Why do we struggle with evangelism? Over the years I’ve heard (& used) a variety of excuses: “I’m not an outgoing person.” “I don’t know how to talk with people.” “I’m afraid I’m going to get asked a difficult question.” These concerns are reflected in how we prepare for evangelism. Often our emphasis in evangelism training is mainly on how to talk with people or answer specific objections (e.g. roll playing, reading apologetics books, etc.).
While these things are a great blessing and definitely have their place, sometimes I believe we get the cart before the horse. These things are not bad, but they can never replace a robust understanding of the Gospel. We must take the time to map out the theological topography of the Gospel. Any real preparation to reach our society must begin here. This is the most needful thing in evangelism. This may sound like a no-brainer, but this is often the last aspect of our preparation for evangelism. We assume that our knowledge of the Gospel is sufficient. For many, however, this knowledge consists of not much more than the information contained in a simple tract. The sad reality is that if someone asked us to give a clear but thorough presentation of the Gospel many of us would fail the test. Even the ability to define key concepts like “justification” or “repentance” is wanting in many believers. Friends, this should not be! Most of us are concerned about defending our faith, but how can we do so if we don’t know how to articulate accurately the faith we want to defend? Again, I’m not downplaying the need for apologetics and a missionary mindset as we reach our culture. However, the best place to begin is with a thorough knowledge of the Gospel.
Why should knowing the Gospel inside and out be a priority for every believer? Let me give you several thoughts:
1.) Only the Gospel can save. The finest philosophical arguments may very well leave the atheist speechless, but will not save his soul. Only the Gospel can do that. So, let us first give priority to knowing the Gospel.
2.) Unless you are a specialist (i.e. someone with a PhD in an apologetics related field), there is always the chance you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of arguments you cannot answer adequately on the spot. Again, this does not mean apologetic arguments are useless, or that we should not endeavor to find an answer. It only reminds us that knowing the Gospel should be the first priority.
3.) A clear and thorough articulation of the Gospel may answer many questions before they are even asked. In my experience, many questions about Christianity have to do with some aspect of the Gospel story and how it “fits” with the rest of the story (i.e. How does God’s love fit with the concept of His judgment of sin?).
4.) Many objections to the faith are simply a cloak for spiritual/emotional wounds from a previous experience with “Christianity.” In other words, there are often personal issues hidden below the surface. Presenting a perfect apologetic argument will not necessarily convince some people because there is something deeper driving their skepticism.
5.) Knowing the Gospel deeply gives credibility. How can we attempt to defend objections to a belief system that we do not even have a firm grasp of? Few things will hurt a Christian’s witness like not knowing the Gospel.
6.) Knowing the Gospel gives great confidence. I have seen even the most timid/passive individuals (even teens) pipe up and confidently explain and defend the athleticism of their favorite baseball star or the chances of their favorite football team making it to the Super Bowl. The point is that we rarely have a hard time in our explanation, presentation, and defense of what is important to us, even if we are timid by nature. The fact that even the outgoing among us struggle to explain, present, and defend the Gospel speaks to the reality of misplaced priorities in our lives. When we are growing in our understanding of the Gospel, it gives us great confidence in sharing it in any situation.
I want to encourage every believer to make knowing the content of the Gospel (i.e. the Gospel story) the priority in your life. Of course, the benefits of knowing the Gospel well are far reaching, going beyond the fulfillment of the Great Commission; knowing the Gospel is relevant to one’s daily Christian life. The Gospel Changes Everything!