As in other areas of Christian practice — worship, prayer, preaching, and counseling — evangelism needs to be undergirded by a theological reflection on just what it is we are doing and why this is because, as R.B. Kuiper puts it, “evangelism has its roots in eternity.”
In this article, I won’t address the doctrine of salvation directly. Instead, I will address the theological issues that compel Christians to “go.” in so doing, I will touch on some of the important issues that relate to the doctrine of salvation itself, but an examination of the issues related to a thorough doctrine of salvation will have to be sought elsewhere.
The place to begin articulating a theology of evangelism is the love of God. There is good reason that John 3:16 is such a beloved text of Scripture. In the first four chapters of John’s Gospel, though the world lies in darkness and wickedness, God loves it. Charles Wesley expressed the idea poetically by asking, “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me?”
God’s love is not great because the world is so large, but because the people who dwell in it are so bad. God calls on his people to be co-lovers of the world with him, and in so doing to extend the love of God to those who have not yet recognized and experienced it in a saving manner. We share the gospel because God loves the world.
Our theology of evangelism also entails the belief that God has chosen to save a great multitude of persons. Not everyone who reads this will agree on how to articulate the doctrine of election, but we can all agree that “He chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).the result of this election is that a great multitude will be saved, a multitude of “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11).
When we think of God’s electing purpose and its relation to evangelism, we should recognize that we are about the task of calling to salvation all of those whom the Lord has known to be his from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3). it was this truth, among others, that compelled one of the founders of the modern mission movement, William Carey, to work for seven years before he saw a single convert in India; he was convinced that God had people in that land who were his own. Election ought not merely be a debate point, but a central feature of our theology of evangelism, even though it might function somewhat differently depending on how we construe it. We need to expend more energy in preaching for the chosen of the Lord than in debating the doctrine in coffee houses.
Why is it that people need to be saved? Most foundationally, lost people do not willingly glorify God or submit to the lordship of Christ. The glory of God and the lordship of Christ are the two consuming passions of Scripture's authors. God created the world to display his glory (Ps. 19), and in his resurrection Christ was declared with power to be both Son of God and Lord of the universe (Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:3-4).
In evangelism, and what results from evangelism, whether in our own neighborhood or around the globe, we bring the greatest glory to God and extend his Son’s lordship.
It is not the winning of souls alone that does this, but also what it entails and what follows: the bowing of knees to the Lord and the initiation of a life of worship for those so saved. As the Dutch pastor, statesman and theologian, Abraham Kuyper put it, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine.’“ That domain includes the lives of those who do not yet know their sovereign.
This post is an excerpt from the Guide to Evangelism edited by Southern Seminary. It is used with permission. You can purchase this resource in its entirety here.