This article is part of a series on evangelism using Will Metzger’s book Tell the Truth as our guide. If you don’t have this book we’d highly encourage you to pick up a copy of your own. You can find a link to buy the book and any other resources we mention, in the description below.
If we’re honest, many of us probably view evangelism as the minimum amount of truth to the maximum number of people. After all, we hear the phrase “the simple gospel”, yet is this the way we should think about evangelism?
The goal of evangelism is not the minimum amount of truth to the maximum number of people but rather the maximum amount of truth to the maximum number of people.
Will Metzger says this. “So often we are told to think of the gospel content in terms of a simple plan of salvation with three or four basic facts. Yet the evangelistic mandate our Lord gave us was “teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20).
So many times, when we think about the Great Commission, we miss the whole point. We forget that we are called not simply to get people to profess faith in Christ, but to make disciples, to make followers of Jesus. This involves teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded them. This goes back to our previous lesson where we talked about how true faith involves obedience to Christ.
In the New Testament Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church did the work of evangelism by teaching and expounding the Scriptures. Their teaching wasn’t simply relegated to a few basic facts to which their audience had to adhere but would often involve multiple periods of instruction which led to life change and obedience to Christ’s commands. Jesus lived with and continually taught His disciples for years. He would continue to question them to see if they truly understood what he was teaching. Paul would often spend years in one town or area teaching people the truths of the Scriptures.
J.I. Packer in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God says that if people are to live a life that reflects Christ to the world, they must first understand who Christ is which comes from the Bible. Therefore, the Bible must be taught so that people may learn the truths of the Scriptures and see who Jesus is. Yet in our modern era, the gospel has been reduced and people are left wanting and weakened because of a lack of understanding of the Scriptures to help them live the Christian life. More importantly, God has been dishonored in the process.
The Gospel Reduced
Instead of a biblical understanding of the work of evangelism, we’ve been influenced by our culture to reduce the gospel to a few basic facts. We live in a culture of immediacy. We want what we want and we want it now. Many times we’re not willing to be patient to receive the outcome we desire. This in turn has caused us to grow lazy in our efforts and we’ve grown weary of working at things that take time. We’ve allowed this to influence our view of evangelism as we’ve largely reduced the work of evangelism to a one-off encounter. We want to be able to check the box and say we’ve done the work of evangelism.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t share the gospel in one sitting or that you must teach someone everything there is to know about God in the Bible but when we do share the gospel we need to make a few distinctions as to how to do so biblically.
Three Needed Distinctions
In his book, Will Metzger lays out three distinctions between biblical evangelism and modern-day evangelism that are really helpful. They are:
- A whole gospel versus a truncated gospel
- A message-centered gospel versus a method-centered gospel
- A God-centered gospel versus a me-centered gospel.
We’re going to look at each one of these individually.
So the first one we’ll look at is a whole gospel versus a truncated or shortened gospel. We have to realize the danger of presenting a half-truth as the whole truth. As one author writes, “when a half-truth is presented as the whole truth, it becomes an untruth.” My mind also goes to Martin Lloyd Jones who said, “we have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong. And we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things.” There’s a drastic difference between presenting half-truths and the whole truth.
For example, one truth of God that is beautiful and wonderful is his love. But if his love is the only truth presented, people have a distorted view of who God is. They don’t see Him in His justice and wrath in His Holiness. And if we’re only highlighting one truth of God, one aspect of who God is over another, we lead people to be deceived. And in this example, they can be deceived into thinking that they’re actually not in that much danger even though in our fallen state before Christ renews our life and we are given the Holy Spirit and we are made one with Christ we are eternally separated from God and in real danger. In seeing God’s holiness, His justice, and His righteousness, we know that we have to be made right with God.
As Will Metzger puts it “a lack of understanding of the doctrines of the gospel can mislead the sinner and the saint in their duties.” And many of our gospel tracts and much of our evangelistic training, if not in actual error, are woefully lacking in helping us define precisely who God is, who we are, and what sin is. Well-meaning Christians have adopted easy formulas, leading many into easy believism, and cheap grace. So we must be sure that we present the whole gospel and not a truncated version of the gospel lest people be deceived.
Centered on the Message or the Method?
The second difference between biblical evangelism and modern evangelism is the message-centered gospel versus the method-centered gospel. In the method-centered gospel, the emphasis is on how we present the gospel and the things we do to try and move someone to make a decision that they may not be ready to make.
So many times evangelistic training will teach us more about the methods of evangelism than the content, the message of the gospel. Doctrinal content has been slighted and the emphasis has turned to the methods that we can convince people of the gospel. One very common example is the many songs that are played at the end of a sermon to try to get people to make a decision for Christ even if the sermon wasn’t directly about the gospel. Remember, “our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel knowing that it is God who is going to work in people’s hearts to bring them to faith.”
Is God the Center or Man?
And finally, the third distinction between the biblical model of evangelism and our modern era is the God-centered gospel versus the me-centered gospel. When we focus our gospel presentation on the person rather than on God there are several negative effects to the person we are sharing with and not only that but to God.
Alan Harris describes three. Firstly, focusing on the person is deceiving to non-Christians, because unbelievers trust in their acceptance, their prayer, their response, as their assurance of faith. Secondly, we’re distorting Christians when we focus too much on the person rather than on God. Believers look for another stage in their Christian life where they can attain a greater degree of happiness for happiness’s sake because they did not hear the call to take up their cross and carry it daily. And they didn’t hear about the suffering of what it means to be a Christian. And thirdly, God’s honor is disgraced because people are professing to be like Christ and yet they show no signs of being In Christ.
Will Metzger provides a very helpful chart in his book showing the differences between a “me-centered gospel” and a “God-centered gospel.” And here are a few summary points of what he talks about. First, let’s look at a me-centered Gospel.
A me-centered Gospel views God as a friend who will help you. A me-centered gospel views humanity as sick and ignorant. A me-centered gospel says that an attitude of submission to Christ’s lordship is optional for salvation. And finally, a me-centered gospel would say that, in view of responding to Christ, sinners have the key in their hands.
Now let’s look at the Biblical God-centered gospel. A God-centered Gospel says that God is a king, who will save you, not a friend who will help you.
A God-centered Gospel says that humanity is spiritually dead and lost not that humanity is sick and ignorant.
A God-centered gospel views submission to Christ’s lordship as necessary for salvation, not that it’s optional.
And finally, a God-centered gospel shows us that in view of responding to Christ, God has the key in his hand not that sinners have the key in their hands
In summary, we have to remember that it is the proclamation of God’s Word that He uses in our evangelism. Our role is to be someone who is planting and watering and proclaiming the message from the king. We’re not focusing on the tool, but rather our focus is to be on the truth, the maximum amount of truth to the maximum number of people.
So what is that true message? What is the genuine message of the gospel? How do we proclaim these truths to others? Well, we have a five-part series on How to share the gospel. Thanks for watching and together, let’s make God’s name famous.