Gordon received a gospel tract. He came back later spewing vile hate for God and man. We talked for about ten minutes. He walked away angry and fully aware his absurd worldview is built upon the foundation of hatred for the God he knows exists. It was a successful evangelistic encounter.
I distributed about 1,000 gospel tracts without engaging any students in conversation. Each gospel tract distributed was a successful evangelistic encounter.
Then I handed a tract to a young man of Asian descent. As he walked toward me, he seemed to be in a hurry. Based on the high volume of pedestrian traffic, I knew the students were making their way from one class to another. However, when I handed this young man a tract, his gait significantly slowed. Now taking only a step every several seconds, he turned the tract over to read the back. He slowed to a stop. I could tell, from distributing hundreds of thousands of gospel tracts, he was reading every word. When he finished reading, he stood looking off in the distance. Holding the tract in one hand, he tapped it against his empty hand. He was thinking. He tucked the tract in his pocket and continued to class.
Oh, how I prayed as the student read the gospel tract. I prayed for his salvation, praying that every word of law and gospel on that tract would be used by God to draw him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. And I thanked God for another successful evangelistic encounter.
Every gospel tract I distribute; every time I share the gospel in a one-to-one conversation; every time I preach the gospel in the open-air or from behind a pulpit; every time I share the gospel with a person via Twitter or another social media platform it is a successful evangelistic encounter.
The success or failure of an evangelistic encounter with a lost person is not contingent upon the lost person’s response. Scripture gives us a clear indication of the ratio of positive to negative responses to the gospel message. Jesus said:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Furthermore, the success or failure of an evangelistic encounter with a lost person is not dependent upon the way the gospel is delivered. This includes both the method of delivery and the behavior of the one presenting the gospel. Good methods and good behavior on the part of the communicator add nothing to the gospel’s power, just as bad methods and bad behavior on the part of the communicator detract nothing from the gospel’s power. The reason: the gospel, not how it’s delivered, is the power of God for salvation.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Of course, this reality does not give license to any Christian to act like a jerk, as Scripture and not man’s opinion defines the term. The point is that whether the Christian behaves like Prince Charming or Homer Simpson, his behavior doesn’t add power to or strip power from the gospel.
Where American Evangelicalism, in its many forms and dialects, has gone wrong in the area of evangelism is here. While affirming Romans 1:16 on paper and websites, the truth the verse contains and communicates is brushed aside by evangelical orthopraxy that insists the simple communication of the gospel is not enough. American Evangelicalism, as a religious system, does not truly believe the simple, straightforward communication of the gospel is sufficient to save lost souls. According to American Evangelicalism, the gospel needs man’s help. This, of course, is not true. I’ve addressed this issue at length, here, here, here, and here.
What makes my heart heavy these days is how easy it is for some Christians to not only deny the power of the gospel by placing such great emphasis on methodology (namely, relationship building), to the point of suggesting the gospel is somehow empowered or strengthened by methodology, but with what ease and, frankly, arrogance, some Christians discourage and even mock Christians who hold to the sufficiency of the gospel’s power alone to save, regardless of the methodology employed. “Wait just a minute, Tony. You hammer ‘Friendship Evangelism’ on a regular basis. Aren’t you being a little hypocritical, here?”
No. I don’t believe I am being hypocritical. And here’s why.
I believe, as I’ve publicly held and articulated for many years, that “Friendship Evangelism,” as it seems to be most commonly taught and practiced, is spiritual bankrupt, void of scriptural support, and rarely leads to the actual verbal presentation of the law and the gospel to unsaved people. I’ve never been critical of “Friendship Evangelism” when it is engaged in a Christ-centered, gospel-driven manner. I’ve never been critical of establishing relationships with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel with them.
When it comes to “Friendship Evangelism,” I’m critical of establishing relationships with lost people and never sharing the gospel with them. I’m critical of the types of so-called “Friendship Evangelism” that are neither friendship nor evangelism. I’m critical of any evangelistic strategy that puts greater emphasis on the Christian’s popularity and safety among lost people than on reaching the lost with the gospel. I’m critical of building relationships with lost people upon the sandy foundation of the Christian’s personality instead of building relationships with lost people upon the rock-solid foundation of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.
It is Christians who are engaged in unbiblical forms of friendship evangelism, who have been misled to believe they are the gospel and that the gospel needs the help of their dynamic personality and ability to woo lost people into relationship, who are quick to mock the distribution of gospel tracts, engaging strangers in conversation, and (heaven forbid!) open-air preaching. They not only mock these legitimate forms of gospel communication, but they also mock the Christians who engage in these forms of evangelism. I believe they do this because American Evangelicalism has taught them that the gospel alone can’t really save anyone. The gospel needs the Christian’s help.
But the gospel doesn’t need my help or your help. The gospel simply needs to be communicated in either verbal or written forms (John 20:31; Romans 10:14-17). The reason is simple. The gospel, not how it’s delivered, is the power of God for salvation.