Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Presupposition of Evangelism

Almost ten years ago I sat with my bride before a pastor search committee. One of the many good questions asked during that visit was, “what is the minimum a person can believe to be saved?” I believe I answered with the historical content of Paul’s summation of the Gospel: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Since then, when asked a similar question, I’ve even responded with Paul’s earlier words: “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Occasionally, I’ve even used Peter’s words (they’re on my business cards): “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:39).

I spend my early Thursday mornings at a local coffeehouse reading through Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. We’ve been at it a few years now. I love meeting at a place “off campus” from our congregation’s building. I prefer it, in fact. This last meeting we were working through the chapter on “Faith” for a second week. I began to notice a pattern in Berkhof’s discussion of faith that may have changed my answer to the question, “if saving faith is the acceptance of Christ as He is offered in the gospel, the question naturally arises, ‘How much of the gospel must a man know, in order to be saved?’” (pg. 559).

Read Berkhof’s repeated statements and see the same pattern I saw:
  • “The knowledge of faith consists in a positive recognition of the truth, in which man accepts as true whatsoever God says in His Word, and especially what He says respecting the deep depravity of man and the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (pgs. 558-559).
  • “The knowledge of faith is mediated for, and imparted to, us by the testimony of God in His Word, and is accepted by us as certain and reliable on the basis of the veracity of God” (pg. 559).
  • “Naturally one who accepts Christ by a true faith, will also be ready and willing to accept God’s testimony as a whole” (560).
  • “Its object is the whole divine revelation as contained in the Word of God. Everything that is explicitly taught in Scripture or can be deduced from it by good and necessary inference, belongs to the object of faith in this general sense” (pg. 561).
  • “…true faith in the Bible as the Word of God is absolutely necessary” (pg. 562).
  • “The ultimate ground on which faith rests, lies in the veracity and faithfulness of God, in connection with the promises of the gospel. But because we have no knowledge of this apart from the Word of God, this can also be, and frequently is, called the ultimate ground of faith” (pgs. 562).

I’m mindful of Billy Graham’s repeated phrase in his evangelistic preaching: “…the Bible says.” Eternally more importantly, reconsider Paul’s words to the Corinthians and hear the same emphasis: “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” After his words to the Romans promising salvation for confession and belief in the resurrected Lord, the apostle also says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17). And Peter’s Pentecost sermon is built on passages from Joel 2 and Psalm 16 (and others). The basis of saving faith is the written Word.

If a person does not accept the witness of God in the Scriptures describing the historical fall of humanity into sin (and its personal, individual reality), the consequences of that sin, and God’s remedy for that sin, you will not accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Submission to the authority of and belief in the truthfulness of the Bible are presuppositions to a saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don’t think this necessarily changes our approach to evangelizing the lost, but it is important in our evangelism. Is the message I proclaim “according to the Scriptures”? Am I begging them to believe me, or God in His Word? Am I relying on my ability to argue or convince, or the matchless power of the Bible?

The foundation for the Gospel and the salvation of the lost by that Gospel is ultimately grounded in the proclamation of God in His Word. We would not know our need otherwise. We would not know the Good News otherwise. The Gospel originates outside of me, and is infinitely bigger than I am, and eternally older. I pray I learn to rest in this power and authority in my evangelistic conversations, like those with the owner of the coffeehouse before dawn every Thursday morning.

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