Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Evangelism training

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.

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Monday, February 11, 2008 - Posted by | Building relations, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology

5 Comments »

  1. i am presently pastoring in nigeria, but i would like to be shortlisted for the programme coming up this year.

    Comment by mozie emanuel chuma | Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. Let me know if you will be in South Africa during the year and I can then find out if you will be able to do the training at that time.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. Arnau,

    Thanks for your kind words about my observations. Neils article which I have had read to me, since I don’t speak or read Afrikaans, was very kind. Let me make one note of clarification about my statements about what we see Jesus doing or not doing in the Gospels. My contention was not that altar calls are bad or anti biblical. My point, which an article which is not a comprehensive depiction of a whole day seminar couldn’t communicate was, since altar calls are EXTRA-biblical, and since Jesus is not obsessed as we seem to be with the “are you going to heaven when you die” question, then maybe we need to reexamine what Jesus was really brokering to the world. I think that makes the issue substantially different from the Trinity, which while not mentioned in scripture IS indeed what we hope is a fair extrapolation from scripture. I think your willingness to hear and rethink all of the EE stuff you are neck deep in is incredibly humble and mature. Thanks again for your kind words and engagement

    Comment by ron martoia | Thursday, February 14, 2008 | Reply

  4. Hi Ron, I deeply appreciate your response. As you would (hopefully) have noticed, I am totally in accordance with what you said (and wrote in “Static”) and the criticism you have against many evangelism programs which focus only on life after death is well-founded.
    The one thing which I was wondering about as I read your book is why you seem to focus almost entirely on the gospels? There does seem to be some kind of theological development in the book of Acts (“what must I do to be saved?” … “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”) as well as in Paul’s letters (eg Romans) where he writes a lot on a theology of salvation. The point I’m trying to make is that you are bringing in an extremely important corrective that salvation is much more than merely “going to heaven when you die” but that there is, on the other hand, life after death which is also a reality. So I’m more for a balanced viewpoint where both these issues are emphasised. By the way, I’m also in agreement with you about the issue of altar calls. I’m much more in favour, as you would have noticed, of personal evangelism which develops through friendship or at least within a trusting relationship.
    That said, I really enjoyed reading your book and will be keeping my eyes open for further books from you.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, February 14, 2008 | Reply

  5. i wish i was reading blogs like this one three years ago. i would be motivated to take the right actions about my debts. have a look at my blog, http://www.savemefromshit.com, to know what i mean…

    Comment by tvo | Monday, August 4, 2008 | Reply


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