Rethinking Evangelism

This blog post has been revised and turned into a chapter in The Rethinking Series.

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About Frank Viola

Frank Viola is a best-selling author, A-list blogger, speaker, and consultant to authors and writers. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. See his About page for more information.

  • gimpi1

    Just an aside from an outsider, I think the best “witness” anyone can give is to be genuinely caring. If you really care, if you really listen, if you refrain from judging, most people will return the favor. A real dialog is always going to be more effective than a sales pitch. You make better friends, too.

    Also, and this is a personal bug-a-boo of mine, but so many Evangelical people I have met seem to demand total conformity. They can’t accept any form of disagreement. If I disagree with them politically, on matters of taste or on my understanding of science and history, they can’t simply agree to disagree. Facts don’t matter, and every tiny theological point is a hill to die on. You see it in Evangelical churches that spilt over head coverings for women, Sabbath observances, minor points of dogma, whatever. Why do so many Evangelical people seem to be so rigid? Just wondering.

    If you really believe the most important part of your calling is to spread the Good News, emphasizing that over telling me I’m going to Hell for voting for the current president would be a good start. Really, it would.

  • gimpi1

    I profoundly agree, Dashifen. I also find I am more open to what someone has to say if they seem to actually want to be in dialog with me,not just sort of tossing a generic “witness” at me.

    If someone comes to me out of honesty, out of genuine friendship, out of respect, I am much more likely to reciprocate. And if I am honest, friendly and respectful I am much more likely to truly listen and take on board what someone is saying.

    In short, having an actual dialog is a much more effective form of witness than just showing up on my doorstep and running through your sales-pitch. And part of that dialog is respecting someone’s wishes when they say, “Not right now, I’ve had a bad day.”

  • Mike Bell

    Great post. It also doesn’t help that, besides the eternal purposes of God as you’ve codified them, we don’t really share the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, of which redemption is only one part.

  • Susan_G1

    This post brings to mind a wonderfully telling story from News from Lake Wobegon wherein an aunt and uncle cover their white van in Scripture verses so that they can rest knowing that they’ve shared the Good News with everyone they’ve encountered.

    Teachers of this philosophy often fail to mention Jesus’ two greatest commandments, which, I imagine, might bring about plenty of questions from witnesses of such behavior.

  • Keith

    Thanks So Much. I appreciate all that you you are doing in the kingdom! It is such an encouragement to me.

  • Frank Viola

    I agree about that Ezekiel passage. Good point.

  • Chris Walker

    I like the point about the process of evangelism – it takes many people and many different events to bring the person to the place of conversion from seeker to new disciple.

    You are right on – the process doesn’t end there. There is spiritual growth and maturity in front of them.

    Finding ways to teach evangelism without using guilt has been my goal for the last several years. I’m bothered when people use the “Watchman” passage from Ezekiel to heap guilt on people, a la, if they die before you share the gospel, it’s your fault. . .

    I keep bringing people back to

    What is Jesus doing in your life in this season that makes the gospel good news?

    This question for me generates a passion to share my faith and help others to find this same grace.

    Chris Walker

  • Frank Viola

    Keith. In September I’ll be releasing an online course called “Living by the Indwelling Life of Christ” which is very practical. You can hear the first session free on the podcast.

  • Frank Friedl

    Thank you for this excellent post! I am part of a fellowship that leans heavy on the evangelism and nothing else side of things and I am frequently butting heads when I push back that there is more to the Gospel than Matthew 28:18-20. Another scripture that is over-emphasized is that Jesus “came to seek and save the lost” and if that was his purpose it should also be ours. But that ignores that there are a dozen or so other “I came to” or “I was sent to” passages that show Jesus wasn’t so one-dimensional. (And this segues to your emphasis on Christians not trying to be just like Jesus but rather allowing Jesus to live through them)

  • Daniel Farrow

    Thank you. I will do that. God bless! :)

  • Keith

    I love the statement, “the most potent evangelist in the earth is a community of believers who are living by the indwelling life of Christ together in face-to-face community.” However, having been brought up in a church that is extremely pragmatic and lacking in the concepts of the Spirit, how do I internalize and begin to realize that “indwelling life?” That’s a question of practicality. I might just be one of those people you spoke of as being saved and never heard the gospel.

  • Frank Viola

    No time. What you can do is get my podcast and listen to episodes 62 to 65 — I deal with this idea in some of those. – it’s also on iTunes. Subscription is free and you can download all previous episodes.

  • Greg Carlet

    I agree with Frank and you completely. But a lot of people make it seem as though since the last command that Jesus gave was to go and make disciples, that the most important and primary thing to do is that. And if you are not doing that then you are being disobedient.

  • Daniel Farrow

    Thank you for an honest answer to an honest question. I do not currently have the means or the time to read another book. Would you be willing to give me a brief synopsis of your book and your position regarding Israel or is that too intense a subject for a brief synopsis?

  • Frank Viola

    No, it doesn’t. See my book “Jesus: A Theography” where I expound on my view. It’s not replacement nor is it dispensational. It’s how the NT authors viewed Israel in relation to Jesus and the church:

  • Daniel Farrow

    Frank. When you say the church is the new Israel, does that mean you endorse replacement theology?

  • dashifen

    You wrote “Christians who love the Lord Jesus Christ cannot but share their Lord with others [...] when a door has been opened by the Spirit.” As a non-Christian, the times that I have had the most moving experience learning from my Christian friends and neighbors has been when context indicated that I was willing to learn at that moment. From within a Christian context, I suppose it could be said that the Spirit moved me to accept at some moments and to decline (politely) at others for a variety of reasons.

    But, this point resonates with me because it indicates that there are going to be times when that door remains closed for some reason. It could simply be that I’ve had a bad day or that I’m trying to focus on a different part of a conversation or whatever, but quite possibly the worst experiences I’ve had with someone advocating for a point of view, religious or otherwise, is when they assume the door is open without discerning if that assumption is accurate!

  • DanielForster

    Greg, I agree with what Frank is saying. We cannot take the text out and separate it from the entire bible. No one is saying evangelism isn’t important, it just isn’t the main focus of being a follower of Christ. All throughout the bible, the main focus is very clear, and that is Christ Jesus. We must take these thoughts that Frank has shared and test it against all of His Word, and with the Holy Spirit. I believe when this is done, many points that Frank makes are valid and on point. To be obedient is to love Christ, and follow Him.

  • Greg Carlet

    I remember reading Rethinking Discipleship a couple of years ago and it definitely helped form a framework in my mind on this topic.

    “Christians who love the Lord Jesus Christ cannot but share their Lord with others”

    This definitely stuck out to me, as it causes me to evaluate my love for Him and other idols in my life. Something I have been thinking through a lot recently and we having been discussing in our gatherings.

    The last three points, as well, really struck a cord with me. Very important.

    I will be sharing this with some close friends and will discuss with them as well.

    Thanks Frank!

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. Steve. Appreciate your insightful remarks.

  • Steve Kitzman

    I was born into a very large, extremely conservative evangelical denomination that placed “evangelizing” near the top, if not the pinnacle of our Christian duty. My entire spiritual life was spent from preschool until I left that church at 27 years old, feeling massive amounts of guilt because I didn’t go door to door on “visitation” Tuesdays and I didn’t read my Bible every day. Lots of guilt. To the point where I always felt I was running or trying to hide my lack of obedience from God. It took many years and through God’s Grace and many friends and teachers and some very odd circumstances I slowly made the incremental steps to the Starting Line. Frank is right on the money with this one. Since being filled by the Holy Spirit and having the revelation of Christ for myself, I have continually shared the Gospel but it has always started organically. I have never “set out” to knock on doors. I have had awesome conversations with atheists, agnostics, and many burned out Christians and those who thought they were Christians. Every time, it was natural, not forced and the love of God just seemed to pour out with no effort on my part. It wasn’t me, but Him and His life being shared right where we were. Sharing Christ is life, not an act. Great post.

  • Matt Moore

    The guilt trip on evangelism looks a lot like Amway. You have to build your downline so the guys at the top can keep getting a paycheck.

  • Frank Viola

    That text cannot be taken in isolation apart from the rest of the NT. It must be taken in context with all 12 points list above. In one of those points, I remark on what “making disciples” means and how disciples were made in the first century. The article “Rethinking Discipleship, Church, and Mission” covers this. What are your thoughts on the other points? Which resonated with you the most?

  • Greg Carlet

    What do we say in response to someone who uses Matthew 28:18-20 as the basis for everything we do and says that if we aren’t doing that then we are being disobedient?