The Reformed View of Evangelism
The English verb ‘to evangelize’ comes from the Greek word euangelizo, which means ‘to proclaim good news.’ It is employed in the New Testament to describe the proclamation of the Christian message to the world.
This New Testament verb has an interesting linguistic background in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), particularly in the second part of Isaiah’s prophecy. This verb is represented by the italicized words in the following three passages translated from the Septuagint:
1. Isaiah 40:9
Go up on a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings.
Lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not be afraid,
say to the towns of Judah:
‘Behold your God!’
The church is today’s ‘Zion,’ described here as the ‘herald of good tidings.’ The main subject of these good tidings (the gospel) is said in the last line of this verse to be ‘God.’
2. Isaiah 52:7
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who proclaims peace,
who brings good tidings,
who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’
Paul cites this verse in Romans 10:15 as being descriptive of the New Testament gospel proclamation. The last line of this verse indicates that we proclaim a reigning King in and by the gospel!
3. Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
Jesus read this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that it was being fulfilled in him and his ministry (Luke 4:16-21).
These verses suggest that Isaiah’s concept of the ‘good news’ of ‘peace’ and ‘salvation’ that these ‘beautiful feet’ bring to men entails the proclamation of the Lord’s coming to Zion and his enthronement on Zion, which implies the dethronement of all the pagan gods. God’s enthronement on Zion also holds out the promise of his people’s release from exile, for which idea one may go to Isaiah 61:1-2. So ‘peace,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘salvation,’ ‘freedom from exile,’ ‘release from darkness,’ and ‘the Lord’s favour’ – all to be found in God’s enthronement and reign – are, from the Septuagint’s perspective, theologically pregnant conceptions implicit in the content of the ‘heralding of the good news’ to ‘the poor,’ that is, the spiritually impoverished.
THE GOSPEL’S CONFRONTATIONAL CHARACTER
The gospel has a confrontational character. By his death, bodily resurrection, and ascension to enthronement in heaven, Jesus Christ has inherited the title above all titles – that of ‘Lord’ (Phil. 2:9-11). In the Roman world of Paul’s day, the Greek word kurios (‘lord’) was regularly used to denote the politico-social superior above all superiors, even the Roman emperor. From the Roman perspective, there was only one ‘lord’ of the world, the Roman Caesar. But according to the Christian gospel, he and all other kings have a Lord whose authority surpasses that of all the lords of the earth. Every knee will bow before our Lord, and every tongue will confess his lordship to the glory of God the Father, even our glorious Lord Christ! We should remember when we witness that we are representing the King of the universe! So we may be bold and need not be frightened.
The ‘work of an evangelist’ (2 Tim. 4:5) involves not simply telling people ‘how to be saved,’ though it can and will include this. To ‘evangelize’ is to proclaim, to announce, to herald from the mountaintops that Jesus Christ, who passed through death and bodily resurrection to enthronement, is King of kings and Lord of lords. And to announce that Jesus Christ reigns as King and Lord of the universe is to announce to all the petty Caesars of this world that they do not! To proclaim Christ’s lordship is to confront all the silly pretensions of the religious and secular pagan lords of this world with Christ’s true and sovereign kingship that demands heart submission from every member of the human race (see Rom. 1:1-5).
NO MERE INVITATION
The proclamation of the gospel is not the mere ‘inviting’ of disinterested people to try Christ’s saving benefits. It should never be this! Paul would no more have said to his hearers, ‘If you would like to have the experience of living under an emperor, you might try the Jewish Messiah,’ than Caesar’s herald would have said, ‘If you would like to live under an emperor, you might try Nero.’ Caesar’s herald would have announced, ‘Nero has ascended the throne of Rome and has been crowned your emperor; submit to his imperial authority and obey him.’ Similarly, by his gospel, Paul proclaimed, ‘Jesus Christ, by virtue of his person and deeds, has become the King of the universe and your sovereign Lord. Submit to him, if you would be delivered from the bonds that enslave you, and obey him!’
In short, the ‘good news’ concerning God’s Son is the proclamation that through the death and resurrection of a very human, even Jewish, man, the living God in the person of Jesus Christ has become the sovereign Lord and Saviour of the world who demands men’s submission and obedience. And only to those who from the heart submit to his authority and trust in his saving work will he grant the gift of eternal life. All others he will destroy in his wrath (see Psa. 2:12).
By the ‘folly’ of a Roman cross – the last place in the whole world where one would look to find his God and his salvation – God reversed the world’s values, turning what the world regarded as shame into glory by Christ’s crucifixion and bodily resurrection from the dead. By the folly of the cross, God outsmarted the wise; by the weakness of the cross, he overpowered the strong.
Why was Christ’s crucifixion so special? Because of who he is, what he did there, and what happened afterwards. Who is he? He is not just the royal son of David, but also God the Son, the majesty of whose person surpasses all the pomp of all the kings of the earth combined, and the might of whose power is infinite, upholding all things even as he hung on the cross. What did he do there? He purified and saved his people from their sins. And what happened after his crucifixion? He rose bodily from death on the third day, and by his resurrection his crucifixion was turned into a great victory. His resurrection means that Christ really is God’s anointed King and Lord. He has brought to light life and immortality. The ‘age to come’ has already dawned in its saving power! And the gospel is the announcement of that victory. Because he lives, we too shall live, and the very cosmos itself will someday be restored to its ‘paradise’ state at his return in glory.
By his work on the cross and his bodily resurrection, he inherited the title that is above all others – the title of Lord. The gospel, then, is indeed a royal announcement of a great victory over sin and death and of the appearing of the equally great Victor over the same. For anyone to be ashamed of the gospel or to make light of God’s forgiveness by the cross to any degree is to make light of the great price that God paid in order to do away with sin. Trivializing the gospel by portraying it as something that men may choose or reject with impunity as they please, when they please, or how they please, is to ‘cast its precious pearls before swine.’
The grace that provided the gospel and that gives all the other good things that accompany and flow from it also demands everything – total discipleship! Paul informed Titus that ‘the grace of God that brings salvation [that is, saving grace!] has appeared . . . teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-12). No ‘cheap grace’ there! We must not be party to turning the announcement of the great victory of the King of kings into a cheap sideshow by urging people to ‘try Jesus’ in the same way that they might buy one soft drink at the grocery store instead of another.
We must make people understand that they refuse to bow before this heavenly Emperor at the peril of their immortal souls, that they will know only eternal misery if they rebel against him, and that they will know this misery at his hand! To evangelize, then, is to proclaim the gospel faithfully – that is, to proclaim the whole truth about Jesus Christ, both as Saviour and Lord. And the declared aim of true evangelism is to bring those who hear the gospel to repentance toward God and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by which faith they are justified freely by the grace of God.
The author, a former professor of theology, is the regular supply at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He quotes the NKJV, but provides his own translations of the Septuagint.
Taken with permission from New Horizons April 2011.
On Doctrine and Practice July 16, 2019
A charge that is made repeatedly against historic Christianity is that its stress on doctrine makes it authoritarian, theoretical, and cold. The Christian religion is a practical affair; putting the faith in terms of truth to be believed alienates or repels many who would otherwise be sympathetic. As John Robinson puts it, ‘the effect of […]
Christianity and Culture July 12, 2019
One of the greatest of the problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity. This problem has appeared first of all in the presence of two tendencies in the Church — the scientific or academic tendency, and what may be called the practical […]