I’ve been reading through J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and came across a section of the book that beautifully sums up what God has been working in me in recent years regarding our evangelistic efforts and tools. Here is the excerpt:
“While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves. It is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: it is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument. We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the Gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray.”
He continues describing how this would lead us astray…
“If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts- to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully- our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have, not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel, but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our own business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion, not only of the message preached, but also of the visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would no longer be able to argue, when a similarity is asserted to be fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism. For it would be a proper conception of evangelism, if the production of converts was really our responsibility.”
Bear in mind, this was written in 1961. It seems almost prophetic to me. These are the dangers I see many times in the techniques of evangelism so many teach today. This is why “the sinner’s prayer” technique is dangerous to me, and the reason why so many other techniques, even invitations and soft music designed to appeal to emotions, or similar kinds of techniques, seem dangerous to me.
Here is a bit of a testimony of a recent experience in evangelism for me… By the grace of God, I was given the opportunity to share the Gospel in our church’s VBS a couple weeks ago. Sitting, looking those children in the eyes, I realized that many of them would likely do anything I asked them to do. I could have had them repeat a prayer after me and many would have. And then I could have announced “40 kids accepted Christ!” to shouts and many pats on the back. But I shared the Gospel faithfully. I gave an opportunity for the children to call out to God at the end but offered no repeat-after-me prayer. I believe there were 3 or 4 who were genuinely converted (time will tell), and all of them had been exposed to the Gospel prior to that week of VBS.
I think the bottom line here for me is this: God has called us to be His ambassadors and the Gospel is our message. We must be about His business, Kingdom work. But we must never lose sight of the fact that God is the One who awakens and calls them, inwardly. God is the One who saves, miraculously. I am not responsible for the response. I am merely responsible to faithfully present the Gospel as accurately as possible, and the results are in the hands of God. The best thing we can do is study and learn the Gospel, what it means, how to share it, and pray for boldness, guidance, and wisdom in knowing God’s timing.
I know some will likely disagree with me on this, and I welcome dialogue, but this was on my heart and I wanted to share it with you.
D. Courtney Hill