The benefits or deficits of being an evangelist are (1) Taking things at face-value and (2) Going directly to the point. These are, in fact, commendable qualities, as taught in both Old and New Testaments. Honesty and integrity are pillars of obedience of the Bible. Hedging and dishonesty are strongly discouraged in Scripture.
For this reason, my approach to teaching and leading evangelism was the “up the middle” approach. Using terminology from American football, the “up the middle” approach implies attacking the opponent directly. Just saying it like it is: “This is what the Bible teaches, and this is what we must do in obedience to the Bible!”
This approach did have some success with some students. But others found either practical or exegetical reasons why they did not have to submit to biblical evangelism. On the academic side are arguments like:
- The culture of the 1st Century is so foreign to our cultural practices—its methods would never relate to our contemporary culture;
- The biblical methodology of evangelism is so sparse, it was never intended to communicate a practice of evangelism;
- There is so much variety in the biblical practice of evangelism, from that we see that we need to parse contemporary culture to learn how best to communicate the gospel.
From the pragmatic side come arguments like:
- Aggressive evangelism makes most Christians uncomfortable!
- Biblical Evangelism isn’t effective and it doesn’t work!
- And, citing Joseph Aldrich’s Life-Style Evangelism, “Many are being kept from making an effective decision because of bad experiences with a zealous but insensitive witness.”
While this wave of Lifestyle and Relationship Evangelism from the 1970s and 1980s still garners significant clout, a crosswind began blowing against its monopolistic practices. At first the new wave did not come from a competing methodology. It came from a renewed interest in right doctrine.
Enter the Young, Restless, and Reformed
Initiated by John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries and similar coalescing movements, a new doctrinal wind was blowing among the Young, Restless, and Reformed (so called by Collin Hansen in 2006). R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, and many others in the 1980s and 1990s were struggling against the growing secularization within Christian doctrine and practice. Yet the doctrinal wave that they nurtured resulted in a broader impact.
As high schoolers and collegiates were being challenged to think doctrinally, foundational to this thinking were sound approaches to interpreting and applying the Bible. Young minds became interested in Arthur Pink, John Owen, John Calvin, and Martin Luther. They started reading the Puritans. As Millennials read these men, they assimilated their interpretive methods. They began absorbing their polemical arguments. The worm had turned.
Rather than being antagonistic to biblical evangelism, these young students became eager to understand and follow biblical precedent. They grew open to an evangelism that was exegetically sound and doctrinally driven.
Enter Church Planting
Church planting was the initial phase of obedience for these Young, Restless, and Reformed. They eagerly gravitated toward “Doing Hard Things.” Their hearts were passionate to submit to the lordship of Christ. The Acts 29 church planting movement exhibited the wind of the Holy Spirit sweeping across a whole generation of young Christians discipled by their Reformed forefathers.
No Place Left Behind
A second wind began blowing not long after the church planting push. The No Place Left Behind movement captured part of this second wind of missional fervor.
As a professor of evangelism, it was a wave that I had not previously experienced in my lifetime. Here were groupings of radical young 20-something Christians aggressively sharing the gospel and training others to do so. They were intentionally knocking on doors looking for “Houses of Peace.” They were self-motivated. It was exciting to see!
I was struck by this in 2016 when I brought several carloads of students for street evangelism to Kansas City’s Northeast side. They were interns from a local church plant. We decided to get out of our cars and meet at a nearby intersection for prayer. Before we arrived at that corner, a random car stopped on the street next to us, and a Midwestern student called out and said, “What are you guys doing here?” We told him we were planning to do some street evangelism. “Amen,” he said, “Can we join you? We have been looking for houses of peace in this area.” Apparently, they were part of an undercurrent of evangelistic activity from the No Place Left Behind movement in Kansas City.
The two students joined us, and we had a great time of evangelism together. As we gathered at the end of the evening for prayer, it crossed my mind that something really special was happening.
Yes, sometimes God uses an “end around.” He began by moving an entire generation to honor His Word. And He did so using the pens and voices of people like Spurgeon, the Puritans, and the Protestant Reformers. All I can say is, “Thank you, Lord!”