I believe in evangelism in spite of evangelism…

by Al Tizon

I don't like evangelism, at least as it is often understood and/or executed. I cringe at tacky tracts and mechanical formulas and culturally insensitive strategies, even while I concede that God can and occasionally does use some of these things to draw people to himself.

I was in Vietnam in the early '90s, a time when evangelism was being outlawed. Preaching the gospel was only permitted within the walls of a church. As much as I may dislike the idea of evangelism, this grated on me. Surely everyone has a right to hear the gospel, I reasoned.

"Yes," replied a Vietnamese brother, "but our government believes that everyone also has a right not to hear the gospel."

I don't remember how I responded at the time, but the idea began to grow on me over the years: the right not to hear the gospel. Interesting. Maybe that explains the violated feeling I get when missionaries at the door are applying some evangelistic formula on me. Maybe that right not to hear explains the sick feeling I get when I see a street evangelist using a megaphone to preach hellfire and brimstone … you know, the "good news." Or the sicker feeling I get when I happen upon a channel with a slick, big-haired televangelist telling me that if I buy his book, God will bless me. When I think of these things, I say, "Evangelism illegal: I like it!"

But here's the thing: Jesus. The person of Jesus. When I finally work through my self-righteous cynicism toward evangelism, I see Jesus, and I believe once again in the telling of the good news concerning him. This Jesus, whom we can know in faith by the power of the Spirit, is truly good news. And this kind of news is worth sharing, despite the dehumanizing ways that we've tried to do it. I believe in evangelism in spite of evangelism. We can't let bad approaches stop us from sharing the greatest story ever told—the story of the death and resurrection of Christ through which human beings can relate to the God of the universe as friend and Father. I defy anyone to come up with better news than that.

So here's my dilemma. I don't like evangelism, but I'm compelled by the love of God in the person of Jesus to be evangelistic. What to do? I'm far from resolving this dilemma, but I discovered in Paul's teachings some life postures that describe a type of evangelism I can live with, a responsible kind of evangelism that upholds human dignity and restores the lost art of conversation.

Excerpted from I Don't Like Evangelism by Al Tizon.

Here are a few articles that explore what it means to evangelize, how to be evangelical, and how to be the good news for all people.