While we know evangelism is suppose to be about Jesus, we often get wrangled and tangled up in sidebar conversations, speculations, and objections. We try and get the ball rolling toward Calvary, but the conversation detours to same-sex marriage, the reliability of the Bible, the existence of evil, and other hot topics. No matter what boulders land in the conversation, remember, evangelism is about proclaiming the evangel—the gospel—not an apologetic for the day.
We won't be able to prove the reliability of the Bible to someone who still has the veil on their face (2 Cor. 3:13-15), who hasn't been born again (John 3:3), and hasn't been crucified and raised with Christ (Rom. 6:5). I can't imagine manuscript evidence is compelling enough to raise a corpse from the crypt. Apologetics have their place, and it’s not in the ice breaker. When apologetics are in sync with evangelism, the trajectory is to make known the excellencies of Christ, not how silly an unbeliever is. We will find greater traction in our evangelism when we hone in on the sheer wonder of Jesus.
Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel because of the sup’d up power of God bundled into the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Does the atomic power of the gospel give us confidence? While we aren’t ashamed of the good news—are we ashamed of the gospel’s power? Do we doubt the gospel’s flex appeal? We underestimate the power of God when we panic over popular culture’s objections to Christianity. People also have personally tailored objections to Christianity. The risen Christ doesn’t flinch. Nor should we.
A married couple came into my office one day after our Sunday service. She was ready to tell me all of the reasons she would never become a Christian. "I know you Christians like to forgive people," Sally said, "That's good for y'all. But I'll never forgive some of the people in my life for what they've done. If I have to forgive them to be a Christian, forget it." What would you say to Sally? Tell her how Christians are required to forgive and she must not be ready to become a Christian?
Don’t flinch. Get theological. Get exegetical. Speak the truth in love. Here’s what I said:
"Sally, don't worry about forgiving people today. You can't. I understand why you won't. You don't know God's forgiveness. In fact, much of the Christian life seems like complete nonsense to you. And it should. You are still dead in your sins." We then read Ephesians 2:1-9 together. I grabbed a piece of paper and drew a horizontal line and a vertical line in the middle. I wrote dead on one side and alive on the other.
"You are looking at how people who are alive with Christ are living, and it seems crazy to you. You are looking at the alive side. It doesn't make sense—and it shouldn't right now. You are still spiritually dead. So, don't worry about how alive people live. Worry about being made alive. Once you are made alive in Christ, I promise you, things will change. Once you've believed that Jesus died for your sins, and God has forgiven you, you'll be more open to forgiving others than you've ever been before. God himself is inviting you into his forgiveness, through the death and resurrection Jesus. You’ll be a new person So, why not go to him?"
We baptized Sally a few months later. I could have chased her objections about what is required of Christians, but evangelism isn't first an apologetic for Christian ethics, it's the proclamation of Christ and what he offers us in the gospel. We when put discipleship before becoming a disciple, we’ve hitched the wagon to a dead horse. Trying to negotiate with a spiritual corpse on how they must live—before the Galilean voice calls them to life—is what theologians call a waste of good breath. Stay the course. Calvary’s course. Let the clomp of a dragging cross be heard in the conversation. Always bring it back to Jesus.
The Gospel Is An All-Terrain Message
The satanic powers want us to get knotted up into secondary debates so we'll stop talking about what is of first importance—Jesus dying for sinners, as the Scriptures testify, being buried, and him rising from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Don't get bogged down in other terrain. Evangelism is a bumpy road. There are falling rocks, angry mountain goats, red herrings, foggy smoke screens, and thick darkness. But with the high beams of the gospel and the hemi-Omnipotent engine of the Holy Spirit, we can go to the ends of the earth and into any conversation and proclaim the risen Lord Jesus.
Tim Keller once told someone he was evangelizing, who didn’t like the Bible’s position on homosexuality, “Ok, I get it. You don’t like what the Bible says about homosexuality—but does that mean Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead? Does your objection to what the Bible says about homosexuality mean Jesus couldn’t possible be alive right now?” You see what he did? He brought it back to Jesus. If Jesus is alive, everything else in the Bible matters and needs to be taken seriously. If Jesus is a pile of bone dust, then the Bible doesn’t matter. No matter the terrain, talk it back to Jesus.
When debris hits the windshield, respectfully and lovingly, move back to talking about the gospel not apologetic argumentation. Wherever the conversation is going, don't let it run away from you. Don't let it wander from the vitalness of faith in the risen Christ. Don't get bogged down in red herrings and rigamarole; keep it about our Redeemer and the redemption he offers to us sinners in himself.