I recently engaged an article released on challies.com by Jonathan Dobson entitled, “Should We Kiss Evangelism Goodbye.” The content comes from his book, The Unbelievable Gospel, where he labors to point out that we are not personalizing the gospel enough to each person. The same content was featured on desiringgod’s recent post, “Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn’t Working.” The gist of Dodson’s point is that we are not thinking about the individual, we are not incarnate enough in our witness we are “excarnate.” According to Dodson “People simply find our evangelism unbelievable.” To be sure, much of what Dodson says has validity, however, it ultimately renounces other important and biblical kinds of evangelism and important components of evangelism, especially “street corner” preaching and thus presents some false dichotomies that are regrettable. Dodson operates off of his “Two Big Reasons”:
The first reason our evangelism isn’t believable is because it isn’t done in grace for each person.
The simplicity of this statement with correlating texts (1 Tim. 4.2; Col. 4.4-5; Rom. 10.17) should be taken to heart. We must care about the person, they are not simply an evangelistic project, they are not just for target practice; they are real people who have real stories and real lives. However, I think Dodson maybe forgets the reason why, believers of all maturity levels, think of folks as “evangelistic projects” is precisely because they care about them. It was Jesus who used the analogy of a project with respect to evangelism, “I will make you fishers of men.” In that sense, every person is a project and a target for the gospel. Even more than our sympathy or emotional connection is their dire need for a proper gospel message— a life saving message.
Dodson, has obviously swept aside the idea that street preaching, open-air-preaching, and public proclamation is something we should do (if he does he certainly does not make that evident). Every reference to it degrades it. He pours contempt on believers who’s highest aim is not listening but speaking. This is where I think what Dodson is trying to do goes astray. He makes, listening, sympathizing, empathizing and friendship the point of it all when in reality, our aim should be to go into the highways and byways of the world and compel folks to come in (Lk. 14.23). This is perhaps the worst part of Dodson’s theology, it would ultimately seem to pit Scripture against Scripture and make personal self introspection a greater priority than sharing the gospel. Most evangelists who I have had the honor of doing evangelism with are quite loving, caring and compassionate people who will stand on a street corner or in a coffee shop with a sinner for as long as they would have them. Dodson obviously has some stereotypes in mind but in his post he ultimately creates his own and generalizes evangelists into too generic of a group.
A second reason people find our evangelism unbelievable is because it is foolish.
In his statement:
“Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom. Many people don’t know what we mean when we say “Jesus,” “sin,” or “cross.” While much of America still has cultural memory of these things, they are often misunderstood and confused with “moral teacher,” “be good,” and “irrelevant suffering.” We have to slow down long enough to explore what they mean, and why they have trouble with these words and concepts. Often they are tied to some kind of pain.”
Dodson seems to misunderstand what Paul said in 1 Cor. 2.14:
1 Corinthians 2:14 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
In other words, Scripture assures us that people will not be able to truly comprehend the message without divine enablement. This is why evangelism is rooted not in self-help or psychologizing but in doctrine: the doctrine of sin, total depravity and total inability etc. The theology of Dodson’s post seems to imply that the amount of authenticity can influence whether or not a person will convert or not. To be clear, so far as conversion goes, that is purely a monergestic action wrought in the heart of man as a result of regeneration (Acts 11.18). No doubt, God uses the means of His word, but not our authenticity. Plenty of people convert under the preaching of bad teaching, false converts; Judas do doubt led someone to Christ not because he listened or was authentic but because the power is on God’s word! I may fluctuate in my compassion on a given day, God does not fluctuate, He gives life to whom He wills (John 5.21). Our task is clear, preach the gospel, speak the truth in love, pray for the lost and preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2.2).
Evangelism may entail friendship but it does not call for it. My evangelistic encounters with my neighbors certainly involve a long-term commitment to love and befriend them. However, we need not earn the right to be heard in the sense that we first must establish a long lasting relationship before we bring up Christ. Dodson’s posts are rooted in friendship evangelism plain and simple. If you are not personally called to “street preach” we should not reject those who are (Rom. 12.4). But at the local University or Community College or “street corner” or in front of two hundred students, I don’t have the capacity to develop a friendship with them first, thankfully, I am not called to do that but I am called to preach the cross which they will undoubtedly deem foolish (1 Cor. 1.18). The idea that evangelism “Isn’t working” is simply misunderstanding the nature of the gospel to harden or to humble:
2 Corinthians 2:15–17 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.