News Articles

Southern Seminary theology journal underscores importance of evangelism

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Those who use theological doctrine as an excuse not to evangelize the world are being disobedient to the Word of God.

That’s the conclusion of writers in the latest Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, which focuses on “Evangelism in a New Century” and is published by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Some people draw an erroneous conclusion from the truth that God alone saves,” writes Thomas Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary. “They conclude that if salvation is of the Lord, then we are absolved of all responsibility. They reason as follows, ‘If the Lord does all the work, then I don’t need to do anything.'”

Schreiner, though, argues that this line of thought must be rejected.

“[N]othing is clearer in Scripture than our responsibility to preach the gospel to all people, in all places, and at all times,” writes Schreiner, before quoting the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. “… the New Testament makes it clear that salvation only comes through conscious faith in Jesus Christ.”

Schreiner is one of six Southern Seminary faculty members who tackle various issues within evangelism. The others are John Polhill, Charles Lawless, Thom Rainer, Timothy Beougher and seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also contributes.

The writers contend that Christians will encounter many difficulties during evangelism. Lawless, associate professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern, says that one of those problems will be spiritual warfare.

“Particularly in the increasingly pluralistic landscape or North American religion, Satan seeks to undermine the biblical truth that exclusive, personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God,” Lawless writes. “Exclusivity of salvation in Christ is largely rejected, with a growing number of American adults believing that ‘all good persons’ will go to heaven whether or not they know Jesus Christ as Savior.”

Such belief is the enemy of evangelism, Lawless argues.

“Evangelism becomes largely unnecessary if we believe and teach that a plurality of routes lead to God,” he writes. “While the church buys the lies of pluralism and inclusivism, Satan ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor. 11:14) and lulls unbelievers into a false sense of spiritual security.”

Southeastern’s Reid, author of “Light the Fire: Raising up a Generation to Live Radically for Jesus,” says that Christians can get more involved in spreading the gospel through what he calls “servant evangelism.” This can be done through such services as free car washes and light bulb and soda giveaways. When recipients of the free services ask about the givers’ motivation, Reid says the Christian can reply, “We are simply showing the love of Jesus in a practical way.” The gospel message may then be presented.

Reid says that servant evangelism is much different from what is commonly referred to as the “social gospel.”

“The legacy of theological liberalism leads some to limit themselves to changing society and meeting physical needs,” Reid writes. “Those who desire to change society must not withhold the redeeming message of Christ. Always look for opportunities to give a verbal witness.

“Often a person may ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Your response should be to share a personal testimony and present a gospel witness.”

Beougher, Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham professor of evangelism and church growth, contends that the gospel should be presented to people from every walk of life.

“Do we really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation?” he asks. “I fear that too often we settle for a religion of the ‘possible.’ If someone doesn’t respond the first time we share the gospel, or if we presume ahead of time that they won’t be interested, we give up on that person – we ‘write them off.'”

But Beougher points out that many Christians throughout history, including the Apostle Paul, would have been “written off” by those who knew them before their conversion.

Polhill discusses the many issues of evangelism within the book of Acts, concluding that there is much to be learned from the early-day Christians.

“The evangelistic principles of Acts remain remarkably relevant for the contemporary church,” he writes. “We continue to depend on the Spirit for all our witness. The central message has not changed, though it must be contextualized to appeal to each new generation and setting.

“… Above all, the mandate to evangelize is still in full force. Luke makes this clear in the manner with which he ends Acts. He does not ‘close’ his story by telling the outcome of Paul’s trial, as we might wish. Instead, he leaves the story ‘open’, with Paul still preaching to ‘all’ who came to him in Rome … Perhaps Luke did this to remind us that the story continues on for us as well.”

Throughout Acts, Paul uses apologetics to present the gospel message and to defend his faith. Mohler discusses the modern-role role of apologetics within evangelism.

“An authentic apologetic defends and declares the whole Gospel,” Mohler writes. “The center of our proclamation is Jesus Christ the Savior … We must defend the truths of Christ’s deity, the virgin birth, the historicity of the miracles, the truth of the incarnation, the reality of His substitutionary death, and the assurance of His bodily resurrection.

“Yet we dare not stop at these affirmations, for we must place the person and work of Christ within the context of God’s eternal purpose to save a people to His own glory and to exalt Himself among the nations.”

Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, says that Christians hold many untrue beliefs about lost people. Borrowing from his upcoming book, “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched,” Rainer discusses nine “myths” about the lost. Examples of these are “the unchurched never attend church” and “the unchurched cannot be reached by direct personal evangelism.”

The information was derived from interviews conducted by a team of researchers.

“Perhaps in the process we can learn more about reaching people who do not know Christ,” he writes. “And perhaps we can seek from God new strategies or revive old approaches that may still work. Above all, perhaps in our quest to reach the non-Christian and the unchurched world, we will see our churches and ourselves becoming more obedient to Christ’s Great Commission to reach all peoples (nations) with the gospel of the Savior whom we serve.”

Excerpts of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology can be viewed on the seminary’s website at www.sbts.edu/news/sbjt/sbjt.html. The SBJT can be purchased by calling 1-800-626-5525 (ext. 4413).

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust