I love talking with pastors from different churches. Through the years I’ve met lots of them – seminary buddies who’ve planted churches; friends and former co-workers who serve in churches large and small, urban and rural, Baptist and Episcopal, and every denomination imaginable.
A couple years ago, I joined a video chat app with several of my pastor friends. Besides talking about grilled meat (which we do a lot of), we talk theology. I’ve never been described as “academic” in my life, but I love theology. It fascinates me.
You know what makes theology interesting? Conflict. It’s the disagreement, the difference of interpretation, dozens of nuances that make for endless discussion and debate. It’s not a bad thing, but at times, it can be a distracting thing.
Theological Perspectives on Evangelism
Take evangelism, for instance. Which is better: relational evangelism or cold calling? Should we follow the example of Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus, who “were delighted to share not only the gospel of God, but our very lives as well” (I Thessalonians 2:8)? Or in the spirit of being “unashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16), should we engage strangers, using tools like the the Four Spiritual Laws or the Way of the Master?
Should we focus more on actions or words? Who got it right: St. Francis of Assisi who famously said, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words,” or author and theologian Ed Stetzer, who argues: “The gospel requires, demands even, words. So, let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary.”
What about altar calls? Should we challenge people to make a proclamation of faith and then disciple them, or disciple them and wait for the Spirit to stir their hearts toward repentance and salvation in His timing?
What about the “sinner’s prayer”? Does it give people a false sense of spiritual assurance, when their hearts may be far from God; or is it a helpful tool for fulfilling the call of Romans 10:9 to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” so that you may be saved?
The Crucial Key to Evangelism
If you’re still awake, then maybe theology fascinates you, too. The truth is, there are valuable elements in all those arguments. We’re called to share the gospel relationally, over the course of years, and boldly in the span of seconds. We’re called to evangelize those near and far, familiar and foreign. We’re called to preach the gospel in season and out of season, with our lives and words, from the pulpit and the patio (2 Timothy 4:2).
The key to evangelism is being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, so we can discern when and how He’s calling us to share the gospel. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the “power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” The power lies within the Godhead, not the methodology. It is God Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, who leads us to the right method in the right moment.
The question is, am I sensitive to the Holy Spirit? Am I walking in step with Him? In Galatians 5:16-26 Paul urges us to live by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit. Elsewhere, he reveals two alternatives to such a lifestyle: “grieving” and “quenching” the Holy Spirit (I Thessalonians 5:19, Ephesians 4:30).
To “grieve” the Holy Spirit is to say “no” to Him. It’s active disobedience. To “quench” the Holy Spirit is to suppress Him – kind of like suffocating a flame. In Ephesians, we’re told that by faith we can “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). In contrast, by faithlessness, we can extinguish or “quench” the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can deaden our hearts to His prompting.
Or, we can fan the flame.
We can welcome the Holy Spirit’s guidance, pray for opportunities to share our faith, be alert and expectant, make the most of every opportunity, “always being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope we possess” (I Peter 3:15).
Fanning the Flame
I can’t help but think of my dad, who recently built a fire pit on his property in North Carolina. Before you imagine roasting hotdogs and swapping stories, it’s not that kind of fire pit. It’s a 6-foot-wide inferno that can turn fifty tons of bramble into ash in seconds. Roast a marshmallow over it, and you’ll wake up in heaven.
My dad built it for a single purpose – to burn masses of branches in minutes – and there’s something magnificent about watching it at work. It’s wildly alive, terrifyingly unruly. The last time he lit it, the flames leapt 20 feet in the air – no exaggeration! – and my wife leapt almost as high.
To look at my dad’s fire pit, I understand what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). I see why John the Baptist prophesied that One was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11); and how in the presence of Christ, peoples’ hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32).
That’s the kind of fire I want in my life.
I don’t want a safely contained relationship with the Holy Spirit – a “s’more-friendly” fire. I want to be consumed by Him, recklessly swept up in His power and purity. Fire like that is unquenchable – unashamed of the gospel. It ignites lost hearts, sets faith aflame, warms the weary, and will one day burn to the very ends of the earth.
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