What is Evangelism?

I would like to draw attention to these comments by Bryan Stone, author of Evangelism after Christendom, in an article entitled, What is Evangelism?

Christian evangelism, or so I want to argue, is pacifist in every way. The good news is, as Isaiah said, the good news of “peace.” But this peace is not only the content and substance of evangelism; it is its very form. Christian evangelism refuses every violent means of converting others to that peace, whether that violence is cultural, military, political, spiritual, or intellectual. Evangelism instead requires only the peaceable simplicity of an offer and an invitation to “come and see” (Jn 1:46).

This does not mean that there is no apologetic dimension to evangelism – no room for making a case publicly, intellectually, or culturally for Christian faith. The character of Christian evangelism is not only invitation but summons (cf. Webb: 27). It does mean, however, that a Christian apologetics must refuse to consider unbelievers as either barbarian or irrational. It also means that a Christian apologetics may very well have more to do with an aesthetics, since, in declining every ‘secure’ foundation for belief other than Jesus Christ, evangelism relies from first to last on the beauty of holiness made real in the church by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The very possibility of Christian evangelism, then, is premised wholly upon the faithfulness of the Spirit’s witness in our lives rather than our own ability to calculate and predict how our obedience might translate into effectiveness.

I find this quote facinating as draws together three things I very much emphasize on this blog: nonviolence, humble apologetics and thought-provoking art.

For me these things are very much intertwined.

The good news, it is it to be received as good news, must be offered as a gift, without coersion, without demonization of your ways, without defence of my ways with guns. What I offer instead is the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of his life, and way of life. You can take it or leave it, that is up to you.

6 thoughts on “What is Evangelism?

  1. Matt – like the post. Never really thought about evangelism in terms of being pacifist. But I do agree that we should not consider unbelievers as barbarian or irrational. There are some Christians who can fit that bill 🙂


  2. You might find it interesting to read “Evangelism after Christendom” by Bryan Stone. In exploring what evangelism after Christendom might look like Stone drew heavily on the thoughts of anabaptist theologian/ethicist John H Yoder.
    Not sure how much you know, but the Anabaptists were at the forefront of the radical wing of the Reformation, those most committed to divorcing Christianity from the state and exploring what a post-Christendom Christianity might look like. I think they are still very relevant today, in helping us to think beyond Christendom and Yoder, a pacifist, has been a major influence on my own thinking.
    Pacifist evangelism and humble apologetics are peas in a pod, its all about sharing faith from a position of weakness and vulnrability than one of strength and privilage. No evidence that “demands” a verdict, no crucades. No, this is more about listening, sharing and inviting to “come see”.


  3. I’m inclined to think that the understanding of evangelism that you and Bryan Stone are promoting must be one of the most frightening understandings of evangelism in existence. Perhaps it’s even the most frightening one.
    I think the reason why evangelists of any stripe (because let’s face it, this is not just a Christian phenomenon) get so pushy is that it’s frightening and even painful to offer our best explanation of why we believe what we do, only to have another person see things differently. We tend to take that sort of thing personally for a myriad of reasons.
    I like the understanding of evangelism you’re promoting here. In many ways, it’s the sort of thing I try to practice myself. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a difficult and sometimes frightening road to walk.


  4. Matt, I would argue that many USA right-wing evangelists (and right-wing religionist altogether) would consider that pacifism is very un-Christian.
    Christ was no sissy-pacifist but a warrior.
    Stu Weber makes the case in Tender Warrior
    This is manifest in the way in which these kind of evangelicals have been very active within the chaplainly system of the USA military (even effectively taking it over). And their aggressive campaigns against atheists and Christians of a more liberal persuasion, and members of other faith traditions too.
    Also manifest at the highest levels in the antic and rantings of General Boykin.


  5. Frightening, really? Never thought of it that way Jarred. I think I see where you’re coming from though. Some conservatives do find it disturbing, to hear someone so emphasize vulnerability. With listening being such a core component there’s a sence that, if I’m doing evangelism faithfully, I’ll end up transformed irrespective of whether my non-Christian hearers are transformed or not.
    But while some may fear this as a slippery slope to syncretism, I see it as a path to greater depth. To see my own faith through the eyes of another, that gives me amazing new perspectives.
    I can remember my understanding of grace being stretched by a Sai Baba devotee. It was at a Mind Body SPirit Festival. He was running a stall. I was surprised that he raised the subject of grace, not me. But more, that he had a very different understanding. Following that conversation I was challenged to articulate my understanding far more clearly, and more, to clarify my own understanding for myself.
    The thing is, I think its important for God to be glorified by the evangelistic encounter in and of itself; it is a spiritual discipline in and of itself. We must leave aspirations of achievement behind, we must leave self behind. And let God shine forth.


  6. John, I would argue that Jesus rejected the way of the sword for the way of the cross. The way of the sword is the easy path, the sissy path. The way of the cross is far more revolutionary … and thus the more controversial.
    What is un-Christian is a Christ without a cross. That’s not actually Christ, that’s Uncle Sam deified, dressed up in Christian clothing. I am unfamiliar with this General Boykin you speak of but I am aware enough of the claims of high pressure evangelism tactics in some quarters of the US military. It should not be hard to see that I consider such tactics both un-productive and sub-evangelical, in the original sense of the word that is (with ‘evangelion’ meaning ‘good news’).
    I happen to believe that Christian ethics should be centered in Christ, in his life and teaching, in his death and resurrection. To center Christian ethics anywhere else – in the Old Testament, in theology, in pragmatism, in national loyalty – is to dethrone Jesus as Lord.
    That’s a hard call of course, and one I falter on myself at times, but a world without war and violence and coercion is one I see him calling us towards. Where swords are beaten into plowshears. And I don’t see us getting there through war and violence and coercion. The good news of God’s grace cannot be shared authentically if it is not shared graciously.


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