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The Kingdom of God is at Hand: Evangelism (part 2)

This is part two of a three part series.

Models of Evangelism:

The "Preacher method"

How is evangelism carried out and achieved? Before offering my ideal model of evangelism, I will offer a different- in my opinion inferior- model of how I believe evangelism is very often approached. This first model, I'll nickname the “Preacher method.” In this method of evangelism, an evangelist may be likened to the stereotype of a salesman. He is tasked with convincing his hearers to want the product which he has to offer. To be successful, a typical salesman has to convince you of two things: 1) You need the product he has and 2) his product is superior to all alternatives. For example, a car commercial seeks to convince you of some need (a quieter engine, better MPG, etc.) and that this particular car is the best option on the market. The evangelist, then, needs to convince his hearers that they need salvation and that there is no suitable alternative to Jesus. I believe this Preacher method is typical for many evangelists today. I don't discredit this method entirely either; evangelists certainly may speak with eloquence and conviction and bring a number of souls to salvation in Christ by speaking convincingly.

I will name two main drawbacks to this form of evangelism, however common it may be. First, it allows the evangelist to remain an outsider. Just as a salesman can speak to people convincingly without ever making a personal connection with anyone or using the product himself, it is possible to preach about Jesus without having a connection either with Him or with the hearers of the message. In my opinion, there can be a disorder in someone who wants to convince others to give their lives to Jesus, but may not be invested in the Kingdom of God. Second, the Gospel message can suffer from being watered down to appeal to people. It may happen that in order to convince someone to follow Christ, difficult aspects of the Christian message are sugarcoated, ignored, or outright contradicted. This may help to persuade some people, but then they are not truly accepting Jesus for Himself. Due to these critiques, I don't discredit the Preacher method of evangelism altogether, but I would name it as lacking.

The "Four-step Gospel method"

Looking to the Gospels, Jesus does not function merely according to the Preacher method. Rather, I believe we may find in Him a basic four-step outline for drawing people to Himself and establishing the Kingdom: pure evangelism. The same outline is presented in a broad macro view of His earthly life and in a micro view of particular encounters with people in the Gospels.

First, Jesus begins by entering into the place of suffering, the place where people are in need. This is sometimes literal, in the sense of physically going to a location, as well as figurative, in the sense of addressing interior places of suffering for people. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son becomes man, condescending to enter into the world. He literally takes on our suffering by His participation in our humanity. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, He shares in all things but sin (Heb 4:15). Thus, He truly enters into our place of suffering.

Second, Jesus offers a message of hope. He introduces a new way of life, the opportunity for freedom from sin. This is constantly Jesus' message in the Gospels, as He speaks of repentance and presents a new way of living. We can recall the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew, outlining a way of life far more robust than the Commandments alone.

Third, He removes the obstacles preventing following God; rooting out the sin or cause for suffering. The Pascal Mystery (Jesus' Passion, Death, and Resurrection) are explicitly for this purpose. By offering Himself on the cross, He merits forgiveness for the sins of all mankind. In particular situations, He tells people their sins are forgiven and calls them to sin no more. This step is not the least important, as for many people, sin is an obstacle preventing them from fully following Christ. Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Jesus calls him anyway, not allowing his past sin to remain as an obstacle, but calling him to a new way of life.

Fourth and finally, Jesus empowers people to live in the new way He calls them to. He gives to them whatever they need to fulfill this call. He gives the whole world His Church through baptism. Through the sacraments, men and women become Christians, sons and daughters of God. He pours out on us every grace we need. By the end of the Gospels, Jesus has not left His disciples with the elusive, “Come follow me,” with which He invited them, but He commissions them: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Thus, He has empowered them with a mission and the graces they need to carry it out. In summary, Jesus' four-step outline of evangelism may be: 1) entering into the place of suffering, 2) inspiring a message of hope, 3) rooting out sin and removing obstacles to God's love, and 4) empowering a new way of life.

Examples within Scripture

By way of example, I will highlight a couple of pericopes from the Gospels which exemplify this outline. First, the Gerasene (or Geradene) demoniac is one of Jesus' earliest miracles. Perhaps the idea of this miracle as a moment of evangelism is odd. But, consider: it begins with a man who is far from God and seemingly unreachable who ends up as a believer who even preaches the works of God to others. Jesus encounters him in his place of suffering. Literally, He goes into the territory beyond the city where outcasts dwell and figuratively, He addresses the unclean spirit directly. The message of hope is integrated into Jesus' rebuke of the spirit, demonstrating His authority and introducing the opportunity for the man to be made whole again. The evil spirit, of course, is the obstacle which He removes. Finally, Jesus empowers the man, now healed. He does not simple restore him and let him be, but gives him a new mission: “Go home to your friends and tell what the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). In this way, Jesus has changed a broken and suffering man into a believer able to proclaim God even to others.

Another example, perhaps even more striking, is with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. The evangelist John presents his stories of Jesus in a rather different way than the synoptic Gospels, so we might find it easier to see the method of evangelism laid out. Once again, we begin with Jesus encountering someone, a Samaritan woman, and very quickly entering her place of suffering. She is a twofold outcast because of her Samaritan heritage and for her infidelity in marriage, which is why she is found at the well at midday and alone. Jesus engages her in conversation, ignoring the social expectations of such an act. Within that conversation, He offers to her the idea of relief from her weariness, hope from her burdens. Jesus speaks about life-giving water, which is of course, salvation. In order to offer her this water, He must root out the obstacle within the woman's life; namely, her sins of unfaithfulness and adultery, plus the implication that she is untruthful. Yet, Jesus addresses these things directly, grounding their relationship in the truth. For her part, the Samaritan woman responds with great enthusiasm and zeal. Filled with conviction in the hope Jesus has introduced, she becomes an evangelist herself. Thus, Jesus has transformed her from a recluse and ashamed sinner into an eager evangelist, calling other people from the city to see the man who might be the Messiah. Without a doubt, this is a work of a master evangelist.

We can also witness an emulation of Jesus' model taken up by the Apostles. The writer of the Acts of the Apostles follows especially Peter and John at first, then Paul later on. In the beginning of Acts, Peter and John cure the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They approach him and make a direct connection with him. Peter states very clearly the message of hope, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk” (Acts 3:6). The man's obstacle, his crippled state, is removed from him. The following passage is clearly evangelical as Peter offers a speech proclaiming salvation through Jesus. It is difficult to pick just one example for Paul, as the New Testament is filled with the accounts of his witness and his words. He allows no event or encounter to be wasted, but turns everything into a testament to Christ's salvation. Without a doubt, the Apostles practiced evangelism with a powerful zeal, but remained true to the core message of hope in Jesus' Incarnation.

Stay tuned for part 3...
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