“Don’t assume the gospel!” has become a rallying cry for gospel-centered pastors and leaders. D. A. Carson has warned against this slow but sad progression:
- From a generation that believes the gospel and all its implications…
- To a generation that assumes the gospel but identifies more with its implications…
- To a generation that loses the gospel altogether.
“Make the gospel explicit!” we say, in an effort to ensure that the good news of Jesus – the only news that has the power to transform lives – stays front and center in our message, our methods, and our ministries.
But what happens when it’s not the evangel that gets assumed, but evangelism?
Is it possible that a generation deeply committed to making the gospel present and explicit in the church’s preaching and teaching, might assume that Christians know how to share the gospel? Or that Christians understand just how vital evangelism is?
I wonder about “assuming evangelism” because of some of the books I’ve read recently, books that lay out various aspects of Christian responsibility and the church’s mission in the world. Many authors assume the need for personal repentance and faith is understood by their readers (perhaps because such is indeed the case within the tradition the authors come from); so their focus then shifts to the cosmic dimension of redemption.
Let me say at the outset that individualistic Christianity which is only about “me and Jesus” and my personal ticket to heaven is inadequate as a presentation of Christianity. It minimizes the importance of the local church, the Old Testament narrative, and misses the world-transforming power of the gospel here and now. I sympathize with authors and pastors who want to help Christians to understand salvation holistically.
That said, there is a danger is saying something like, “Of course, evangelism and missions are important, but let’s not forget…” and then continuing with all sorts of other good Christian responsibilities. As a corrective to myopic visions of salvation, this kind of statement can be helpful. But if we want to put forth a Christian worldview that is truly comprehensive, we can’t simply assume the existence of personal evangelism with an “of course!” before giving most of our attention to all the other good deeds a Christian may do in the world.
Most authors would agree that it’s a “both-and;” both evangelism and good works. But too many times I see the focus more on the “and” rather than the “both.”
If the church is to embrace the fullness of her mission, we need to be clear on the urgent need for evangelism. Christians are “good news people.” And good news people announce news.
So let’s not assume that everyone in our churches knows why and how to look for opportunities to talk about Jesus and call for repentance and faith. Just as we’re explicit about the gospel, let’s also be explicit about what the gospel makes us – God’s gospel-speaking people for a lost world.
Because what we assume today may be lost tomorrow.