My denomination, the Anglican church, is making much of the nineties as a “decade of evangelism.” We are not alone. But few congregations or denominations seem to know exactly what it all means. The church appears to lack an understanding of evangelism that is sufficiently theological, and a theology of evangelism that is sufficiently practical.

I believe the opening verses of John’s great evangelistic gospel, written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31), capture the holistic vision we need. There in the prologue’s 18 verses, which commentator R. H. Lightfoot called “the key to the understanding of this gospel,” we see the content and context of Christian evangelism. There the theology and practice of evangelism, the roles of God and humanity, the relation between God’s story and my faith story all find their place.

God The Great Evangelist

The vision for evangelism found in John’s prologue actually comes in four parts. Verses 1–5 of chapter 1 tell us, first, that evangelism begins with the story of God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A theology of evangelism begins here: “In the beginning” of the Christian message and story. It originates, in other words, with God. Evangelism does not start when I open my mouth; it began when God “said” and the world came to be. It is rooted in the biblical story of God’s ...

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