I was recently asked by someone in my Missional Community how Gospel Fluency applies or works in personal evangelism. My conversation with her reminded me of a book I read this past year called The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathon Dodson. In his book, Dodson looks at how we have made the gospel unbelievable in our age and how we can make it more believable in the midst of a changing culture. He addresses concerns and fears about the state of evangelism in our churches. He’s not undermining the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, for we certainly believe that salvation is a work of the Spirit solely based on the finished work of Christ. His approach to how we can make the gospel more believable addresses why our increasingly post-Christian culture has stopped listening to the church.
Reshaping Our View of Evangelism
Francis Schaeffer was once asked what he’d do if he had an hour to share the gospel with someone; he responded by saying he’d listen for 55 minutes and then, in the last 5 minutes, he’d have something meaningful to say. In other words, he listened in order to speak the gospel.
Far too often believers today have turned this around. We feel like we must preach to someone for 55 minutes and then in the final 5 minutes ask them to respond. Constantly, throughout the gospels, Jesus is always asking questions and looking to engage people. As we think about sharing the gospel we need to reverse how we think about it. Dodson says, “we should listen to people’s story, then empathize with their story, then look to redemptively retell their story with the hope of the gospel.”
How the Gospel Speaks to People’s Needs
From my experience, most of the time when we dig deep enough people share in very similar needs and desires for life. Jonathon Dodson shares in his book 5 of the greatest needs all people experience and how the gospel speaks to each. This is what gospel fluency in relationship and in personal evangelism can look like. We should listen to peoples stories, hear their needs/hurts/pain, empathize with them, and then share with them the hope that the gospel specifically gives to their needs.
One of the greatest needs people have today is to be accepted, to know that they are welcome and won’t be rejected. Though we may try to deny or hide it, we all carry with us a sense of shame, a fear that we will be found out, rejected, and judged when people learn who we really are.
When we explain that, through justification, the holy God offers perfect acceptance through his unique Son, Jesus Christ, it can bring tremendous relief and joy to those seeking acceptance.
The metaphor of new creation can be especially compelling for people who are longing for a new start in life. People whose lives have been littered with failure, scarred by abuse, humbled through suffering, darkened by depression, or ruined by addiction need the hope of becoming a new creation.
When we explain that, through new creation, their old life can be exiled and that God welcomes them into a new life in Christ, it can shed a bright ray of hope into the lives of the hopeless.
Our search for intimacy is in relationships seems to never end. Even the best friendship or marriage inst enough for our insatiable demand to be noticed, loved, and cared for. We all want a place where we can be ourselves and know that we are accepted. We want relationships that are secure, where we feel safe to share our innermost thoughts and darkest struggles.
When we explain that, through union with Christ, people can enter into the most intimate, loving, unbreakable, fulfilling relationship known to humanity, it can bring deep healing and joy to those seeking intimacy.
Many people are seeking tolerance. Some don’t know the difference between classical and new tolerance. That alone can be an illuminating conversation that deepens mutual respect and admiration between people.
Others will not like the exclusive claims that Christianity makes. However, before scoffing at their perspective or trying to crush their worldview, ask questions to get on the inside of their perspective and appreciate their views. They often have good reasons or difficult stories attached to their objections.
Respectful dialogue can go a long way in over-turning bigoted impressions of Christianity. In fact, it will open doors that would remain closed otherwise.
Sharing that, through redemption, Jesus offers a redemptive tolerance that gives progressive people an opportunity to experience grace and forgiveness in a way that doesn’t demean other faiths, can be very liberating.
The thoughts and opinions of parents matter to their children. What my dad and mom thought about me as I was growing up meant a lot. Their thoughts and opinions could crush or lift me in a moment. We are made for approval, and though our parents are often the first ones to give this (or withhold it from us), the truth is that we seek this approval from others all the time.
Sharing that, through adoption, God the Father offers an undying approval in his Son Jesus can radically change people’s view of God, and thrill them with the hope of a Father’s love.
Next time you’re in a conversation with someone listen more and talk less. Listen specifically for areas of unbelief or struggle, empathize with them, then retell their story through the lens of the gospel, the hope of Jesus.