Who Were the “Evangelists”? (II)

I’m reading over the new festschift for I. Howard Marshall and I came across this quote by James Dunn:

“Even with careful discussion, there remains a danger of perpetuating a myth which idealizes the first Christian generation as the perfect church or golden age of the church by assuming that all Christians of that period were enthusiastic and compelling evangelists. No doubt there were many such, and proportionally many more than today. And the impact of such passages as Matt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8, and evidence such as Acts 11:9 should not be lightly discounted. On the other hand, the commission of Mark 6:7-13 was given to a select band; there were many who stayed at home, like Mary and Martha, as well as those who literally followed Jesus. And the fact that ‘evangelist’ is a specific function given to and exercised by only a few in Eph 4:11 should not be discounted either. In other words, the NT writings do not warrant any guilt-inducing generalization that only those Christians who are active in explicit evangelism are true to the spirit of the NT.

James D. G. Dunn, “Methodology of Evangelism in the New Testament: Some Preliminary Reflections,” in Jon C. Laansma, Grant Osborne, and Ray Van Neste (eds.), New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 26-27.

Does the NT expect every Christian to be an “evangelist,” or is it limited to those called to evangelical work? Or is this a false dichtomy with other models available?

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  • Mark Stephens

    I suspect John Dickson would like to fire up on this one – his thesis on Mission Commitment in Early Christianity addresses that issue.

  • Msvigel

    With only three occurrences of “euangelistes” in the NT, and none of these occurring in contexts that demand an interpretation as “those who travel around and share the gospel with unbelievers,” I wonder if our definition of evangelist as one who evangelizes might not be anachronistic. What if “euangelistes” actually refers to a local church function: one who proclaims the message; thus, when Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist, it was not to go door to door or spread the word to unbelievers, but to fulfill his local church ministry as what we might call the “pastor” of the local church. Or in Eph 4, if the “evangelists” mentioned there are the office of the church “in between” apostles/prophets and the pastors/teachers—i.e., like Timothy. Or when Philip the Evangelist is not a title attached to his name because of his traveling around preaching in Samaria or to the Eithiopian eunuch, but because he settled down in Caesarea by the Sea for the vast majority of his life and apparently led the Christian church there (at least Paul went straight to his home when he went to the “church” in Caesarea). If this is the case, then it’s correct to say that not all are called to be evangelists, but it’s incorrect to assume this meant the same thing we think it means now. Just a thought.

  • Russmail

    I want to ask the prior question. Was an evangelist then anything like what we call an evangelist today? Ie. were they someone who convinced others of the truth of the gospel? Or someone who guarded the gospel message for a group of churches including dealing with false teaching and establishing discipleship within those churches (something more akin to a pastor or even a “bishop” today)? Just curious to know how we’re arriving at our definition of what an evangelist does. (I gather from your previous post there are sources I need to read. But thought I may as well ask as I’m supposed to be on holidays so am avoiding anything that looks too much like work (-; ).

    • Russmail

      Sorry. Didn’t see msvigel’s post. But we seem to be on the same path.

  • Hi Mike, I think you’re right to ask whether this is a false dichotomy. I had a go at an alternative model here (if you’re OK with a crosslink): http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2011/09/speech-and-salvation-1-are-all-christians-commanded-to-evangelise/