jesse T

    Hey Glen,

    I was introduced to your blog by some friends in Hong Kong, where I used to live, and I now have you bookmarked on my computer.

    I am continuously dumbfounded by the myriad pastors who call new believers to repeat a prayer at the end of the sermon. I sometimes wonder if Romans 10:9 is completely forgotten about. As you said about the listeners, “They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching.”

    As for “good” or “bad” preaching, my critical spirit has been harsh enough on more than one occasion to walk away from a sermon thinking “that was awful… in fact, that was *more* than awful” only to have a friend start rejoicing at the beauty of the message. So I agree that the power is not in the one who is speaking, but in the words that are spoken, so long as they are from the Spirit.

    Anyway, I am typically simply a reader of your blog, not a commenter, but these are two topics that stand out to me and I am glad to have seen you address them.

  10. Glen

    John – that’s a wonderful link. Thanks for sharing.

    OldAdam – good ref: John 1:13!

    Jesse T – welcome to comments. Great points. Was Jacky Lam one of the HK friends?

  11. Scott Thomson

    Hey Glen,

    Great post! It’s something i’ve thought about and argued for myself. As I grow in Christ I see more of his worth and majesty and it makes me want to point others to Him more – Christians and non-Christians alike. Explaining evangelism as this rather than a formulaic hard sell is right, I’m sure.

    The only thing I hesitate about is going too far away from the listener having to make a conscious decision. It’s absolutely right for the ‘meat’ of evangelism being pointing people to Christ. Look at the sermons in Acts and this is what’s done all the time. Nevertheless, they almost invariably also call people to make a conscious response – repentance. Yes, it’s not ‘pray this prayer’ and job done. But they do say – look at Jesus, look at Jesus, look at Jesus… look at your sinfulness and so trust in what he’s done and repent (massively paraphrased there!).

    I suppose what I’m saying is that yes, show people Jesus – that’s the most important thing. That goes a massive way to showing people their need of Him, but spelling their need out and outlining how response might look isn’t such a bad/unbiblical thing?

    I don’t really think that’s what you argued for, but I just wanted to clarify?

  12. Jesse T

    Well, I only actually met Jacky once. But we share many mutual friends, and I’m not sure whether some of them read this because they know you or because Jacky introduced them. But either way, I assume he’s probably the source! You don’t happen to know Carolina Tam do you?

  13. Glen

    Hey Scott,

    Welcome to comments. Thanks for letting me clarify a bit. I’m *totally* into the need for the hearers to repent and believe. And because I’m all for that I want to major on the “Who” of Jesus because I think *He* wins hearts and minds Himself when He is spotlighted. When He is lifted up *He* draws all people to Himself.

    One thing the speaker can do is to let the hearer know from the outset what a Christian is – ie someone who looks to Christ as Lord – and to tell them, “I’m going to paint you the bible’s portrait of Jesus, and see if you don’t agree with me that He is the Ultimate, the One – Lord Almighty.” That way as they are confronted with the majesty of Jesus they are already aware that they are becoming a Christian (if indeed they are).

    To build on an illustration I used in my recent sermon on faith (scroll down on the blog) – if faith is to seeing Trustworthy Jesus as applause is to hearing wonderful music, then the preacher harping on about the personal need for to respond in faith in this particular way is a bit like the conductor of an orchestra who spends most of the time telling the audience how they must clap once the music is over. The preacher should major on Christ and the orchestra should make beautiful music.

    Now at the end of the concert, there are certain cues to give to the audience about how they can show their appreciation. But if the appreciation aint there, the applause will be hollow. You can draw the links yourself.

    You’ll notice in the evangelistic talk that I link to above that I do invite people to pray along with me at the end. But it’s a very short prayer and all it does is echo the three portraits of Christ I’ve tried to paint. So, yes I certainly do call people to receive Christ but a) I like to do that throughout the talk and b) I don’t make a huge deal of it at the end.

    But maybe I’m wrong about that. Happy to hear other perspectives.

    Hi Jesse,

    I still haven’t met Jacky in person. Hopefully one day soon. But his blog is a treasure trove. Carolina’s name is not ringing any bells at the moment.

  14. Scott Thomson

    Thanks for that Glen – great illustration. I think I’m on the same page now.

  15. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    I stole it from google, I thought you did too. I was just messin’.

    I think the Gospel should always focus on Jesus, indeed; I also think different contexts might require different modes of communication. A different one in a sermon, a different one at work surrounded by unbelievers, etc. I suppose all I’m saying is that different people have different questions, and that we should be sensitive to those. Of course, as the “Gospel proclaimers” we need to make sure the discussion stays on track — always pointing to Jesus.

    JW’s, LDS, Muslims, etc. like to sidetrack discussions and major on the minors; we should follow suit. What differentiates us from every other world religion and belief system is who we know Jesus to be — He’s the POINT!

  16. Bobby Grow

    I meant to say:

    we shouldn’t follow suit

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