Saturday, April 28, 2018

Why Is Defining Evangelism So Difficult?

Arguably the most esteemed missiologist of the second half of the 20thCentury, David Bosch made the statement, “It remains difficult, however, to determine precisely what authors mean by evangelism or evangelization.” He concluded an overview of 18 possible definitions by affirming: “There is no single way to witness to Christ, however.”
His 19thCentury predecessor, the famed Protestant missiologist Gustav Warneck, wrote with equal hesitation:
“In view of the ambiguous definitions which have been and are still given of the watchword ‘evangelisation,’ it is difficult to say exactly what is to be understood by it.”
And yet, a study of biblical verbs for evangelizing does not leave the researcher unfulfilled. This student of the Bible has found 87 different Greek verbs used in their literal sense to describe the proclamation of the gospel with another 87 verbs used metaphorically. Perhaps no Great Commission concept is more clearly described in the New Testament then evangelizing.
Which begs the question: how could or why would these two prominent scholars miss the point? There are several potential answers to this question. The first answer relates to different denominations and different views of conversion and salvation. Accommodating all doctrinal views and hence all views of evangelism is impossible—since they are not mutually compatible. Hence, as cited above, Bosch was not referring to the Scriptures to define evangelism, but rather to “authors”—meaning other scholars and missiologists.
Second, as to why the uncertainty in defining evangelism, enters the spiritual side of scholarship. Satan has blinded the minds of men:
“Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” 2 Cor 4:4.
And conversely, God allows “delusion” in the minds of men, especially those not willing to submit to the light of His word:
“And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” 2 Thess 2:11.
On the other hand, God reveals Himself and His words to those who seek it:
“Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, And teach me Your statutes.” Psa 119:124.
And God hides His words according to His sovereign will:
“I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.” Psa 119:19.
These verses are not used to "throw under the bus" Warneck or Bosch. Rather they are illustrative of God working in the minds of men, sometimes revealing aspects of Himself, sometimes concealing aspects of Himself. A biblical understanding of evangelizing, as part of God's revealed plan for His people, appears to remain hidden to some Christians. The constantly repeated cry of Psalm 119 is for God to reveal Himself to the Psalmist, and not to hide Himself. Clarity from God is needed to properly understand His heart for evangelism!

So, why does the body-politic of religious scholarship seem unable to clearly define evangelism? Perhaps it may be that they are seeking to accommodate antithetical doctrinal positions on conversion and salvation. Or, it may be that they are asking practitioners and scholars to define evangelism, without looking at the Bible itself for a definition.
Of all the spiritual disciplines communicated in the New Testament, evangelism is by far the most clearly defined and described.  The verb “evangelize” is actually used 55 times in the Greek New Testament. In English, we were blessed to read the verb “evangelize” six or seven times for almost 20 years (1999-2016). If context truly rules in interpretation, then seeing a verb “evangelize” in context should be the best way of understanding this verb.
Therefore, here are all seven uses of the English verb “evangelize,” translated from its Greek counterpart, εὐαγγελίζω, in the 2009 Holman Christian Standard Bible:
“Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing the many villages of the Samaritans.” Acts 8:25.
“Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” Acts 8:40.
“And they kept evangelizing.” Acts 14:7.
“After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.” Acts 14:21.
“After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.” Acts 16:10.
“So my aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, in order that I will not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Rom 15:20.
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” 1 Cor 1:17.
These seven uses of evangelize represent 13% of the uses of the 55 uses of the Greek verb εὐαγγελίζω [evangelize] in the New Testament. There is amazing power packed in the context of these New Testament uses of this controversial term! In addition, there are 22 uses of εὐαγγελίζω [evangelize] in the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament). What a treasure of verbs God has given His people to understand this highly controversial concept. 
Whereas Warneck and Bosch appeared uncertain of the meaning of “evangelism” or “evangelize,” the Bible is not uncertain. God’s Word sounds a clear trumpet call to anyone willing to sit at the feet of Jesus and His words.

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