Saturday, 10 October 2009

Is pre-evangelism biblical?

Pre-evangelism is the notion of building up relationships with non-christians before introducing them to the gospel. It seems reasonable. However, the problem is that many of us get 'stuck' in pre-evangelism and rarely actually reach the 'evangelising' phase. It makes me wonder if pre-evangelism is really just a cop-out for no-evangelism.

Actually it is questionable how biblical such a concept is. I am not suggesting it is unbiblical, more that it is non-biblical. Certainly we get no inkling Jesus spent time building up relationships with folks before confronting them with the demands of the Kingdom. Nor does Paul spend time in a community building up a network of friendships before evangelizing; he evangelizes from the word go. The disciples are sent by Jesus to various surrounding towns and instructed them that if people did not receive them then they are to leave the town and move to the next.

Now, I am not saying we should immediately jump in evangelistically in every relationship of life. I am simply cautioning against creating a default dogma called friendship pre-evangelism that may be an excuse for interminally evading gospel embarrassment or even poo-pooing 'cold evangelism', the most evident method in the NT.


Donald Ferguson said...

Undoubtedly, most of us prefer to take the line of least resistance and would grab with both hands any excuse to avoid evangelising [I may be speaking for myself and apologise if I have offended the more willing amongst us].

However, John and I seem to have a different understanding of what is meant by pre-evangelism. I have always understood pre-evangelism to be primarily about the establishment of [or at the very least the clarification of] key biblical concepts that are widely misunderstood or disbelieved in our culture and which are foundational to the gospel. These might include beliefs such as the nature and existence of God; the nature and existence of sin; the historical reality of the life of Jesus; absolute morality etc. Pre-evangelism, in this sense, makes evangelism intelligible and, hopefully, more effective. It is done with the conscious purpose of persuading others of the truth of Christian claims.

It is helpful if this is done in the context of friendship – but friendship itself is not pre-evangelism – it is simply friendship [which of course has its own value]. To suggest that befriending someone is a form of pre-evangelism is mistaken. It is, at best, a productive context for pre-evangelism in a materialistic and atheistic culture.

Pre-evangelism, as a concept, is useful in so far as it reminds Christians [many of whom have been raised in a Christian sub-culture] of their responsibility to make the gospel understandable and relevant. For Christians who have grasped this need it may simply be seen as the first stage of evangelism.

John Thomson said...


I agree that pre-evangelism can be defined apologetically, and that is probably the longerstanding definition. With it I have fewer qualms. There we have at least begun to engage at a belief level. Nowadays I think pre-evangelism tends to mean creating quality friendships that create a viable context for evangelistic proclamation. It may also include social initiatives either individually or as a church.

It is this latter sense that deserves, I think, at least some soul-searching and balancing.

Donald Ferguson said...

I wish folks would define their terms more precisely!

What you are describing is not pre-evangelism whether it calls itself that or not! It is simply wrong to form friendships in order to evangelise someone – there is something almost dishonest about the whole thing. We make friends with people because we like them and we evangelise people [whether we like them or not] because we are Christians. That our friendship might win a more sympathetic ear is good but that is a by-product of friendship not a motive for it.

Making friends is not pre-evangelism in the same way that playing a guitar is not worship! It can help but it can be done without it and has no intrinsic link to it.

By all means make friends. But let’s not pretend that making a friend is a form of evangelism. That is 100%, unadulterated, nonsense.

I would like to launch a campaign to reclaim the only reasonable definition of pre-evangelism i.e. my definition!

I did wonder, however, what qualms you might have about ‘the establishment of [or at the very least the clarification of] key biblical concepts that are widely misunderstood or disbelieved in our culture and which are foundational to the gospel’? As someone not brought up in the faith I can still recall how much of the gospel I initially misunderstood or didn’t make sense to me. I still cringe when attending so called ‘evangelistic’ services where the gospel is presented in a way that would be largely unintelligible to the unchurched. Of course God works sovereignly in conversion but part of conversion is accepting the truth of Christianity – which entails, at the very least, understanding some basic concepts.

If your qualm is that having pre-evangelised [made clear what sin is; why you believe there is a God; why morality isn’t relative and that there is such a thing as sin] someone then fails to present the gospel [not that the above isn't central to the gospel] I would wonder why they bothered to engage in pre-evangelism in the first place. From one perspective, as I already said, it is simply the first stage of evangelism and is not an end in itself. The purpose of pre-evangelism is to make the gospel understood. It is not a substitute for evangelism but is, in certain contexts, a vital part of evangelism.

Oh that the blessed Saint Francis of Schaeffer were still with us!

John Thomson said...


I totally agree with both your comment boxes. For pre-evangelism (my use) read 'lifestyle evangelism'.

My qualms with pre-evangelism (your use) are simply that often we stop at pre-evangelism (your use) and don't get to evangelism - the guts of the gospel - itself.

I think this is because pre-evangelism (your use) is relationally easier. We can engage in abstract discussions (right and necessary as you say) without ever arriving at the offending gospel. The danger is that we feel smugly we have evangelized when, in fact, we have not.
Thus pre-evangelism (both uses) becomes a conscience salve for inexcuseably evading the offence of the gospel.

As an example of 'lifestyle evangelism', admittedly an extreme example, let me cite the regrettably popular Rob Bell

‘I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I'm too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity. If you have something to say, whether you're religious or not, if it is truly Christian and Jesus-centered, then it will help and be interesting and compelling to people, regardless of their world view. But I’m not just interested in talking to Christians. I'm interested in what does it mean to be fully human'.

Bell, of course, writes with deliberate postmodern illogic, but his point nevertheless is clear, lifestyle evangelism is the big thing; ironic, of course, from a preacher and writer who trades in words.

John Thomson said...


Cheer up! If the Blessed Shaeffer is not with us his Nuncio is.

John Notestein said...

Great observation. While Jesus and Paul didn't "pre evangelize" I think they did share some common ideas within the culture, such as belief in Diety, that many in our own culture do not share. Perhaps they had an "in" from the start that we might not necessarily. And I'm not sure Jesus personally shared the Good News with a non Jewish crowd, those people with no knowledge of Jewish concepts such as God's Annointed One. And Paul started in synagogues first then moved out to the Greeks, all who had some basic belief in "God". I find that's the biggest hurdle for me; just getting someone to believe in any kind of diety.

Reformation said...

I find the idea of "pre-evangelism" another tool of manipulation.

Be a Christian. Around people, wisely speak wisely if opportunity if afforded.

The hungry will ask questions, if you've got something to say. Others will steer off topic.

Feed the hungry, but you better have something to say.

I've seen men come to Christ after teaching them further. They go off. Think. The Holy Spirit knows how to close the deal with Christ.

We don't need to "manufacture" relationships. It all smacks of American revivalism, seeking numbers and conversions, without depth and inculcation of God's Word.

I routinely, as a retired Churchman, hang out at Books-a-Million to read on the internet and do other reading. Several "unmanufactured" friendships have developed. Several are being fed. Several are growing in Christ.

Reformation said...

I saw the same thing working in the military. I'd invite non-Christians to a serious look at Christianity. Six lessons was the deal, straight-up. No pressures, at all. Who wants "evangelical" number counters? Like the mega-church mindset. "Smaller" is better. Six lessons. You want more, I'll give you six more lessons. If you don't want more, that's fine also. Just be courageous and tell me "No more." I teach, nothing more. I used Ligonier study materials and studies "with them," still learning more but alongside the "student." Quite a few came to Christ by just teaching.

Teach. God gives the increase. The elect will come. The others will steer off as they freely choose according to their dead and depraved desires. Shake the dust off, be polite. There will be more whom God brings your way.

Anonymous said...

I guess I look at pre-evangelism as steps in coming to the truth (Jesus). Who could come to Jesus without knowing that there is a God? Of course just knowing or recognizing that there is a God is surely not enough. We must know what kind of God that there is. If one perceives that there is a God that desires to be worshiped by some kind of debaucherous means such Baal or Diana or some of the other ancient deities the sacrifice of Christ will mean absolutely nothing.
On the other hand suppose that I come to see that there is a God like the Bible talks about. That He has revealed Himself to people like Moses and the prophets. I also see the Genesis account of mankind’s fall from fellowship with this God. Now that I have heard all of this I have the choice if I want to agree or admit these things as truth or not. If I agree with this then I am prepared to hear the gospel. If I should choose to disagree with this truth there is a good possibility that I will discount the gospel and say that it makes no sense to me at all.
Pre-evangelism is described by the following words: Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia. Notitia is described as belief or perhaps hearing the facts I think this means realizing there is a God that is righteous we are not.) Assensus means agreeing with all of these facts. Then fiducia is coming to the point of realizing that you can trust in this God and His plan (the gospel). In other words pre-evangelism is a step by step acceptance of truth leading to the gospel.