Is There Biblical Warrant for Evangelism?

By Hunsberger, George R. | Interpretation, April 1994 | Go to article overview

Is There Biblical Warrant for Evangelism?


Hunsberger, George R., Interpretation


It has become all too common, when attempting to ground evangelism in the New Testament, to resort to what we have called the "great commission." The commissioning words of Jesus, variously reported at the end of each of the Gospels (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23) and at the beginning of Acts (1:6-8), are taken to be straightforward instructions, sufficient in their clarity to provide a rationale for evangelizing, no matter what the circumstances may be in which the church finds itself. But the need for a rationale--and the kind of rationale needed--is always shaped by the church's location in the social and cultural currents of its time and place, and by its character and life within those currents.

At the present time in North America, we in the churches find ourselves in a place rapidly ceasing to be a "churched culture."(1) Living in a post-Christian and pluralist society has sent shock waves through the psyche of our churches, shaking loose our long-accustomed security in the heritage of Christendom. This has brought us to the point of exploring the terrain in search of an identity beyond that of being merely a "vendor of religious services" for that niche of the population that exercises the private option to seek such services. We are thrust into a search for a sense of our mission in this new time and for the meaning of being witnesses to Christ in it.

The preachments and rationales of the past that do not specifically engage these new circumstances can only fail us. The growing disjuncture between the supposed clarity of great-commission instructions and the practical behavior of large numbers of church members should alert us to this. In our situation, the instructions turn into an ever amplifying exhortation to complete the assigned task. But what follows are either soft and fuzzy responses, in which anything that can be construed as lending influence in the direction of Christ "counts," or programmed schemes for structuring us all into activities that, by their very doing, are envisioned to achieve the task.

All of this is not to suggest that the commissioning words of Jesus have no relevance. It is to say that we must come to them in a new way, questioning what lies behind our tendency to focus on them and our way of seeing them as a rationale for evangelism. In this connection, two major problems present themselves.

(1) The first problem has to do with the way we tend to use the great commission as a rationale for evangelism. We appeal to it within a structure of thought oriented toward command and obedience. It is assumed, when we attempt to provide a biblical foundation for evangelism, that this is simply a matter of finding direct commands enjoining us to evangelize. It is further assumed that once such commands are found, evangelism is simply a matter of obedience. The presence of a command is thought to supply sufficient motivation for evangelism, and settling the issue of motivation is taken to be an adequate rationale.

This fails to ask questions about what lies beneath the command. Why was the command given? Why is it proper that, in a world with such a variety of other religious loyalties, we are thus commanded? How does the command make sense for us in Western societies today against the historical backdrop of cultural and religious imperialism? How can it be understood in a day when individual autonomy in matters of belief is asserted as a fundamental right?

More importantly, there are biblical reasons why our assumptions about a command-and-obedience rationale for evangelism ought to be questioned. In the first place, as missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin suggests in his reflections on Acts 1:8, Jesus' statement that "you shall be my witnesses" is not so much a command as it is a promise, a promise linked with that of the coming Spirit. Newbigin urges: "Please note that it is a promise, not a command. It is not: 'You must go and be witnesses'; it is 'The Holy Spirit will come, and you will be witnesses. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Is There Biblical Warrant for Evangelism?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.