Evangelistic Malpractice

There is a curious problem today in the evangelical [and fundamental]
world — one that poses sobering questions for the church and for the
individual believer. The problem in brief is this: a great army of
personal soul-winners has been mobilized to reach the populace for
Christ. They are earnest, zealous, enthusiastic, and persuasive. To
their credit it must be said that they are on the job. And it is one of
the phenomena of our times that they rack up an astounding number of
conversions. Everything so far seems to be on the plus side.

But the problem is this: The conversions do not stick. The fruit does
not remain. Six months later there is nothing to be seen for all the
aggressive evangelism. The capsule technique of soul winning has
produced stillbirths.

What lies at the back of all this malpractice in bringing souls to the
birth? Strangely enough it begins with the valid determination to
preach the pure gospel of the grace of God. We want to keep the message
simple — uncluttered by any suggestion that man can ever earn or
deserve eternal life. Justification is by faith alone, apart from the
deeds of the law. Therefore, the message is “only believe.”

From there the message is reduced to a concise formula. For instance,
the evangelistic process is cut down to a few basic questions and
answers, as follows:

      “Do you believe you are a sinner?”
      “Do you believe Christ died for sinners?”
      “Will you receive Him as your Savior?”
      “Then you are saved!”
      “I am?”
      “Yes, the Bible says you are saved.”

At first blush the method and the message might seem above criticism.
But on closer study we are forced to have second thoughts and to
conclude that the gospel has been over-simplified.

The first fatal flaw is the missing emphasis on repentance.
There can be no true conversion without conviction of sin. It is one
thing to agree that I am a sinner: it is quite another thing to
experience the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Unless I have a Spirit-wrought consciousness of my utterly lost
condition, I can never exercise saving faith. It is useless to tell
unconvicted sinners to believe on Jesus — that message is only for
those who know they are lost. We sugar-coat the gospel when we
de-emphasize man’s fallen condition. With that kind of watered-down
message, people receive the Word with joy instead of with deep
contrition. They do not have deep roots, and though they might endure
for a while, they soon give up all profession when persecution or
trouble comes (Matt. 13:21). Many have forgotten that the message is
repentance toward God as well as faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

A second serious omission is a missing emphasis on the Lordship of Christ.
A light, jovial mental assent that Jesus is Savior misses the point.
Jesus is first Lord, then Savior. The New
Testament always places His Lordship before His Saviorhood. Do we
present the full implication of His Lordship to people? He always did.

A third defect in the message is the tendency to keep the terms of discipleship hidden until a decision has been made for Jesus.
Our Lord never did this. The message He preached included the cross as
well as the crown. “He never hid His scars to win disciples.” He
revealed the worst along with the best, then told His listeners to
count the cost. We popularize the message and promise fun.

The result of all this is that we have people believing without knowing
what they believe. In many cases they have no doctrinal basis for their
decision. They do not know the implication of commitment to Christ.
They have never experienced the mysterious, miraculous work of the Holy
Spirit in regeneration.

And of course there are others who are talked into a profession because
of the slick salesmanship techniques of the soul winner. Or some who
want to please the affable, personable young man with the winning
smile. And some who only want to get rid of this religious interloper
who has intruded into their privacy. Satan laughs when these
conversions are triumphantly announced on earth.

I would like to raise several questions that might lead to some changes in the strategy of evangelism.

First of all, can we generally expect people to make an intelligent commitment to Christ the first time they hear the Gospel? Certainly, there is the exceptional case where a person has already been prepared by the Holy Spirit.

But generally speaking, the process involves sowing the seed, watering
it, then sometime later reaping the harvest. In our mania for instant
conversion, we have forgotten that conception, gestation, and birth do
not occur on the same day.

A second question — can a capsule presentation of the gospel really do justice to so great a message?
As one who has written several gospel tracts, I confess to a certain
sense of misgivings in even attempting to condense the good news into
four small pages. Would we not be wise to give people the full
presentation as it is found in the Gospels, or in the New Testament?

Thirdly, is all this pressure for decisions really Scriptural?
Where in the New Testament were people ever pressured into making a
profession? The practice is justified by saying that if only one out of
ten is genuine, it is worth it. But what about the other nine
disillusioned, bitter, perhaps deceived; enroute to hell by a false

And I must add this: Is all this boasting about conversions really accurate?
You’ve met the man who solemnly tells you of ten people he contacted
that day and all of them were saved. A young doctor testified that
every time he goes to a new city, he looks in the phone book for people
with his last name. Then he calls them one by one and leads them
through the four steps of salvation. Amazing enough, every one of them
opens the door of his heart to Jesus. I don’t want to doubt the honesty
of people like this, but am I wrong in thinking that they are extremely
naive? Where are all those people who are saved? They cannot be found.

What it all means is that we should seriously re-examine our
streamlined capsule evangelism. We should be willing to spend time
teaching the gospel, laying a solid doctrinal foundation for faith to
rest on. We should stress the necessity for repentance — a complete
about face with regard to sin. We should stress the full implication of
the Lordship of Christ and the conditions of discipleship. We should
explain what belief really involves. We should be willing to wait for
the Holy Spirit to produce genuine conviction of sin.

If we do this, we’ll have less astronomical figures of so-called conversions, but more genuine cases of spiritual rebirth.