Years ago, I spent some time doing mission work in a Muslim country. There was an indigenous Christian who preached with passion at a church in the capital city. There was a sense of spiritual energy, and the church was growing rapidly. The week before Easter, some of the Christians were arrested for their faith. Many prayed for them.
The next Sunday, Easter Sunday, they were released. You can imagine the electric shock of thrill that vibrated through that church. But that wasn’t all. Having been arrested, thrown in jail, and persecuted for their faith, they had witnessed to the other prisoners. And they had brought some of the prisoners with them.
I’ll never forget the way that story was told or the looks on the faces of the people. Such is the way of the Lord. Just as in Paul’s day, a prison is no barrier to the gospel. And faithful Christians around the world are either at risk of prison or are preaching the gospel in one.
Methods of Evangelism
What about us in a Western civilization so influenced by certain truths of Christianity? We now often live in some understandable fear of what the culture will do if we stand up for—or speak too loudly about—Jesus Christ.
When I was in that country, I became fascinated by their evangelistic technique. I wondered whether there was something I could learn from how they were doing evangelism. The young pastor gave me something of a bemused look when I asked what his method was. “I’ll tell you our method,” he said. “We tell them they are sinners until they believe it. And then we tell them that Christ died for sinners.” Of course, I’d heard that method before. It’s called preaching repentance and faith in Christ. Not original. But powerful. And brave—in that context, how very brave. Even audacious.
That’s what I’m calling for here: Fire. Bravery. Audacity.
Evangelism in the Early Church
One of the best books on evangelism is Michael Green’s classic Evangelism in the Early Church. It’s an extraordinary read from a good scholar and gifted evangelist who is now in glory. At one point, he comments on an apocryphal story about the martyrdom of the apostle Peter:
Although this story is specifically concerned with martyrdom rather than evangelism, the two cannot be easily separated. Peter was tempted to save his life at the cost of disloyalty to his commission from Christ; and a vision from the Lord suffering crucifixion for him was the compelling factor which drove him back onto the path of complete and utter dedication, even to death itself. That reflection upon the cross as the supreme impulse to costly service for others in the name of the gospel was unquestionably the greatest single element in keeping the zeal of Christians at fever pitch. (237–38)
“The zeal of Christians at fever pitch.” Zeal. Fever pitch. It’s been a while since I’ve heard those kinds of words attributed to Christians in the West.
Evangelism in the West
I want at fever pitch the kind of audacity, boasting in weakness, and zeal that is biblical—not the showy, worldly counterfeit. This sort of boasting has a kind of rejoicing confidence to it. I can still see it, in my mind, on the faces of those Christians when they returned from jail and brought with them the prisoners with whom they’d been jailed.
So then the question seems to be: Can we have that kind of zeal—again—in America, Europe, the West? And if so, how? What is the right way for us to be boldly, even audaciously, evangelistic in our current cultural situation? How do we do it in a way that is missional and culturally engaged—and yet rigorously and unashamedly biblical, Christocentric, and oriented to the glory of God?
It happens as we follow what, according to Green, the early church did to promote evangelistic passion: Reflect on the cross. Let’s pray that God would give us zeal—even at fever pitch.