“Does the gospel I preach naturally lead to people becoming disciples of Jesus?” – Dallas Willard
Put another way: Is becoming a disciple of Jesus the natural way to say ‘Yes’ to the gospel I preach?
This question has been revolutionizing my understanding of the gospel, evangelism, and discipleship. For example, if we see the main message of the gospel as “Your sins can be forgiven,” it does not naturally lead to becoming a disciple of Jesus, because once you’ve got the “forgiveness contract” signed, discipleship seems like an optional extra-curricular activity for people who are into that kind of thing. Gospel-as-forgiveness is an anemic understanding of what the New Testament proclaims.
Here’s the way I am beginning to understand this, and the simple way we are going to be teaching our leaders at Christ Church to practice evangelism. Do you think this adequately captures things? What do you think?
The Gospel is the good news that through Jesus Christ, life in the kingdom of God is available to anyone and everyone. The door has been kicked open by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and whoever wants to can come running in and find the good life in God’s kingdom.
Evangelism is the work of proclaiming this gospel; that is, announcing to people that a life in God’s kingdom is available to them right now, and inviting them to move into it by trusting Jesus.
Discipleship then flows easily and naturally from this gospel, because the way we enter life in God’s kingdom now is by trusting Jesus. This doesn’t mean simply trusting him to let us into heaven when we die. It means we trust him for everything: our daily needs, abiding joy and peace, and power (through the Spirit) to do the things he said were good and right, to join with him in his action in the world.
Thus trust in and obedience to Jesus are what we are calling people to when we tell them the kingdom of God is available to them. Some will ignore the message, some will mock and attack it, but some will respond with a question like, “What must I do?” The answer is, “Trust Jesus. Join us as we seek to live in relationship and obedience to him. Join us as we seek to be involved in what He’s doing right now in the earth.”
All of this must be done in a relational context. That is, we will seek to establish presence in a context before we move into proclamation, and our proclamation will be conditioned and shaped by our context. If we discern that someone is open to the gospel, one easy way to invite people into the kingdom is to simply say, “I believe God is very close to you, he loves you, is available to you, and wants to work in your life. What would you like to ask him for?” From there you can simply pray with them about that issue, and then walk with them and see what happens.
This way we’re inviting people on a journey of trusting Jesus, where they can take small steps of faith and obedience in relationship to the actual issues of their lives, because these are probably the places the kingdom is seeking to break into their lives anyway.
What are your thoughts on this way of formulating these ideas and practicing evangelism?
Doug Paul says
LOVE THIS. The logic flow is fantastic, which, though it sounds like a small thing, is incredibly important because it's felt so out of whack for so long. Great stuff here.
Ben Sternke says
Yeah I've felt the need for a comprehensive understanding of these things that "fit together" well.
This is great stuff. I really like how its all framed through the accessibility of the Kingdom. I.e. it takes Jesus' core message more seriously than many 'explanations' of the Gospel.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for the comment, Andy. It is remarkable how the predominant understanding of the good news has so little to do with what Jesus said.
I like that this is an invitation to walk with Jesus, not a call to the alter to say a pray. You just start walking with him by trusting him, and faith comes in the process.
I also like that we are not telling people what should be important to them, that you need to be forgiven and you need to ask Jesus into your heart. Instead you are inviting them into God's Kingdom based on what they would like to ask God for. The issues that are close to their heart.
Being brought up in an evangelistic church I quite frankly despise the whole call to the alter, and saying the sinners prayer.
I do believe that something like what you are talking about here should preferably be the approach of communicating the Good News of God's Kingdom.
Ben Sternke says
Jason, thanks for the comment. We're going to be training our leaders at CC to share the good news this way, and we've already seen a bit of fruit from it.
Nice stuff… though could I ask how you would unpack "life in the kingdom of God is available to anyone and everyone"… how would you put it into language a un-churched person would get?
Ben Sternke says
Richard, I would try to be attentive to where the kingdom is seeking to break into their life and start there.This seems to be the way Jesus did it.For the people he encountered, their “kingdom issue” was often physical deformity or sickness that placed them on the margins of society, so he met them there: healing diseases, making blind eyes see, casting out demons, raising the dead.Doing things in this way implies some level of relationship (not a drive-by gospel presentation), of course, where they would have occasion and enough trust to share personally with me.For example, if they were struggling with guilt over their sins (not likely), I would share my experience of forgiveness and healing in Jesus and say that I'm confident they could receive the same forgiveness.But more likely the issue is something different. Perhaps she just broke up with her boyfriend and is re-evaluating relationships and trust and intimacy. I could share about the Friend I've found like no other. Perhaps he just lost his job and is struggling with his sense of identity. I could share about the Father from whom I've received an identity no matter what others say about me.And I would be aware of opportunities to do the exact same stuff Jesus did (John 14:26 says that we would!): praying for the sick can be a fantastic way to explicitly invite God's power into a person's life, and oftentimes miracles of healing are doorways to salvation for people.
We just had a session on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's view of discipleship and how we are called to respond to the Gospel's Good News. I like your descriptions of Gospel, Evangelism and Discipleship, but I wonder — if that was meant to imply a progression — if the order should not be Gospel, the Good News that invites us to become Disciples, which leads us to be proclaimers/evangelizers, not only in word, but in deed. Then we confront a further question related to Bonhoeffer and "What must I do?" What will discipleship cost me? How much am I willing to "be involved in what he's doing right now in the world?" His view was that God's grace was free, but not cheap. We are made new SO THAT we may serve and proclaim.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for the comment, Joanne. That's a great way of framing the progression from the point-of-view of a receiver of the good news. I guess I was thinking of the progression from the perspective of someone who has already accepted it and is in some sense a Christian. For us to help Christians understand what the good news, and therefore what evangelism actually looks like: the proclamation of good news, and a call to follow Jesus as a disciple.
But you're right in saying that a necessary part of being a disciple is proclaiming the good news to others. However, I wouldn't say that this proclamation is the sole purpose of discipleship ("We are made new SO THAT we may serve and proclaim.") I would look at proclamation more as a natural result of the "point," which is to live fully in God's kingdom. Part of the life we receive is the agenda that God has for the world, which is to bring as many into abundant life as possible, but the biggest issue is if we are actually living this "kingdom life" or just talking about it.
Tom Mason says
Hi Ben. I liked your article a lot. i read recently something David Zahl said… that the gospel is helpful because it is true. Not the reverse. Here is my question to you. In what way is your presentation of the gospel an objective message of a finished work for sinners by Jesus on the cross vs. an internal life change that comes from believing the good news and entering the kingdom?
Ben Sternke says
I guess I would say that it is an objective message in that the kingdom of God has very definitely come near because of Jesus' death and resurrection, and that forgiveness (as well as the whole kingdom!) is objectively available because of it!
In one sense, the earliest proclamations of the gospel are pure objectivity: "Jesus is Lord!"
I’d just like to pass on another way to help spread the gospel and it’s simply this:-
Include a link to an online gospel tract (e.g. http://www.freecartoontract.com/animation) as part of your email signature.
An email signature is a piece of customizable HTML or text that most email programs will allow you to add to all your outgoing emails. For example, it commonly contains name and contact details – but it could also (of course) contain a link to a gospel tract.
For example, it might say something like, “p.s. you might like this gospel cartoon …” or “p.s. have you seen this?”.