[Two Ways] [Leaving 'em Hanging] [More on Friendship]
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19, ESV)All believers are told to evangelize. If you don't agree with that, the verse says to make disciples and teach them to observe all things God has commanded. First off, this must mean true disciples, those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God. So many churches today are discipleship-driven, even talking about unregenerate people simply as pre-disciples (a ridiculous name if I have ever heard one). Making "disciples" who have not been regenerated is a waste of time and a terribly sad thing to behold: people thinking they're saved but on the way to hell. They have never been told the full gospel in its glory.
But, given that we are to evangelize, the question is how. Historically (i.e. throughout the history of the church, including the New Testament), evangelism meant primarily preaching sin and repentance. After all, only if you understand your own sinfulness can you ever understand the Gospel. In fact, the good news is only good if we see it as the solution to the problem of sin that we know we have. After all, what's the message of the first three chapters of Romans? (1) Sin is real, and it's progressive, leading to worse and worse offenses. (2) Jews and nominal Christians don't get off the hook because they're relatively good. (3) The problem is everybody's, and we have no hope on our own.
Only in that light does the Gospel show up for what it is. I love how Paul, after he has just spent 2 chapters saying things like:
There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God. Romans 3:10-11 (NKJV)
and gets everybody in a state where they finally see their own sinfulness in all its terrible reality, says:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. Romans 3:21-22 (NKJV)
In the mindset of somebody who really understands what Paul is saying in the first three chapters of Romans, and feels it to the depth of their soul, "But now" must be the two most beautiful words in the English language. Now that's what I call "good news." Good news is good primarily in comparison to bad news, and the first 2.5 chapters of Romans have been bad news.
Nowadays, on the other hand, there seems to be a push to kinder, gentler evangelism. The bullhorn guys are out, considered too mean, a relic of the past: relationship evangelism is in. Watch how you live; be nice; in the words of the immortal movie Jonah, "Be a friend, say your prayers, heaven loves a heart that cares."
Now, I am quick to add that I have no problem with this approach; in fact, it's very important. As they always say, "they don't care what you know until they know you care." However, I know from personal experience that it is very easy to think that I am evangelizing somebody by being their friend. In fact, I think the term "friendship evangelism" is entirely a misnomer. Friendship may bring both of us warm fuzzy feelings. We may talk about God or even Jesus in nice, non-threatening ways. Friendship is many good things: it's good, it's nice, it's wholesome, it's good for breaking down barriers.
The one thing that it is not, however, is evangelism. At best, friendship is a protoevangelion: that which comes before the evangel or good news. Unless you are a complete Pelagian, you can never believe that friendship alone will bring somebody to faith in Christ. There's only one thing that brings people to faith in Christ: the faith and repentance that comes from a changed heart. These will only come when a person realizes their lostness, their hopeless situation; and these will only come when a person is truly convicted of their sins.
In other words, it's easy to pretend that we can be a friend (which is generally pretty easy) and skip over the hard bit of sharing our faith. Or, perhaps I should say, it is easy for some people. Every one of us has some things that are hard for us to do and others that are easy. For the stereotypical bullhorn guy (if such a person actually exists), it's easy to preach sin and repentance but hard to be a friend. For many, many others - I would venture to say the vast majority of us - it's easy to be a friend but hard to preach sin and repentance; but the people we want to witness to need both. I can be a friend to somebody easily, I can "share my faith" if that means talking about church and even my own testimony; but I completely seize up when it comes to talking about sin and, in short, anything that might actually bring the other person to repentance. It's "yucky" - and it's not "friendly" in the commonly-understood sense.
So, what is the role of friendship in evangelism? I think it's important to help break down barriers people erect against the Gospel. As somebody said, the Gospel is an offense in itself; we should not add to that offense with our actions. But it should not be confused with sharing the Gospel or anything that would convict a person of his or her sins. After all, conviction of sins is not friendship's natural way of talking. To help somebody come to a realization of their sinfulness is not friendly; yet it's vitally important for them to know about them, realize their lostness, and only then can they come to faith in Christ.
What I am trying to guard against is that smugness we - I - can feel when we're doing friendship evangelism, feeling that we are superior to those bullhorn guys yelling the Gospel at people. In fact, I think most of us know in our hearts that we are not really sharing the Gospel: the Romans Road is great, but to somebody who does not really and truly, down deep in their heart, understand their sinfulness, it's just a bunch of words. Somehow, however, we feel quite certain that, when the time comes, we will really give them a full Gospel presentation. How often does that time never come? Or an opportunity comes up and we chicken out - again - and promise ourselves we'll do better next time?
So, let's get sensitivity towards "friendship evangelism," by all means. Let's try and be friendly to people, break down barriers, and all the rest. But let's not forget to get some help on preaching the real Gospel as well. I highly recommend the Way of the Master materials. They also have an Internet radio show that you may want to listen to. The radio show is great because they cover so many different situations, so many different kinds of objections to Christianity.
There are not two ways of evangelism we can pick and choose from. There are really only two different aspects of one way, and we must master both of them to win that lost and hurting world.