The discussion from yesterday’s post raised some good questions about methods of evangelism. I’m putting together some of my own thoughts on this, sparked by Scot McKnight’s forthcoming book, The King Jesus Gospel. For now, however, I’m just wondering a bit about the extent to which context determines method.
Here’s my question: How wise is it to dip into the pages of the New Testament, make note of an evangelistic strategy, and adopt it without considering the wider context?
It seems to me that much evangelistic preaching over at least the last 150 years in the U.S. and U.K., at least, has its basis in the apostles’ preaching in Acts. Our reasoning runs like this: They went out into the streets and proclaimed the gospel. If we want to be faithful to the New Testament model, therefore, we should do the same thing.
But should we?
Is there a sense in which the audience(s) of apostolic preaching in Acts differs dramatically from modern audiences of gospel proclamation? It certainly seems so. The apostles first proclaimed the gospel to Jews who were raised in the imaginative world shaped by the narrative of Scripture. They prayed daily to the God of Israel for the fulfillment of his promises to send Messiah and restore the Kingdom. These first audiences had a ready-made interpretive matrix shaped by Scripture and its categories, themes, and expectations. The apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus as something that made immediate sense within that interpretive matrix.
The method, then, fit the context quite well.
What’s really interesting is that when evangelistic preaching goes outside this Jewish interpretive matrix, it sometimes goes badly, even for the apostles. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas do their usual thing of gospel preaching confirmed by signs and wonders in Lystra. But now the audience is a pagan one. They envision the preaching and working of miracles from within their pagan interpretive matrix with disastrous results. They figure that Paul and Barnabas are gods and attempt to offer sacrifices to them.
That is not, to say the least, what Paul and Barnabas had in mind.
What is it about our current context(s) that we must keep in mind when thinking about evangelism? To what extent does our context determine our method?