I’ve just returned from a small town in South Africa with the name of Hennenman, aout 400 miles from my home, where I have been helping a group of 24 people at a church with training in Evangelism Explosion. I am fully aware of a lot of controversy around Evangelism Explosion, not the least of which is a feeling of discomfort amongst many with the “two questions” which in a certain sense forms the basis of Evangelism Explosion. Ron Martoia, of whom I wrote a short while ago, is in South Africa at present and I read in a newspaper article today that he said that he never reads in the Bible that Jesus ever asked anyone whether they are sure that they would go to heaven if they should die one day (the first of the two questions.) Obviously this is the truth, but I fail to follow the argument as there are many other things which Jesus also never spoke about, such as the Trinity and which we still believe in. (Personally, I just don’t like this way of arguing a point.)
The point which Martoia is making and which I also feel may be a danger in Evangelism Explosion (as in any program initiated by evangelicals) is that one could become so focussed on life after death than one forgets to live fully in life before death. Or as someone else put it: some people are so heavenly focussed that they are of no earthly use! Having read quite a number of books about the topic over the past year or so I forced myself, as I was presenting the course on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to evaluate the material critically and to answer the question for myself whether the criticism is justified. To be totally honest, if I had to rewrite the course today there are certainly a few sentences or paragraphs which I would change. But seen as a whole, I was once again amazed at the theological depth of the material. Obviously a lot of changes had been made in the material since Dr James Kennedy developed the course in the sixties, but the essence of the course has remained unchanged over the years.
This is definitely also one of the reasons why Evangelism Explosion is being criticised by many – what worked for many in the sixties does not work as well today. There is some truth in this. Evangelism Explosion, as I understand it, was developed within a context of people who had grown up in a more or less Christian milieu where they knew something about God and about salvation, but where many people believed that ultimately they themselves were responsible for their own salvation and that their “good works” is the key to eternal life. Evangelism Explosion focusses on the principle which was also emphasised by Martin Luther that we are saved through grace alone. However, the sweeping statement that Evangelism Explosion is not relevant for today is definitely not the truth – something which I realised this past weekend once again. There are literally millions of people who can still be reached by listening to an explanation of the gospel in an understandable way.
However, without a trusting relationship it becomes increasingly difficult for people to accept the gospel and this is one thing which Evangelism Explosion is REALLY emphasising at the moment (in my opinion probably one of the greatest improvements done in the course over the past few years.) I’m realising more and more that people don’t want to base their faith solely upon theological knowledge. People want to experience God in their lives and want to know that, believing in God, will make a difference not only in their own lives but also in the world. The importance of Evangelism Explosion was once again confirmed to me when I realised how important it is that people do have a proper understanding of the theological base of salvation as well as the importance to be able to put this into words in such a way that others can also understand it. I still have to find material that can fulfill this role better than the Evangelism Explosion course. But in the end the success will be measured not by the contents of the material but rather whether those presenting the gospel to others do so within a loving and understanding personal relationship.