In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Tim. 4.5. Whatever form of evangelism Paul was talking about, Timothy possessed the role of an evangelist.   If the preacher’s office, whether on or off the pulpit, should impact the preaching, inevitably his pulpit work should demonstrate that office.  How would he demonstrate that office?

First, let me mention what Paul did not mean.  He did not have in mind the manipulative form of modern evangelistic meetings.  Here, we’re referring to the alter call that came from late 19th century and early 20th century where increasingly an element of manipulation takes a central position (e.g. setting musical mood, putting rhetoric over substance). I’ve even seen many evangelistic meetings (including some by famous evangelists from the west whose names will remain anonymous here) using human manipulation of having the gospel counselors moving forward to get the crowd moving and all that.  Some have argued that instances of discourses in Acts are the equivalence of modern evangelistic meetings.  Any such claim is suspect.  No NT scholar would back such a claim in reading Acts.  Paul would have been appalled with the lack of intellectual honesty of many modern methods.  He was not encouraging Timothy to adopt such forms.

Now that we have thrown out the impossible meaning, let us think about what being an evangelist means in the preaching office?  First, it means that the preacher actually knows the gospel and its entire meaning.  I do not mean that the preacher has canned the gospel in some formulaic “Four Laws” or “Gospel Bridge” or some other such clichés.  No!  I dare say that most preachers preaching an evangelistic sermon have not even done a word study on the word “gospel.”  The preacher must know what that word actually means in its original context before preaching.  Let me summarize quickly.  Here, Darrell Bock’s book The Real Lost Gospel helps us a great deal.[1]

Bock points out in his book that the gospel is more than about the model of atonement which has been argued to death among some Reformed people.  There have been and will be many models of atonement that deserve close attention.  The gospel is grounded in God’s work in history, some of which we know through careful reading of the Bible.  One indisputable point is the grace of God that will continue to be the theological ground for the gospel.  While grace is free, it demands a commitment not just at a moment’s notice in form of sinner’s prayer but in a lifestyle.  Part of that lifestyle consists of repentance and discipleship.  As a result, the believer’s life is transformed by contributing to his present surrounding, either within and outside of church community.  Obviously, there are many points of elaboration Bock goes into that we can’t go into now, but the gospel is multifaceted.

Besides Bock’s good work, let me add that the word also refers to a kind of ideology that stands directly opposite of societal values.  The Roman Empire also had its own gospel with the emperor being the center of its proclamation.  The apostolic gospel centers on Jesus the king.  In other words, the gospel demands a certain loyalty that also abandons false loyalties.

There is yet another aspect of the gospel that demands some thinking.  The Gospel accounts represent for the early church the “gospel”.  We know that the title for each Gospel was added later in church history manuscripts.  Thus, according to early church interpretation, these accounts are the gospel clothed in narrative form.  The reason why is because they are considered eyewitnesses.  Part of the gospel is eyewitness.  Based on the above, what are the implications for preaching?

First, the gospel is always more complex than we imagine.  As “good news,” almost any text has some kind of good news but it is not the formulaic good news of popular manipulative evangelism.  Thus, broadly speaking, the preacher should preach the good news within the text rather than importing some simplistic formula from outside the text.  Each text should have some elements of what was listed above.  Not all texts can include all the elements, but some elements would exist in a chosen text.  Our awareness of the elements should be important to us.

Second, the gospel is not merely a spoken word, but a living witness.  In other words, the witness of a preacher to what God has done is part of the preaching.  In other words, as we experience the biblical text, we should show how it is relevant in our own lives.  Many preachers still tell stories from years ago.  What has God done for us lately? That’s an urgent question a witness needs to answer.

Third, the gospel also demands commitment, loyalty if you will.  This commitment ought to come through often in our preaching.  Sometimes, I hear a good sermon that taught me something, but I fail to see where the commitment part comes in.  I’m not talking about the cheap “If you haven’t raised your hand, I’ll give you a chance to do so as the organ plays the next stanza” commitment. I’m talking about an exhortative element that asks for deeper conviction about certain aspects of the faith.  Perhaps in small things of my life, I’m not as loyal to my faith as I should be. The preacher needs to bring that loyalty out of the audience.

To summarize, an evangelist asks for commitment but never neglects the foundation for such a demand.  The foundation is always in the text.  At the end of the day, the preaching evangelist does not only speak gospel; s/he lives gospel.

 PS. I’ve enclosed the poster of my Taiwan book tour. Come join the preaching discussion if you have time.

[1] Bock, The Real Lost Gospel (Detroit: Gale, 2010).