Today's Broadcast

Pre-Evangelism

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sproul explains that, even though only the Holy Spirit can change a person's heart and mind (bring them to repentance), we see the very important dimension of apologetics in what he calls "pre-evangelism" and also what we call "post-evangelism."

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Plowing in Hope

  2. blog-post

    Catechetical Evangelism — Puritan Evangelism

  3. devotional

    Predestination and Evangelism

Plowing in Hope

R.C. Sproul Jr.

The kingdom of God is at war. The promise from the beginning was that the seed of the woman, our King, would come and crush the head of the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Jesus’ first step out of the tomb at Gethsemane crushed that ancient and wily serpent’s head, and from that time forward we, the bride of Christ, created to be a help suitable for our Husband in His dominion calling, have been engaged in what theologians call a “mopping up” operation. The enemy has been defeated, but he doesn’t yet have the sense to give up.

That our Lord has secured the victory ought to encourage and empower us. That the serpent hasn’t yet given up ought in turn to put us on our guard. That the battles yet rage, despite the glorious truth that the war has been won, ought to inspire us to discern the times. If we were wise, we would seek not only to predict how and where the serpent might attack, but we would also think strategically about where we might attack. Consider, for instance, those culture warriors who aspire to do the work of “pre-evangelism.”

Evangelism, of course, is the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is sowing seed, casting forth the Word of God about the victory of the Son of God. Pre-evangelism is an attempt to make ears more ready to hear, eyes more ready to see. To borrow from the parable of the sower, pre-evangelism is an attempt to till the ground, to make rocky soil more fertile, that the seed might take root and flourish. Often pre-evangelism takes the form of “worldview” studies. Here we spend less time and energy declaring the truth about Jesus, and more time and energy defending the truthfulness of truth. In a modern age we proclaim that Jesus is the truth, against the truth claims of other religions or naturalism. In a postmodern age we cannot argue for the truthfulness of the Christian faith until we first establish that truth is even real, that it can be known, and that it transcends that which is merely “true for me” or “true for you.”

Sometimes “pre-evangelism” takes the form of artistic expressions in sundry forms. Here we may, instead of affirming the glory of Jesus, seek to depict the gloom and vanity of a life lived under the sun. We may tell stories of redemption that, while not exactly telling the story of Jesus, are signposts toward His story. We may simply affirm the dignity of man, as we bear the image of God. Here again we are tilling the ground, preparing it for when the seed is cast, prayerfully hoping our labors might be used to bring in the elect from the four corners of the globe and that His reign might be made manifest.

These sundry forms of “pre-evangelism” have advantages and disadvantages. They certainly can be effective for some. They can, however, sometimes create exactly the wrong kind of soil. That is, when we simply assault the foolishness of the world and leave out the heart of the matter, we might be making more “converts” who will wilt under the pressure of the sun. Worse still, sometimes we may miss out on the real issue. In other words, we may be so focused on the “pre” that we miss the “evangelism.” It is far easier to talk around the gospel than it is to say to our family, our friends, and the broader world: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

What we often find, however, is that when our strategies work, even just a little, it’s usually because we have stumbled onto something God has already commanded. There is a form of “pre-evangelism” that God calls us all to do that will work and has worked far more effectively than our worldview wonkery or our high-concept cultural artifacts. It is, in the end, the kingdom itself that brings in the lost. That is to say, we live faithful lives in covenant community, for we, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2), are a light shining upon a hill. This light does indeed condemn the darkness (a victory we ought to celebrate, even as we likewise rejoice when the elect are brought in), but it is also a beacon. 

If we were smart, we would know that the lost are rarely brought in by how smart we are. Instead, it is our love one for another that invites them in. This is what Jesus told the disciples (John 13:35) — that it is in and through our love for each other that all men will know that we are His disciples. Our witness, then, in the end, isn’t about our clever arguments. Our witness shines through by our love for each other. This is both pre-evangelism and evangelism, for it softens the heart, even as it intrigues the mind as pre-evangelism. It is also the evidence of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ; it is the reality of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Once again, in the upside down economy of our Lord, the more we love one another within the kingdom, the more we bring in those who were outside the kingdom. We seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things are added to us.  

Catechetical Evangelism — Puritan Evangelism

Joel Beeke

Although evangelism differs to some degree from generation to generation according to gifts, culture, style, and language, the primary methods of Puritan evangelism—plain preaching and catechetical teaching—can show us much about how to present the gospel to sinners. Last week we explained plain preaching; today we'll consider catechetical evangelism.

Like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis—the instruction in the doctrines of Scripture using catechisms. Puritan catechizing was evangelistic in several ways.

Scores of Puritans reached out evangelistically to children and young people by writing catechism books that explained fundamental Christian doctrines via questions and answers supported by Scripture. For example, John Cotton titled his catechism Milk for Babes, drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments. Other Puritans included in the titles of their catechisms such expressions as "the main and fundamental points," "the sum of the Christian religion," the "several heads" or "first principles" of religion, and "the ABC of Christianity." At various levels in the church as well as in the homes of their parishioners, Puritan ministers taught rising generations from both the Bible and their catechisms. Their goals were to explain the fundamental teachings of the Bible, to help young people commit the Bible to memory, to make sermons and the sacraments more understandable, to prepare covenant children for confession of faith, to teach them how to defend their faith against error, and to help parents teach their own children.

Catechizing was a follow-up to sermons and a way to reach neighbors with the gospel. Alleine reportedly followed his work on Sunday by several days each week of catechizing church members as well as reaching out with the gospel to people he met on the streets. Baxter, whose vision for catechizing is expounded in The Reformed Pastor, said that he came to the painful conclusion that "some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour's close disclosure, than they did from ten years' public preaching." Baxter invited people to his home every Thursday evening to discuss and pray for blessing on the sermons of the previous Sabbath.

The hard work of the Puritan catechist was greatly rewarded. Richard Greenham claimed that catechism teaching built up the Reformed church and seriously damaged Roman Catholicism. When Baxter was installed at Kidderminster in Worcestershire, perhaps one family in each street honored God in family worship; at the end of his ministry there, there were streets where every family did so. He could say that of the six hundred converts brought to faith under his preaching, he could not name one who had backslidden to the ways of the world. How vastly different was that result compared with those of today's evangelists, who press for mass conversions and turn over the hard work of follow-up to others.


Excerpt adapted from Joel Beeke's Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to CalvinismAvailable from ReformationTrust.com

Predestination and Evangelism

Questions are raised nearly every time the biblical, Augustinian doctrine of election is presented, many having to do with divine justice, human free will, and other matters. To conclude our brief study of the biblical doctrine of predestination, we will consider one last question that people often ask when they hear that God, out of the good pleasure of His will alone, has chosen only some for salvation. This is the question of the necessity of evangelism. If the Lord has chosen those who will be saved, and if they are certain to be saved, what is the point of evangelism? Does not this teaching on predestination mean that we do not have to preach the gospel because God is going to save His elect anyway?

The simplest response is that we do have to preach the gospel, and we have to do so because the Lord has commanded us to preach the gospel. After all, in Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus commands His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples of every nation. No one can hold to the Augustinian, or Calvinistic, doctrine of election without also believing in the sovereignty of God. He is the King of creation, with full authority to command our obedience. What He orders us to do, we must do, regardless of whether we fully understand it.

We evangelize because our Creator commands us to evangelize, but that is not the only reason we engage in evangelism and world missions. The doctrine of predestination means that the Lord does not ordain the end (salvation) without also ordaining the means to that end (the way in which people will receive salvation). God's plan is comprehensive. He works out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), and the counsel of His will has determined that He will use His people to reach the lost and call them into His kingdom. He has decided that in the ordinary course of events, people will be saved through the explanation of the gospel on the part of Christians.

The necessity of preaching is found in many places in Scripture, including today's passage, in which the Apostle Paul notes that the salvation that comes through faith in Christ alone will not be extended without the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:14–15). God sends His gospel to the world through the church and its preachers, teachers, and evangelists. This is a great privilege—to be used of the Lord in redeeming people for all eternity.

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