Defining Evangelism

A new class I’m taking at the seminary is “Evangelism in Context” with professor Scott Sunquist.  One of the first things we did in class yesterday was define evangelism.  Here’s my definition:

 “Evangelism is the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Kingdom of God which brings forgiveness, justice, peace, and reconciliation between both humanity and God, and persons with one another.  This good news is proclaimed relationally in both word and deed, as empowered by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the glory of God.”

 As the class shared different aspects of their definitions, I was surprised that I was the only one who specifically mentioned the Kingdom of God.   Isn’t this a central theme for evangelism?  It’s what Jesus preached (see Luke 4:43 and Mark 1:14-15).  Speaking at a church here in Pittsburgh several weeks ago, Tony Campolo defined evangelism as recruiting people to join God’s revolution, meaning the Kingdom of God.  The fact that this theme was glossed over in class yesterday is troubling to me – an indication of our reductionist and individualistic tendencies in American Christianity.

 That said, I have some questions.  What’s your definition of evangelism?  What else is missing in the definition I give?  What is evangelism not

  1. Here’s mine:

    Evangelism is calling people to live their life in the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth as his disciple, through commitment to the Mission of God as practiced by the Christian Community.

    I chose to use “Mission of God” rather than “Kingdom” because Kingdom can be construed as being static (Jesus didn’t think it was mind you). I thought it was ironic that not one response on the board actually had the name of Jesus in it. I also wanted to emphasize the communal part and the idea of being a Christian as a way of life rather than a set of ideas to be believed.

    Evangelism is not-
    – Getting people to say the sinners prayer.

  2. mikegehrling said:

    Your thoughts on the Kingdom of God made me curious. So, being the seminary geek that I am, I did a quick word study on basileia in the New Testament. From that, the best guess that I can come up with as to why people didn’t include the Kingdom of God in their definition of evangelism is that most evangelicals are particularly fond of the gospel of John. For example, Campus Crusade for Christ, in their tracts, encourage people to read the Bible and start with the gospel of John. Consequently, John uses the word “kingdom” only 5 times in his gospel. By comparison, Matthew uses it 55 times, Mark 20 times, and Luke 46 times.

    The surprising thing that I found is that even though Luke uses it 46 times in his gospel, he only uses it 8 times in the book of Acts, and never in a quotation of Paul, only in summaries of Paul’s (and others’) teaching/preaching.

    Paul uses the word only 14 times in his letters. On the other hand, he uses the phrase “in Christ” or some variant over 100 times. So, if anything’s missing from your definition of evangelism, it’s probably union with Christ (at least an explicit mention of it).

    I’m not sure what to make of this. Jesus speaks about the Kingdom all the time in the synoptics, so it’s clearly important, but it’s used much less frequently in the rest of the New Testament.

  3. Chris Brown said:

    Brian – you’re right about “kingdom” having the potential of being too static. I’m tempted sometimes to use “reign” to describe the non-locative aspect of the kingdom, and “reign” is actually considered by some to be a better translation of basilea. The catch is that language of kingdom vs. reign gets politicized in the inclusive language debate.

  4. Russell said:

    Just read a Sunquist article, “Asian Perspectives on Theological Pluralism” for my lone Dubuque distance-ed class this semester. I enjoyed it, and would love to take a class with him. I’ll be thinking about evangelism and see if I have anything for you in Grand Junction this May… Peace.

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