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April 16, 2003
Core Commitment # 8: Evangelism: “We proclaim and live out the gospel with love and boldness, calling people to repentance, faith and new life in Jesus Christ.”
“Through every means we seek to make Christ known.” So wrote Charles Troutman, InterVarsity’s second president.
“Through every means we seek to make Christ known.” So wrote Charles Troutman, InterVarsity’s second president. While this vision has taken on many forms during our six decades of student outreach, such as traveling student teams, book tables, campus missions and lectures, spring break evangelism, 2100’s presentation of Habakkuk, campus harvest events and Groups Investigating God (“GIGs”), making Christ known has remained a hallmark of our ministry.
We proclaim the gospel
Paul Little, InterVarsity’s first Director of Evangelism, once defined evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” The first part of our task is simply to point others in the right direction.
When we do that with consistency and integrity, campus witness changes lives. Former U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield credits his conversion to a group of students who persisted in praying for and loving him while he was Dean of Students at Willamette University in Oregon. After lengthy reflection and study of Scripture, he concluded: “I saw that for 31 years I had lived for self and decided I wanted to live the rest of my life only for Jesus Christ.”
We live out the gospel
Evangelism is as much who we are as what we say. In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul admonished his readers: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity “(4:5). Dwight L. Moody once observed: “Of one hundred [non-believers], one will read the Bible; the other ninety-nine will read the Christian.”
A Christian’s lifestyle is contagious. How we care for others, how we allocate our time and money, how we treat animals – all reflect the gospel. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis described the advice given by a senior devil to an apprentice devil. The latter was instructed to keep his “patient” out of the home of a particular Christian family because “the whole place reeks of that deadly odor… Even guests, after a weekend visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it.”
One of my personal heroes is Charles Finney. Perhaps the greatest evangelist of his day, he was also a leading abolitionist and educational innovator. His deep commitment to ethnic reconciliation and social justice created many bridges for his verbal witness. The more holistic our approach to evangelism, the more bridges the Holy Spirit has to make entrée into the unbeliever’s heart.
Calling people to repentance, faith and new life in Jesus Christ
My oldest brother is not yet a believer. He’s the smart one in the family; he reads at a level that boggles my mind. As I pursue spiritual conversations with him, I find that the best entry point is through his reading. The Holy Spirit is somehow able to make use of my meager knowledge of Carl Jung and Martin Heidegger to engage him in deeper conversations. On his own turf, he is much more open to a conversation about faith than he would be if I were to broach the subject directly.
Evangelism is both love and boldness. It is incarnational. It is humble. It finds affinity with fellow beggars. Finally, it is a grace to both the one who shares and also to the one who receives.