For some time now, American Christians have conceived of their witness in terms of “sharing the gospel.” Read any book or listen to any talk on personal evangelism, and you’ll inevitably encounter the phrase. On one level, the terminology is positive, conveying the gracious act of giving others a treasure we possess. However, if by “sharing” we imply a kind of charity where we only give the gospel to willing recipients, then our Christian vernacular has become a problem.
I first awakened to this reality while doing language study in Central Asia. As I took a course in spiritual terminology, a missionary teacher bemoaned the fact that many Westerners had imported the idea of sharing the gospel into the vocabulary of the local church. He asserted that such a concept was completely foreign—to their context and the Bible. Scripture, instead, spoke primarily of preaching the gospel, declaring and proclaiming a message.
But what, you might ask, could be wrong with sharing the gospel? Isn’t the greater problem that people aren’t sharing it at all? However, I’ve come to wonder if these dual realities aren’t somehow related, with the way we speak about evangelism imperceptibly affecting the way we do evangelism.
More Than Semantics
Throughout the Book of Acts, we find repeated examples of authoritative witness—even in the face of suffering—from the apostles and early church. We find them proclaiming the gospel and speaking boldly. We read of them persuading others. We see them reasoning from Scripture, both expounding and applying it. We observe them testifying before rulers and governors, bearing witness before civil crowds and angry mobs. What we don’t find ...1