This is being written before the World Congress on Evangelism with the realization that most readers will see it when the congress is already under way or has ended. It seems good, anyway, to set down some thoughts on evangelism, though what I think now may well be changed and will certainly be enriched by the experiences of Berlin.

Evangelism is a word and concept growing out of the Evangel—the message, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is telling others about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; but more precisely, it is proclaiming the mighty act of God in the redemption worked out on the Cross. Moreover, the messenger must pray earnestly that the message and the messenger may be used of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin and a glad reception of the gift of salvation.

From that point on, one who has responded will begin to grow in grace and in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may be presumed that the person who has received this salvation and who is growing in sanctity will begin to see the needs of others, will have compassion for the poor and hungry, and will begin to express in social relationships the new life that is now his. Fundamentally important in evangelism, however (it cannot be too greatly emphasized), is the initial confrontation and challenge where, under the impact of the Gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there comes regeneration, new birth, the new creation in Christ, a new life-principle, a new relationship by which, from that time on, a man walks with the Lord in the power of His might.

For greater understanding of evangelism, we must pause to look at the Atonement. There are many views of this; the number varies depending on how one defines or describes them. Among others, there are the moral-influence, example, classic, Grotian, and Anselmic views. We can take guidance here from John Baillie’s suggestion that in theological discussion we should avoid the word “only” and use “at least.” One should not say, for instance, that the example view of the Atonement is the “only” view. The Cross is “at least” an example—and much, much more.

This principle of interpretation is relevant even for the Anselmic view; we must recognize that, however completely we may think we have covered the subject of Christ’s suffering and death, we can still say only that it is “at least” this. And how much more! Who really believes that the most careful theologian has plumbed the profundities of Gethsemane and the cry of dereliction on the Cross?

At the same time, one must be careful that his view of the Atonement is inclusive enough. Any worthy view must include “at least” satisfaction and substitution. Christ vicariously does for us what we can in no way do for ourselves; and what is done must satisfy God-ward such realities as holiness and righteousness and love (all of them infinitely so), and satisfy man-ward the need for the assurance of forgiveness and canceled guilt. We must think of the Atonement as a transaction first. A thing is done, a work is accomplished. Atonement can be nothing less than this.

In evangelism we begin with this finished work. The Cross releases a holy God to forgive. This finished work must be proclaimed and explained and then offered as a gift. Then comes another transaction: Man accepts, and he stands justified. His relationship to God is changed. He is declared righteous; he is rightened. Now man is released to love God and love man; he is ready to grow in holiness, and he is empowered to serve his fellow man in every social relationship and structure.

Today much is being said, especially in the older, well-established churches, of evangelism by some other approach than the word of the Gospel. Some years ago there was what was called fellowship evangelism. The approach was to bring people into some fellowship group of the church—a dinner, or a men’s club, or a bowling team. In the Christian fellowship, it was said, an outsider might experience the presence and reality of Christ and come to “know” him in the life of the body. Perhaps this happened, but I doubt it. Sacraments always require the spoken word; physical signs of the life of Christ need somewhere, somehow, a word of proclamation and a response in confession. Flesh and blood did not lead to Peter’s confession, Jesus said. The challenge of the Gospel requires the answer of the man.

A variation of fellowship evangelism today is our great effort (and a worthy and self-giving one it usually is) to “evangelize” through identity with and service to the poor and the outcasts, especially the racial outcasts. Christian compassion necessarily leads us to want to help, and help in our complex day often requires complex structures of help. This is all well and good, but not good enough.

“What mean these testimonies?” we must ask. Somewhere, somehow, the word must be spoken. When it is, the multitudes may well turn away, as they did in Jesus’ day, disappointed at the requirement to participate in Christ instead of endlessly feeding on the bread that perishes. Do men want the Gospel or just the fruits of the Gospel? Shall we offer them the fruits and not the roots? It was St. Theresa, was it not, who said so well, “The soul of the care of the poor is the care of the poor soul.”

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