Christians by nature are witnesses to Christ. They are also to fulfill their calling as disciples to bear much fruit (John 15:8). Once they realize that they are to be involved in personal evangelism themselves, the next step is for them to prepare to take the message forth. This is not different from being grounded in the message themselves, but it means more than knowing the doctrines of salvation theoretically. They must know how the essentials of the message apply to those who are lost. At this point training in personal evangelism has been wholly lacking. There has been an extreme over-emphasis on techniques and methods without explaining the principles. This chapter is intended to delineate some principles which may be used to work out how the message can be applied.
The first principle of personal evangelism to be considered concerns the fitness of the worker. It may seem to be a contradiction to say that every Christian ought to be involved in personal evangelism but that not every Christian should be sent out. It is true, however, that much harm is done by sending out those who do not have the personal prerequisites for the work.
These prerequisites include personal repentance and faith, a thorough knowledge of the message of salvation, and a foundation in the Christian life. In the first place, those who are not truly converted would give a distorted presentation of the message because their own prejudices would cause them to falsify the heart of the message. In the second place, those who are Christians but lack a thorough knowledge of the message would lack the discernment to deal with the real needs of the hearers. And in the third place, those who lack a foundation in the Christian life will so intrude themselves into the presentation that an understanding of the message by the hearer will be blocked off. Though God in His sovereignty may overrule in a given situation, it is right to honor God by sending out only mature, trained Christians. This is the first principle of personal evangelism.
Marks of a Christian in contrast to the non-Christian, no matter how defeated he may be, include the following: (1) Some spiritual enlightenment, though his purpose may be clouded, in contrast to the rejection of the truth. (2) Desire to understand the Bible, but may be frustrated and easily distracted from it. The immature Christian may be tempted to follow Christian leaders instead of the Bible, but tries to reject worldly thinking and tradition. (3) Motives originating in God and love for God, rather than self-interest. But there may be a conflict, so that, in spite of a hatred of sin and a desire to please God, there is a slowness in obeying Him. (4) Some measure of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which, however, may be mixed with temper flare-ups, discouragement, doubts and confusion, and points of one-sidedness and imbalance. (5) Conflict with sin and the world. The immature Christian finds some measure of victory over sin, but often finds a spiritual stalemate and a drifting into fleshly sins that he so much desires to avoid. He is free from seeking them as the non-Christian does, but as he becomes aware of the deceitfulness of his own heart the Christian may rightly doubt his condition. Here, the Word of God comes to his rescue when he turns to Christ and grows in spiritual understanding.
The self-deceived "Christian," on the other hand, drifts along without concern. He follows tradition and men, and his interest in the Bible is more out of idle curiosity than of desire to serve God. His fruit is a polishing of the outside of his personality, rather than a deeper cleansing of the heart. His life is devoted mainly to amassing earthly goods and worldly prestige and success; and if he is challenged to serve Christ, he may go about it with fleshly enthusiasm, or he may resist and cause real Christians all kinds of difficulty.
So there must be a consideration of the spiritual state of those who desire to become workers. Not only must defeated Christians move beyond their state of defeat, but those who fancy themselves as Christians and think they may gain some prestige through personal evangelism must be brought to see their true condition. Those who have been sincerely misled into thinking they are Christians, must be taught the truths of Scripture concerning Godís salvation. They must be brought to the place of personal repentance and faith in order for them to be of any use to God.
For the defeated Christian, the first step must also be personal repentance and faith. He must recognize the fact of sin in his life; not simply wrongs that he has done, but a basically wrong condition within. The defeated Christian must see that the Holy Spirit has been stifled, whether he personally should bear most of the blame or whether those whom God has called to teach him are to blame.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and so even if the Christian has sinned he is likely to think that he is guiltless. He must see that the wrong condition lies in him, and therefore that he is the one to confess the sin. And there must be cleansing if God is to work in his life, a cleansing that must come through the application of the Word of God (John 15:3) and confession of sin (I John 1:9). Anything that might be considered a hindrance to the Christian life must come under suspicion as having been brought about by personal sin.
A Christian by nature will repent of his sins, turning to Christ, when his mind has been cleared so that they come to his attention. It must be remembered that sin clouds the mind so that even a Christian may not be able to see his sin when he is immediately involved in it. But when he has had an opportunity for reflection, he will repent, that is, turn away in disgust from his sins and turn to Christ. In addition to repentance, he must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is a yielding of himself to do Christís will rather than his own. It is upon confession of this sort, that there will be a resulting forgiveness and cleansing.
Let no Christian think that if he has once repented and turned to Christ in faith, that this is the last time he personally needs to consider doing these things. The Christian life is such that there is a need for continuing repentance and forgiveness. A Christian sins in his thoughts and in his actions day by day, whether he is aware of it or not. Furthermore he sins also by what he fails to do. Even the most saintly appearing Christian is, in Godís sight, a vile sinner; but God looks down in mercy and forgives him through the merits of His Son and does not remember those sins any more. But to have victory over his sins the Christian must become aware of them so that he may yield himself and the members of his body as instruments of righteousness instead of instruments of sin (Rom. 6:13). And because God in his mercy does not bring before a Christian all of his sins at once, there is a continual process of repentance and yielding as they are brought one-by-one to his attention.
But an unclean instrument is not to be used in personal evangelism. A Christian may drift into sin. He may become careless about walking in the Spirit in order not to fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). It is true that he is spiritually-minded (Rom. 8:6) and delights after the law of God after the inward man (Rom. 7:22), and yet in his flesh there is a law of sin which operates through the members of his body (Rom. 7:23-24). And when the Holy Spirit is stifled, sin may reign in his mortal body, so that he is an unclean instrument. The sin must then be removed in actuality as well as being forgiven. When he is thus cleansed and is otherwise prepared, God can use him.
There is a tendency on the part of Christians to think that only a minimal amount of knowledge is necessary to present the message of salvation. The consideration above shows that this is not true. There is such a great amount of room for misunderstanding on the part of the hearer that a Christian worker needs a thorough knowledge, not only of the essential points, but also of the practical implications of the Gospel for the Christian life. It remains true that teaching concerning the Christian life has an important bearing on the presentation of the message of salvation. An example is an emphasis on the Christian life that so idealizes a Christians experience of victory that too sharp a contrast is made between the ideal and what is presented as common experience. Though the intent is to lead Christians on to a higher plain of life, the effect is to depreciate what takes place at conversion. The new birth seems not to mean that there is in fact a new life, but merely a vague potentiality for one. There is the danger of the "easy-believism" discussed in previous chapters. It is also a fact of learning that a person retains only a fraction of what he has been taught. So if a Christian worker is taught only the essentials, he is going to lose even some of them. In order to retain the essentials completely, it is necessary to go far beyond them. This is to give a background framework from which the essentials may be seen in perspective. When the sense of the essential ideas are understood in perspective, they will be retained without distortion, because it will be seen how they can be misunderstood and twisted to make the message into a lie. Many times it has happened that Christians have had a simple but true understanding of the truths that they are taught to present, but what they are taught to say and what they add on to that is so poorly understood by the hearers that they make it into a lie. Neither the Christian nor the hearer realize what has happened; the other person may think that he has been converted, and so may the Christian. The only way to avoid this is for those involved in personal evangelism to have a method that elicits from the hearer what he has understood and for the Christian himself to be able to recognize the transformation of the truth into a lie when he sees it. As has been intimated previously, much of the common presentations of the message is purely the result of tradition. Shocking as it may sound, the points of the message that have been emphasized, though they are true and are found in Scripture, are not the points that Scripture emphasizes as being the heart of the Gospel. Essential points given by Scripture are often omitted entirely! It is no wonder that so few who respond are touched spiritually!
Christians have been following tradition when it comes to presenting the message of salvation, and following mere tradition is a sin. Christians must stop following tradition and follow Scripture. But often they do not know that their message differs from that of the Bible. There is gross ignorance on the part of Christians concerning the doctrines of salvation and the way they are presented in Scripture. This following of tradition must stop. Christians must turn to their Bibles and get the right message, not leaving out important parts of it because someone has claimed "success" in reaching people with their own truncated message. This is the most important reason for a thorough knowledge of the message of salvation. Christians must be able to distinguish the Biblical message from the ones that give only part of the truth and so make the Gospel into a lie. A Foundation in Christian Life. To be fit for personal evangelism a Christian worker must also have a measure of spiritual maturity. This must not be con fused with the age of the individual, for it is clear that many who are young in years have a great spiritual depth, and many more who are older Christians show that they are spiritually immature. Spiritual maturity must be identified with growth in discipleship and manifestations of the fruit of Godís Spirit.
As a Christian grows he develops a practical recognition of Godís sovereignty. This is an essential ingredient for anyone who would battle for the souls of men. It is impossible to have digested the content of the message and thoroughly retain oneís sanity when he becomes involved in reaching the lost unless Godís absolute sovereignty is taken into account. If menís eternal destiny were thought ultimately to depend on his own personal efforts, the Christian could not do anything but spend all his waking hours in turmoil and go to the greatest lengths to stir, entice, and persuade men into a commitment to Christ, pleading with them with tears to come to Him. The pressure would be such that the Christian would hardly be able to function. When, however, Christians know that the hand of God is upon those they are talking to, they can give the message with confidence and authority. They will have tears for the lost, but they will not dishonor God through their human efforts. In other words, they will truly be yielded to God and have faith in Him, that He will use their every effort according to His pleasure.
But a recognition of Godís sovereignty will also bring about a sense of utter dependence on Him. If God is truly God, the Christian must be wholly consecrated to live in His holy presence. The good things of this life must be set aside. The claims of the world must be vigorously denied. There must be a conscious sacrifice of the self, and an awareness that he has no "rights" except what God provides for him. Unless the Christian has entered into some measure of this attitude of life, he will probably present no more than a caricature of the message to lost people.
Those who live in Godís presence will also have a devotion to His Word, and so will study it, memorize it, and apply it in their own lives. One who takes no interest in what God has to say to him cannot expect God to use him to reach others. The Christian must have come to the place where he listens spiritually to Godís directions in applying His principles to his daily walk. The Christian must so saturate himself with that Word, that it will be available for God to use in making the necessary changes in his life. This is the meaning and significance of prayer. God must speak to the Christian, so that the Christian expresses his desires in conformity to Godís will.
The result will be some measure of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). There must be some love, expressed in real concern for the lost. This is the only way to keep from having Christian workers who treat people as abstract souls, but have no concern for their practical welfare. The clearest sign that a worker is not prepared for direct involvement in personal evangelism is a cocky attitude and a satisfaction with manipulating people apart from clear evidence that there has been any real result. But there must also be some inner control over the impulses of the flesh. A Christian worker must be so disciplined that he can meet the antagonisms and distracting statements of non-Christians with even-tempered replies. These are the characteristics that a person must develop to be of value to God in personal evangelism. He must as a Christian know the message and have grown in maturity enough to bring it to unlovely individuals in a perishing world.
WORKING WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
The second principle of personal evangelism concerns the necessity of working with the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit toward men in the world is two-fold: to convince, reprove, convict (John 16:8); and to regenerate and baptize into the body of Christ. The first applies both to those who will not respond and to those who do; the second applies only to those who become Christians. But even if the first applied only to those who become Christians, it is important to notice that it is not the work of Christians to produce conviction, but the work of the Holy Spirit. This teaches the Christian worker that he will be a failure unless he makes provision for this in his personal evangelism.
The main tool of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. This is why it is called the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17). The Apostle Paul makes clear that his own conviction concerning his sins came about through the law (Rom. 7), which shows that the law of God is a portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit uses in bringing conviction. During his earthly ministry the Lord Jesus emphasized the application of the law of God to the heart, and this is consistent with this same thought. People must first have an understanding of Godís righteousness as given in His law before they can understand about Jesus Christ and His holiness. After this, the Gospel of Christ can make clear to them what the personal righteousness of Christ really means. But the Holy Spirit must be given the weapon to pierce their hearts to produce the conviction that He was sent to give. In other words, He must have His sword.
The Holy Spirit also works regeneration and the new birth within those who are to be finally saved. Those who have the right to become the sons of God and have believed, having received Christ, were born of God (John 1:12-13), and no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again from above (John 3:3). Salvation is by the layer of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). Furthermore, the new birth itself is brought about by the Word of God which is preached in the Gospel (I Pet. 1:23-25). So the Holy Spirit must also be given the means for bringing about the new birth and conversion.
In addition to understanding the work of the Holy Spirit, an understanding of the flesh is needed to know how to work with the Holy Spirit. The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:14) and the carnal mind is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). Thus, there is a natural antagonism to the spiritual things of God. Only those who have Godís Spirit dwelling within can respond to them. And unconverted men without exception have an antagonism against them. This is the basic fact that must be taken into account in dealing with men. Because there is no higher principle, their inner lives are dominated by every fleshly impulse that comes along.
The power of the flesh must not be underestimated. There is a war between the flesh and the Spirit even in Christians, and so there can be nothing less between the Holy Spirit and the non-Christian when the message is brought to him. It is not that God is impotent in relation to non-Christians who hear the message. On the contrary, He is in control of all the circumstances in which the hearing takes place and knows infallibly how a given individual will respond, ordering everything according to His eternal purpose (Eph. 1:11). But in His ordering God has seen fit to bring this conflict to pass. Furthermore, God has revealed that He uses certain means to accomplish his purpose. Since He has revealed this conflict, it is a Christianís duty to take it into account.
The lesson to be learned is the great significance of the conflict between the flesh and the Holy Spirit for the methodology of personal evangelism. The misgivings of people concerning "soul-winning" reflect a failure at this point perhaps more than at any other. People have rebelled at the button-hole approach in which people are accosted on the street and elsewhere. Yet, the idea of talking to strangers is not repugnant. Rather, in most situations people are pleased for someone to show interest in them and talk to them. The problem has been with what has been said rather than the fact that something was said. The things said caused trouble because of the fleshly reactions that the people had; they resented the Christianís bold intrusion into their lives concerning spiritual things. This reaction is just the kind that Scripture would lead a Christian to expect with such an approach. The problem was with the methodology, rather than the circumstances or the message.
What is needed, then, is to avoid the unnecessary stirring up of fleshly reactions. Even when the circumstances would seem perfect for a personal presentation of the message, fleshly reactions can cause the situation to become very bad. A hearer may have time on his hands, be in familiar surroundings and comfortable, and there may be no distractions to interrupt what is being said, and yet a Christian presenting the message to him may antagonize him with irritating statements even before he gets started. Or, he may antagonize the person needlessly in his introduction of the message or at another place along the line.
Of course, the introduction of the spiritual truths of the message must be made at some point. So the thought is not to forget the need for the conflict. The message of God must be presented. Christians must not change this message in the interests of making it easier for the person to respond without a vital change having taken place. The truths that the Holy Spirit uses to bring conviction of sin must be given. Christ must be exalted if God is to draw the person to Him. And the demand of the Gospel to repent and believe must be made clear.
It is essential that the Christian exercise great restraint. Unless the person happens to be ready, the Holy Spirit must prepare him to hear what the Christian wants to say to him. Christians are well aware of the difficulty of starting out by saying, "Mister, the first thing you have to understand is that you are a sinner." Yet, that is where the conversation has often been started. Instead of this, the subject of Godís message for man must be introduced gradually, so that fleshly reactions will be avoided. The Holy Spirit will use the things that are said to prepare the way if the Christian introduces the right subject matter. The Christianís task is to do it in a way that does not stir up the flesh merely by his own bluntness and desire to get to the heart of what he wants to say.
There is a proper and an improper use of practical psychology in relation to this idea. Psychological techniques are rightly criticized when they lead people to assent and agree to a truth through verbal and emotional manipulation. This is not what is involved here. The use of psychology must deliberately avoid anything that might interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing true understanding. What is desired is a natural context of conversation in which the Holy Spirit can apply the Word of God. The conversation, however, should be directed in such a way that it leads naturally, step by step from a human point of contact to the presentation of the message. In other words, the conflict should be over the truths of the message, and not about the way in which the person is approached. The proper use of practical psychology is to use verbal and emotional factors to smooth the way for this.
For fleshly antagonism to be reduced, there must be a series of prepared steps. One of the ways that Christians fail in this is by getting side-tracked by what is of personal interest to them. There would surely be a fleshly reaction to some spiritual truth about the world that comes up, which contradicts fleshly human thinking. But it is not the Christianís purpose to present the truths of Scripture concerning the world. It is his purpose to present the truths that the non-Christian needs personally to hear. Another way Christians fail in this is to present the truths of the message in the wrong order. A non-Christian certainly does need to hear about sin, but he needs to hear it in its relationship to God, to His program, and to Christ. Items that present the greatest personal threat to them should be presented after some background has been given. A Christian needs, then, to know how to stay on the points of his message and how to present them in the right order. In order to avoid unnecessary difficulties this requires solid preparation.
A series of prepared steps is needed to avoid fleshly antagonism even if the unconverted person is thoroughly prepared in his understanding about many of the truths of Scripture. It must be remembered that it is possible for an unconverted person to have considerable intellectual understanding but have no spiritual assimilation of the truths he knows. There is a spiritual blindness to the true significance of the truth, and as a natural man there has been no response on his part to receive it (I Cor. 2:14). This kind of person still is fleshly and will react antagonistically to spiritual things as much as one who has little background. For this reason he must also be approached with carefully prepared steps.
A series of prepared steps are needed for another reason than to avoid fleshly antagonism. This is simply the personal inadequacy and need to avoid stumbling on the part of most Christians. Most Christians find themselves putting their foot in their mouth. By preparing what to say this is avoided. Donít let anyone criticize this by saying it is the use of "human" wisdom to give the message, however. Human wisdom in Scripture refers to the distortion of the message and techniques, such as rhetoric, to get "converts." The careful preparation of steps is to allow for a "demonstration of the Spirit and power" (I Cor. 2:4). It is this kind of preparation that takes the burden off of the individual Christian so that he will not blunderingly get in the way of the Holy Spirit.
For this very reason, Christians must not deviate from the steps that they have prepared. Unless God has given him unusual wisdom, deviation from plan will only result in his interference with the work of the Holy Spirit. Warning! Immature Christians are often the ones who think they have been given unusual wisdom. They also sometimes get the notion, after a little experience, that God leads them, even if they donít follow any "plan." Such people not only interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit but corrupt the message of God. Of course, the interference mentioned here is hypothetical; God is not limited. What He may do in many cases is use these Christians, not to bring the savor of life to people so that they may have life (II Cor. 2:15-16), but to bring them the savor of death so that they will be condemned. May God give Christians their desire to be used to bring life rather than death!
THE DIALECTICAL METHOD
Just as soon as mention is made of the strict use of a method, there will undoubtedly be many who will object. "The apostles did not use a "canned approach!", they will say. "The Holy Spirit has been promised to guide us!" It has already been explained, however, that the very purpose of a method is to allow the Holy Spirit to work. Christians are to bring themselves into subjection as one running a race (I Cor. 9:27). A supposed impulse of the Holy Spirit may simply be a yielding to the flesh, unless the flesh is controlled by God-given restraints. But the real reasons for concern are problems inherent in methodology, a lack of flexibility and spontaneity. There must be an answer to these problems. Methodology, however, has to be used, as was pointed out above, otherwise there is likely to be fleshly interference of the Spiritís work. The criticisms nevertheless remain.
The first criticism of the use of methods in personal evangelism is the lack of spontaneity that occurs in using them. There is nothing quite so obnoxious to many people than a "canned" approach. It is like a salesman going through his speech, and Christians often cannot stand treating the Gospel as something to be sold, like so many goods. This is too close to dealing deceitfully with it for them (II Cor. 2:17). Furthermore, many non-Christians recognize and are repulsed by such methods.
The second criticism is that a set method will not give the ordinary Christian enough confidence, because they will always have an uneasiness about not knowing what to do when the hearer does not respond according to plan or asks a question not covered in what they have memorized. In other words, there is too great a possibility for snags to occur. Furthermore, Christians often cannot accept the common advice to ignore the questions and pretend that the problem will go away. Too often, they suspect, the questions reflect real difficulties, and to force their own way without answering the questions would be to ask others to accept the truth without understanding it.
The third criticism is that a set method is too limiting. It keeps a Christian from being able to meet the needs of the individual that they are talking to even when they know that they have a problem or question. This lack of flexibility can be a serious stumbling block to a Christian who is sensitive to the feelings of the hearer. He sees a need, but because of the rigidity of his method, he is unable to do anything about it.
The answer to these criticisms is the application of the dialectical technique to any method of personal evangelism. Historically the dialectical method referred to a process of teaching through the asking of questions. The system posed a problem with which to interact and endeavored to find an answer by resolving the conflict between the opposing ideas. There is here no thought of introducing this philosophic approach in presenting Godís message. It is not to be thought that man in his natural state can resolve spiritual ideas in favor of the truth. What is meant is the use of questioning as a means for overcoming the problems mentioned in the criticisms given above.
What the dialectical approach can do is gain an easy freedom in conversation that is not possible with a straight presentation. This takes care of the problem of lacking spontaneity. But it also provides a means for getting back to the presentation and at the same time leeway is given for the hearer to interact with the message. This is done simply by breaking up the presentation with questions and pre-planning ways to pick up where the presentation left off. These interruptions, then, will not be accidental, but deliberate. But because it will be normal to pick up the conversation again after an interruption, there will be little difficulty in doing this when the interruption was not intended.
One thing that the dialectical method can do is help in the handling of fleshly antagonism. The fact that thoughts and statements may be presented in question form is an advantage. When an idea is given as a question it appears indirect and tentative to the hearer. Thus, though the goal is to proclaim the truths of Godís message boldly, there is wisdom in introducing the subject matter gently through questions. What happens is this: First, the subject matter is suggested by the wording of the question. Then the other person supplies from his own background or thinking more of the material that is to be used in presenting the message. Thus, he feels somewhat responsible to listen to what comes next.
The involvement of the other person also serves to diffuse fleshly antagonism. As a sensitive matter arises, the Christian asks a question. If the other person has reacted negatively to the thought, the question puts him in the position where his natural tendency is to let it out. Having expressed himself, there follows a tendency for him to consider the situation more positively. Thus, there is a built-in catharsis mechanism in the dialectical procedure; there is a release of emotion when a person gives his answer to a question on the subject that stirs him up.
No less important than the handling of fleshly antagonism is the control of the conversation. When a person is asked a question, his training from childhood up is to attempt an answer if he can. The answer, however, is on the subject matter of the question connected with a key point, and so one can get the person to talk on the subject by asking a question related to that point. On the other hand, if no questions are asked, the other person is free to think whatever he wishes, and to talk, if he has the opportunity, on something different that could side-track the conversation completely.
However, by asking a series of questions, designed to introduce the terms and thoughts to be considered, a conversation can be directed from one point to the next. Each question in the series introduces a new element that was not present before, but which if introduced directly would cloud the hearers mind because of the emotional overtones involved. By involving him in expanding on the thought in the first question, he can be brought to the place where he may receive the truth of the first point when it is proclaimed to him. Then, he interacts again with another question before the next point. By means of questions the conversation may be led wherever it ought to go.
The necessity of thinking along certain lines when a person is attempting to answer a question, automatically causes him to focus his attention on the subject matter involved in the question. He is not free to think whatever he wishes. Furthermore, the interaction keeps his mind from wandering. To the Christian it is an aid in getting him to thinking about the message, instead of letting it go in one ear and out the other. The asking of questions can be seen, then, to be of great importance in personal evangelism. On this, much of its effectiveness could depend. In this way, the interaction brought about by a well-thought out series of questions can ensure that there will be little difficulty in keeping attention centered on the message and in bringing about a greater understanding of what was presented.
Getting back on the track after an interruption is also no problem. As already mentioned, a method which uses the dialectical approach prepares a worker naturally to pick up where he left off. And the return to the presentation may be accomplished in a number of ways. Not the least of these is to ask another question that requires a short answer but reintroduces the main thought of the presentation
It is very important for conversation control to understand how the planning to questions is done. Not every question that relates to the next main thought of the presentation will do. Some questions, rather than introducing conversation, shut it off. An example of this would be to ask a person if Christ is God come down to earth as a man when introducing the person and work of Christ. It is most difficult to proceed after a person answers "No," simply because contradiction of his answer will inevitably stir up antagonism. Questions must be chosen that will be answered in a way which will not contradict what is presented next. In other words, the questions must either have predictable answers, or else the answer that is likely must not make too much difference with regard to possible fleshly reactions. A question that could lead to an answer that directly contradicts the message could result in an emotional impasse, and effectively shut off further presentation.
The dialectical approach allows for the solution of another of the problems that Christians have with much methodology. It provides an answer to the problem of flexibility. There are different types of questions that may be used in designing a method. Some merely aid in introducing the terms and thoughts to be considered. Others merely allow the hearer to interact in such a way that he runs down and dissipates his emotional stress. Another type is used mainly to center the hearerís attention on a key point of the message. But a very important type of question is one which is open-ended. The question is phrased in such a way as to encourage a person to express his own thoughts instead of what he may have heard about the matter. This type allows for great flexibility in meeting the specific needs of the hearer.
One way in which open-ended questions may be used is in the diagnosis of the hearerís specific needs. It is important to know what his initial understanding is so that a word may be added here and there in order to overcome his particular bias. The background of each person should be determined, and the various combinations of factors should be noted, both for the immediate conversation and for use in future contacts. It is through open-ended questions related to various aspects of his background and previous preparation that the Christian can best diagnose the hearerís true needs.
Because a question of the above type allows a non-Christian to express himself, he reveals the difficulties that he has in his own thinking. These points of difficulty are natural places for the use of further material. There is nothing to stop a Christian from expanding on the presentation at those moments in order to meet the individualís particular need, and the normally used bridge back to the main points can still be used when he is ready. For this reason the dialectical method makes possible as much flexibility as one would ever need in a method that is basically fixed.
A final use of prepared questions is in the evaluation of the hearerís understanding after the presentation of the various points. Those who are experienced in personal evangelism with people who have fairly settled religious views know that they frequently talk just as though one of the key points just presented had never been made. It is futile to go further, until the connection has been made with the truth of the message. However, it is just as futile for the Christian worker to go on when he is unaware that the connection has not been made. Thus, it is often essential to evaluate what has taken place in the hearerís mind and this is done with carefully-worded questions. It is not enough to ask the person if they think that they have understood. Somehow, they must be induced to feed back their own understanding.
The type of question that will do this is one that will be close enough in content to what was covered in the conversation but different enough in application to see whether the person has merely absorbed words, or whether he has truly understood what was spoken. This is not an easy task. If one is not careful in constructing the question, it may be so difficult for the hearer that he will not be able to respond at all. On the other hand, the question must be difficult enough to find out whether any real thought has taken place.
Objectors may ask whether all of the above isnít really just a subtle but erroneous justification for using a slick sales technique that does not belong in evangelism. The answer to that is that it definitely is not. The purpose, application, and results are entirely different. The purpose in sales is either to mislead or to encourage self-indulgence in order to make a sale, but the purpose in dialectical methodology in personal evangelism as expressed above is to get a person to think about the truths of the message. The application in a sales pitch is to suppress full consideration of the truth, but in personal evangelism as expressed above it is to diagnose difficulties by encouraging a person to interact in order to meet his problems. Finally, the results are different. In selling a product, there is no real concern for conveying the truth, but in personal evangelism the receiving and acting upon the truth is everything. God works through His word of truth to produce faith, through which salvation comes. If there are still objectors to this, it can only be that they have some doctrinal reason in which this work of God or the nature of true faith is misconstrued.
AN APOLOGETIC PRINCIPLE
The next principle of personal evangelism to be discussed should help the Christian worker in applying the message to the special needs of individual hearers. It is called an apologetic principle because the subject of apologetics deals with meeting the intellectual needs of non-Christians, which is a real need in personal evangelism. It corresponds to the Biblical command to be ready always to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason of the hope that is in him (I Pet. 3:15). A Christian is not simply to give the message without reasonable answers to the questions people have. Thus, they are not to brush aside the difficulties non-Christians have but face and deal with them. The apologetic principle indicates how this is to be done.
It is wrong to take non-Christians for what they say they are, however. And the difficulties that they think or they say that they have may not be the things that most disturb or hinder them. "The heart is deceitful" (Jer. 17:9), and consequently there is a subconscious coverup. It is not that the non-Christian is deliberately trying to mislead the Christian worker, though that is occasionally true. There is simply a natural tendency to twist the truth and believe lies because his mind is ruled by sin and fleshly emotions. And this extends beyond their reflections about their own problems and about ideas that they are hearing from the Christian. It extends to their fundamental thinking ó to their life-and world-view and to their philosophy of thought and judgment. There is not an area that the Christian should assume to be untainted.
This is very hard for most Christians to do, and it is especially true in the academic world. Non-Christians have been so productive and sincere, that it is hard for many to realize that some widely-held notions are utterly wrong and corrupt. And many Christians themselves have not escaped from them. Men of God have often been amazed at their own past blindness after years of study and searching of the Scriptures. The fact is, that while using the same terms a Christian may use, unregenerate men have different thoughts, because the significance of the facts and connection between logic and reality are taken differently.
Because he takes things in a wrong relation to the whole creation and God, the non-Christian looks upon life and the world in a way that ought to bring him to deny what he knows he is; in other words, he is inconsistent with himself. On the one hand, he tries to maintain his rationality; on the other hand, he tries to maintain his significance and freedom. But in any case he holds on to his ability and right to think for himself. Thinkers have found, however, that when man tries to maintain his rationality to understand the world and his experience, he loses his significance and freedom; he becomes a machine produced by chance. But when he tries to maintain his significance and freedom, he loses his rationality; everything becomes contradictory. Instead, modem man has come to try to have both at once separately: rationality in the world of facts and things, and significance and freedom in an irrational experience somewhere beyond (drugs, activism, a faith-leap). In other words, he now tries to live in a two-level universe. But he does not make sense out of the world of facts, which remain ultimately unrelated; neither does he make sense of himself, because his experience is irrational. Yet he persists.
Though non-Christians think they make sense of the world and themselves, they are never wholly consistent with their presuppositions. Their position ought to lead them to complete irrationality, but they always maintain ideas foreign to their own presuppositions. They never can, through rational processes, come to the point of complete irrationality, because such a conclusion would destroy what they hold most dear, namely, their ability and right to think for themselves. Non-Christians do not think straight and merely deny the consequences because of their moral perverseness. Their depraved condition also affects their thinking. But neither do they hold right presuppositions concerning thinking, and merely draw wrong conclusions because of their sin. On their presuppositions, nothing should make sense. Even the things that non-Christians have been able to accomplish so brilliantly, cannot be explained on their own basis.
Even though man knows he is not ultimate, and ought in his thinking to take account of his God as determinative in it, he goes ahead and maintains at all costs his basic principle, that he has an ultimate right to judge everything. Because this leads him to insoluble problems and the greatest difficulties for himself, one would think that he would give up this fundamental principle that he holds so dear. This he cannot do, however, because as with the Chinese, whose word for blood-sacrifice now means "highest good" and whose word for absolute god now means "human soul," he has put himself in the place of God, to decide and pass judgment on all truth. Manís difficulties, then, are basically religious. He cannot accept Godís authority, because he himself sits on the throne as God judging all things.
But if the thinking of modem man leads to complete skepticism and irrationalism, how is it that he can function at all? First of all, it must be noted that many are coming to the point where they cannot function: escape through drugs, primitivism or an attempt to escape from society, and immorality and crime. All of them turn out to be dead-ends instead of answers. They are living off of the results of past progress, and in some cases they are returning to the worship of nature and demons. But God in His mercy has restrained men in their thinking, so that they do not go to the end of the line and draw the final conclusion. Progress has been made in the past because of the effect of Godís truth on the minds of men, even when they did not recognize, it; and in the past they have even inconsistently held that on their own basis the world was intelligible. Thus, Christians could reason with them using their ideas, and expect to make some progress in gaining a hearing for the Gospel. But for many today the time has past for this approach to be satisfactory.
In any case, it is important for the Christian worker to understand the Biblical description of men. Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and consequently he is inherently capable of receiving revelation from Him (Rom. 1:20). But men suppress the truth in unrighteousness (vs. 18), so that their hearts are darkened (vs. 21). And they worship and serve the creature, more than the Creator (vs. 25). Nevertheless, they know the judgment of God, that those who commit wickedness are worthy of death (vs. 32). They are without excuse (vs. 20), and the effect of Godís law is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness with this at the same time (Rom. 2:15). Thus, the Scripture teaches that regardless of how their thinking has covered over their knowledge of God, it is still there, and although they do not like to retain God in their knowledge, they are still men (Rom. 1:28). They are also never so depraved that they have no sense of right and wrong and thus a conscience bearing witness to them. These things must always be kept in mind when a Christian worker is talking to people. He must take unconverted people as they really are, rather than for what they say or think they are. Their agnosticism, therefore, is a coverup and their moral relativism is a pretense designed to accuse others or excuse themselves (Rom. 2:15). The Christian may, then, have great confidence when he speaks the message that he brings to them from God.
This apologetic principle indicates how the Christian ought to go about dealing with the special difficulties that non-Christians have in their thinking. He should take seriously the deceitfulness of their hearts and realize that their bent is toward ever-increasing irrationality and denial of God. The Christian may take advantage of inconsistencies in a non-Christianís thinking, as has been done in the past, but he must be ready to drop their use just as soon as he sees that this is not going to aid him in making the message clear. Even so, there is a great danger in the possibility that the non-Christian will confuse the truth, because even his inconsistent constructions that seem to correspond to Christian truths are likely to be linked in his mind with false implications that cannot always be seen by the Christian worker. The deceitfulness of a manís heart is such that he is likely to seize on these implications if he is confronted with the truth. He is not likely to go in the direction the Christian wants him to go but will tend to go further away from God.
It follows that the Christian should avoid pointing out the inconsistencies in a non-Christianís views, because when he does so the non-Christian is likely to listen very attentively, consider the objections that have been raised, and finally agree that he has been inconsistent. Then, because he does not want to acknowledge God, he will thank the Christian for helping him become more consistent and merely adopt the amendment, even though it introduces new difficulties for him to face. Rather than being brought closer to the truth, he will be further away and more hardened. The Christian should realize that this will often be the case in his reasoning with a non-Christian, because the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God rather than human wisdom to bring a conviction and to do His work. So he should apply the Word of God to the situation and only deal with the non-Christianís inconsistencies as a last resort. Of course, in the last analysis, the non-Christianís position is completely indefensible. When it is clear that all other avenues have been exhausted and the person has a clear understanding of the Christian message, then if he persists in intellectual criticism, it would be appropriate to carry the analysis of his position to the heart of the matter. Again, if the person shows definite signs of despair concerning human thinking, it would also be appropriate to analyze the cause of the problem. But it must be remembered that such an analysis is a time-consuming thing, and that unless it can be used to apply the Word of God, its value is going to be minimal.
The most that should normally be done, in discussing a non-Christianís views is to elucidate intellectual sin. Of course, this should be done in general terms, pointing out falsifications and misconceptions concerning the Christian position and, on the other hand, the arrogance and circular reasoning of non-Christian views. At the very least the Christian position can be shown to be just as reasonable or sensible as any non-Christian view. In actuality, the Christian position is the only view that can sensibly account for man and the world. It is right to point out that the Christian position has no rational deficiencies when taken on its own presuppositions. The non-Christian, however, claims what he does not have. He claims intellectual integrity while at the same time his basic premise rules out the possibility of revelation from the true God although he knows deep within him that there is such a God. In other words, whether he knows it or not, man has made an idol of his own mind. The Christian ought to call upon the non-Christian to repent of this idolatry.
Another application of the apologetic principle is perhaps the most important of all. Once one understands that he must take unconverted people for what they really are instead of for what they think they are, he will realize that his main task is not to deal with what the non-Christian thinks his problem is, but with the real problem, which Scripture identifies as sin. And it is the sin problem that the message of God in personal evangelism deals with. Thus, the mere discussion of the non-Christianís problems and the answers given to his questions should not be thought in itself to bring him to see the truth, but primarily as means for keeping the conversation going. The Christian, of course, should deal with any problems that are raised, but he should take care to see that this contributes to the non-Christianís understanding of the message, rather than interfering with it. The Christian is not himself deceitful in interacting with the non-Christian without concern for complete clarification and understanding of his viewpoint. The purpose of evangelism is not mutual tolerance and admiration, but the presentation of the claims of God on people.
DISCIPLESHIP IN RELATION TO THE CALL
The last principle of personal evangelism concerns the call of the Gospel. The principle is that all who are truly converted will become disciples and that true faith involves a commitment of discipleship to Christ. The importance of this principle cannot be underestimated; it is something that must be thoroughly understood and included in the Gospel call. Though it is so important, it may easily be misunderstood. For this reason a full discussion is needed in order to make clear exactly what is meant.
In the first place, it must be noted that a call to discipleship was integral to Jesusí teaching during his earthly ministry. This does not in itself mean that a commitment to discipleship is essential to salvation, because it may have referred to a further commitment for some other purpose. But further consideration will show that this is so. However, it has already been mentioned that the hearers in Jesusí ministry were in a different position from hearers today. First, the hearers were Jews. Second, many of them were already converted to God. And further, in that case, their main need was to see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. However, Jesusí teaching about discipleship went far beyond the common understanding of it. The conditions of discipleship were (1) forsaking all that one has (Luke 14:33), (2) bearing oneís cross (Luke 14:27), and (3) coming after Christ or following him, which also required (4) denying oneís self (Matt. 16:24). This, however, is a matter of oneís eternal destiny, "For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (vs. 25) and "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul" (vs. 26). It is a matter of saving oneís soul.
It is interesting to note that the term "disciple" occurs only in the Gospels and Acts. For this reason, some have thought that these strong conditions of discipleship apply only to Jews in Jesusí day and in a future period of time. However, the term "disciple" is used, not only in the early chapters of Acts, referring to Jews (Acts 6:7; 9:1, 19, 25-26, 38; 11:26), but also of Gentile converts (Acts 14:22; 18:23, 27). And the Great Commission itself (Matt. 28:19-20) shows that disciples are to be made throughout the whole world until the end of the age.
In addition to this, Jesus is identified as the LORD (Jehovah) in Old Testament scriptures applied to Him in the New Testament (Mark 1:3; Heb. 1:10; Rom. 14:10-11), so that He, as God, has Godís prerogatives and must be obeyed implicitly. In other words, the fact that He is LORD implies His lordship.
Also, at His resurrection and ascension, He took up His full rights, which He set aside at His humiliation (Phil. 2:5-11). (See also Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:36; and Rom. 1:4). Therefore it must be maintained that failure to recognize Christ as lord is a failure to recognize the significance of His resurrection, which is central to the Gospel (I Cor. 15:4). Jesus was made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and He was made both a Prince and a Savior through His exaltation (Acts 5:3 1). Since He is a Prince and Lord, He must be served. And, the word of faith states that Jesus is Lord and that He was raised from the dead; this is what brings righteousness and salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). Therefore, it must not and cannot be said that Christ can be received as Savior without being received as Lord. Also, Christians are not their own, but are bought with a price, so they are Christís servants (I Cor. 6:20; 7:22-23). But serving Christ as Lord and following Him as a disciple cannot be different things. The teaching of Christ concerning discipleship is just as relevant to Christians today as the word of faith of the Gospel.
Having maintained discipleship to Christ and acceptance of Him as Lord, the truth that the Gospel and salvation are entirely of grace must also be maintained. Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It cannot be earned but is the gift of God. There is no overlapping of grace and works (Rom. 11:6), arid Scripture everywhere makes it clear that salvation is all of grace. Salvation, therefore, cannot be a matter of actual discipleship, the performance of any works of service for Christ or the taking of any steps of discipleship. For example, the idea that one must confess Christ before men in order to be saved and the idea that one must be baptized to have eternal life are completely contradictory to the principle of grace. True, Christians are saved by grace so that they might be zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14), but the works come about because Christians are first Godís workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). Salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast (vs. 9). Therefore, it must be made clear that justification does not come through a measure of actual submission in practice to Christ as Lord, but through faith alone. Notice that faith is not a meritorious work, for faith is contrasted with works (Rom. 4:4-5), and the promise is by faith that it may be by grace (Rom. 4:16), which would be impossible if faith were a meritorious work. Salvation is through faith in Christ (II Tim. 3:15).
That salvation is by grace through faith does not imply that a person can either take Godís gift or leave it. The Gospel is something to be obeyed (II Thess. 1:8), and so all men are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30). The call is, therefore, to be given with authority. God is calling upon men to respond, not appealing to men to choose according to their natural desires. However, they must surely obey, because if they do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ they shall be punished with everlasting destruction.
Response to the Gospel call is not the taking of steps in discipleship nor is it a simple choice to accept Christ. Rather, it is a response to receive Christ in all that He is. Discipleship is not omitted, but it is not a call to particular works. One must believe in Christ in all of His offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. To believe in Him as Prophet means that He will be listened to in the words of His apostles, and this means that faith is a commitment to study the Bible in order to know God and His ways. Without a commitment to listen to Him there is no belief in Him as Prophet. To believe in Him as Priest is to believe in Christís blood sacrifice upon the cross and to rest oneís eternal destiny in it. Trusting in Christ for oneís health, fame, or fortune is not trusting in Him as Priest, nor does one trust Him as Priest if he thinks that he can add to what God has done for him in Christ. It is the commitment of oneís eternal destiny to Him. To believe in Christ as King means that one makes a commitment to do whatever He commands him to do. Willingness to study the Bible and a commitment to believe all that is in it is not belief in Christ as King, nor does one believe in Him as King if he acknowledges Him as Lord. Jesus said, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). There must be a commitment to do whatever He will sayí. But faith is not the hearing and doing of the particular commands of Scripture; faith is a heart attitude by which a person puts himself at Christís disposal. Saving faith is a total faith-commitment to Christ.
If a total faith-commitment to Christ is essential to salvation and true conversion, it must be included in the Gospel call. But it is clear from the discussion above, that a full knowledge of what is involved is not needed. A person is not committing himself to particular acts of discipleship, but rather committing himself to Christ. To give a detailed account of the possible steps that may have to be taken is to confuse the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ and substitute for it salvation by service to Christ through works. One is not saved by his discipleship, but by his faith in the Christ who loved him and died for him.
Note that the exhortation to count the cost given in Luke 14:26-33 refers to a person forsaking his own efforts. The parables illustrate the cost of not becoming a disciple. The whole point is for men to realize the impossibility of building their own tower to heaven or fighting a war against God, being convinced that they must turn from that and give up, following Christ. Thus, the emphasis is upon manís hopeless inability, rather than what he may face if he becomes a Christian.
The principle that the Gospel call must lead a person to follow Christ as His disciple teaches that certain essential elements of commitment to Christ must be presented when extending the call to faith in Christ. These are a trust and commitment to Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. Before calling on a person to commit himself to Christ, calling on Him as Lord and Savior, the hearer must be asked if he is ready to do whatever Christ shows him to do in the Bible. If this is made clear, a positive response indicates a commitment to study the Bible and a commitment to take further steps in following Christ as the person finds them in his study. This is not just good advice for a person who becomes a Christian to help him in his Christian life, but it embodies essential elements of saving faith, without which the person is lost. Because of this, the greatest weight and importance must be placed upon these elements in personal evangelism. Everything else leads up to this. The hearer must have no doubt at this point. He is not to be asked to turn to an imaginary Christ or merely to accept Godís salvation, but to accept and commit himself to Christ as He really is.