Saturday, March 6, 2021

Unmasking Dialectical Evangelism

In seminary and for the several years of my post-seminary career, I considered Dialectical Evangelism the only type of evangelism available:

  • The message comes from the Bible—often something like the Roman Road, the Four Laws, or Bridge to Life
  • The method comes from culture—whatever the practitioner decides is best in his or her cultural situation

The result of this synthesis of ideas was a dialectic somewhat as follows:

The reader may want to consider that, by definition, dialectics seeks to “resolve the conflict of two contradictory ideas.” Often verbs used to describe this amalgamation of differing or opposing concepts are conflate, integrate, and synthesize.

In the above scenario, the methods of evangelism are only as solid or fanciful as the practitioner. For this reason, methodologies are posited from many different directions. We studied Relationship Evangelism, Lifestyle Evangelism, Apologetic Evangelism, Discipleship Evangelism, and Servant Evangelism. Most recently added to this always growing list is Social Justice Evangelism.*

In addition, many of these practitioners disagreed with one another. There reasons for preferring their approach were usually immersed in pragmatism. “Use my method because it really works!”

Some practitioners even experiment with advocating multiple approaches. They identify diverse types of evangelism with differing characters in the Bible. Hence, these innovators posit that persons should practice evangelism only as they feel comfortable. “It is better,” they say, “to have people try something in evangelism than to do nothing.” A noble goal indeed!

All along, the same presupposition prevails. The Bible does not instruct in methodology of evangelism. Rather, Christ in His Word depicts multiform methodologies according to the presuppositions of practitioners and/or the comfort-level of the doers.

When I discovered the verb “evangelize” three times in my French Louis Segond Revisée Genève (1979), I became confused. Why had I not learned that this verb existed in the Bible? Soon the veil of cultural-conformity was removed from the practice of evangelism. Was there really a biblical verb that helped describe true biblical evangelism? Yes, it was the verb “evangelize” (εὐαγγελίζω).

Through further study, I found that this same Greek verb (behind the three French translations) was actually used 55 times in the New Testament. My curiosity was piqued. Perhaps the Bible did have something definitive to say about ever-conflicting views of evangelism methodology.

The shifting sands of Dialectic Evangelism, as taught by the sirens of culture, were excavated and substituted with the bedrock of teachings and examples from the Bible. Divine propositions replaced human intuition and insight. The removal of the dialectical element returns control of the proclamation of the gospel to Jesus Christ:

No matter how eloquent, cogent, or godly the practitioner, human frailties cannot help but muddy the waters of Great Commission activity. It is dangerous to expose the accomplishment of the Great Commission to the volatilities of human intuition. No matter how godly the practitioner, there is always the risk of shift or drift. 

Therefore, no matter how appealing, we must avoid Dialectic Evangelism whenever we recognize it. Only the biblical methodology of gospelizing perfectly synthesizes with the biblical message of the gospel.

Whatever the means, dialectic, synthesis, or integration, it is important to avoid diluting Scripture through misplaced practice.

For this reason, I am very grateful that some Evangelical Statements of Faith affirm that the Bible is inerrant in matters of both “Faith and Practice.” God makes no mistakes in communicating His gospel message. Nor does He lack in providing necessary training in how to propagate that message.

In these past ten years it has been my experience to see an increase in the practice of biblical evangelism—even as it has been under attack. Practitioners of biblical evangelism must keep pressing on. Follow the divine examples and teachings of Jesus and the apostles. There is no need to synthesize a dialectic with worldly ways.

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*Biblical alternatives to more human approaches to evangelism may be termed: Expectant Evangelism, Initiative Evangelism, Biblical Evangelism, New Testament Evangelism, Direct Evangelism, Active Evangelism, Street Evangelism, Door-to-Door Evangelism, Street Preaching, Open-Air Preaching, Searching for Houses of Peace, Winning Disciples, Disciple-Making, and Soul-Winning.

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