If you’ve been following along with our series on lessons from former Westminster seminary prof and current PCA pastor John Leonard’s book, “Get Real,” then you know he likes to throw some cold water in our faces to start an idea. This week is no different in his chapter, “Evangelize Christians and Disciple Non-Christians”:
“Conventional wisdom would say that I have the title of this chapter backwards. You disciple Christians and evangelize non-Christians, right? However, the conventional wisdom can lead to several unhealthy results and unintended consequences that would distort our faith. One mistake this leads to is a two-tiered understanding of Christianity. In other words, we have one message for non-Christians and another message for Christians.”
As he digs into this idea, we see some interesting things. We see this idea provides a critique of broadly evangelical churches, but also of Reformed churches (if we look a little harder)…
“When we separate evangelism from discipleship, we limit what we say to non-Christians to a few passages in the Bible that we believe are “for” non-Christians. Our presentation of the gospel is confined to a handful of passages, where we use the same eight to ten verses for every situation.”
“This two-tiered understanding of Christianity has produced two different types of churches. Most of us have been in both. We were led to Christ in a church that “preached the gospel”—and only those parts considered to be “the gospel.” We were happy for a while in this church because we understood that our purpose was to invite our non-Christian friends and to be props for presenting the gospel to others. It was exciting at first to be in a gospel-preaching church because we saw people coming to Christ, but after a while, we become dissatisfied with hearing the same gospel message over and over again. Then we discovered theology and deep rich biblical exposition, so we left the evangelistic church for a “Bible-teaching” church.”
“A real approach, therefore, is to evangelize Christians and disciple non-Christians. The reason believers need to be evangelized is that grace is so easily forgotten. The natural condition of the human heart is to take a works approach to God.”
Here comes a point that we resonate with, but as he continues also challenges us to expand our horizons on evangelism and Scripture:
“In a discipleship approach, the moment of decision is played down. A decision to follow Christ is celebrated as a first step. Just like with our children, when they took that first step we applauded them—but their training wasn’t over; it was just beginning. One difference between a convert-making approach and a discipleship-making approach is that the convert-making method takes a brief time. You can make a convert in a few minutes. It takes a lifetime to make a disciple.”
“Another difference is that a disciple-making approach changes the message we communicate to non-Christians. One of the problems of traditional evangelism is that we believe we have to keep repeating the gospel message over and over again, until our non-Christians friends believe it. If they don’t believe it, we give up after repeating the same message fifty times because we know they know everything we have to say about becoming a Christian.”
“If you confine the gospel to the handful of verses that are used in gospel presentations, you will quickly exhaust what you have to say to non-Christians. But if you take a discipleship approach, the entire Bible is—all of a sudden—useful. It’s strange that we would ever think that only certain parts of God’s Word are appropriate for evangelism. Just think of the possibilities of using Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, or even Leviticus to share our faith!”
“How do you disciple non-Christians? By using every circumstance and question in their lives as a window into what it means to follow Christ. We change the focus of the message from “How do I go to heaven when I die?” to “How can heaven be brought down to earth through living in a right relationship with our heavenly Father and others?” The answer to both questions, however, is the same—through the work of Christ on the cross.”
Questions For Thought or Discussion
1) How do you, your Reformed friends, and people at your church think about evangelism? Does it seem like a distinctly different thing from discipleship? Does each focus on different parts of the Bible? Do you want your unbelieving friends to attend a particular church service or event and not another?
2) What do you think of Leonard’s provocative approach that we should evangelize Christians—because it’s so easy to forget grace and live by works—and disciple unbelievers—teach how all of life and all of the Bible lead to Christ?3) Is this approach really only a correction to evangelical churches that focus on a certain style of evangelism? Is it relevant to Reformed churches—more relevant, less relevant, not relevant? Explain.