This is probably my most uncomfortable post yet. The reason is because I am not as experienced or courageous in this area as I would like, and because I am not as well-read or confident in my knowledge of the theological and practical components of this concept as I would like. But I didn't want to wait until I gained a lot of experience, or read a lot more books, before I at least broached the subject. The timing seemed right.
It is true that those who don't have saving faith in Jesus Christ will perish, and experience everlasting conscious torment in hell separated from God. I cringe at that truth. I did not choose it, and I don't like it. But no matter, it is true. And it is also true that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. How can someone believe unless they have heard? And how can they hear unless someone preaches to them? Thus the challenge and the call of all believers: to verbally share the Gospel with those who are unbelieving; to evangelize. And remember the Gospel is good news. It should be easy!
As you would expect, resources and tools, books, sermons, programs, and much more is available to guide and encourage us in this process. Billy Graham made the word "evangelism" known in our time, and many have followed and built on his ministry, and that of others since the early Church, to the glory of God. And as I usually do, I will pass along some resources that I have found, or am finding, to be the most helpful.
Before I do that though, I should relate another truth with which I am not particularly comfortable. If you've read much of this blog you know that the main purpose of it is to interpret the truth that God is sovereign in the context of a complex culture filled with confusion and detail. The inevitable implication of "God is sovereign" is that He is sovereign in salvation, or that he predestines, or elects, those who will believe and have saving faith in His name. And, less popular, that He predestines those who won't. The Bible clearly teaches this, and you can go on that journey yourself. See J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, John Piper, Will Metzger, and others, who articulate this in the context of evangelism better than I could. I won't attempt to resolve that debate here.
Suffice it to say that I believe that human responsibility, or "free will", exists within the context of God's sovereignty, or "predestination", and because the Bible teaches both, we don't have to choose (or be able to explain how they work together). And I also believe that the doctrine of election is great encouragement and hope for evangelism, and not justification to avoid it. Former President of InterVarsity John Alexander said at Urbana '67, "At the beginning of my missionary career I said that if predestination were true I could not be a missionary. Now after twenty some years of struggling with the hardness of the human heart, I say I could never be a missionary unless I believed in the doctrine of predestination."
Here are some things to check out:
Evangelism Challenge Urbana 2006 - York Moore
"I needed to be saved from the hell I was in and the hell to come and Jesus Christ can save us from them both."
Go Fish - Andy Stanley
"As you begin to understand God’s sovereignty and you wrestle through issues of predestination, if ever in that discussion you find yourself to be less motivated to serve with diligence and speak His word with boldness, then you don’t understand sovereignty."
Hell's Best Kept Secret - Ray Comfort
"Biblical evangelism is always, without exception, law to the proud and grace to the humble."
Pleasing Men or Pleasing God - Mark Cahill
"Take them through the Ten Commandments, leave them at the Cross, and let them decide what they want to do."
I'm not really sure if I can summarize all this, but I will try: Evangelism should not be a burden but a joy. Sharing your faith, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with unbelievers is the one thing you can't do in heaven, as Mark Cahill points out. So not only is it our duty, but also it should be our pleasure, as Christians, to do it at every opportunity possible; on an airplane, in the grocery line, in our neighborhood, with our friends, and within our family. The stakes are too high to be complacent. And in the sovereignty of God, we get the easy part: we speak truth in words, and He, by a power that can bring light where there is darkness, and life where there is death, will change the heart, and everything will work together for good for those who love Him.
There is more I could say. But in the meantime know that I will be asking the God of the universe to enable me to speak His Word with great boldness, and trust Him for the outcomes. I pray you will do the same and one day have the unique opportunity to speak at your funeral. As Mark Cahill would say, "As long as you spoke with your life, you can speak at your funeral". And may it be the words of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation.