Do We Need to Tell People the Bad News Before the Good News?

 We’ve seen them in all manner of places—on street corners, in parking lots, at craft fairs, outside stadiums. Sometimes they’re on wearing placards, admonishing hearers to “turn or burn.” Or perhaps they’re warning America of coming judgment and doom. Others may prefer challenging individual “sinners” on the street, exposing them to their failure to live up to the Ten Commandments.  A common justification from those “witnessing” is: “You need to tell people the bad news before they can listen to the good news.” After all, isn’t the Law a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24)? Isn’t this the reality of Romans 1-3?

My friend Robertson McQuilkin has frequently said, “It is easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay at the center of biblical tension.”  I think that the “bad-news-first bears” (J) may serve as an example of this extreme.  The point is that we should be careful about making hard-and-fast formulas (or, if you like, formulae) about communicating Christ to others. A wider read of Scripture presents a mixed bag; it isn’t a formula—indeed, a “uniformula”—announcing first, “you’re a sinner” and only then “there is a Savior.” I’m not denying hell, judgment, sin, or the need for repentance. Jesus saved his harshest message of judgment for the hard-hearted religious leaders of his day (e.g., Matthew 23), and he called on his hearers to turn/repent and align themselves with God’s kingdom agenda.  

That said, Jesus had the strong reputation of being a “friend of sinners.” He reached out to the “unlikelies” of his day—those who, according to the religious authorities, were unlikely recipients of God’s kingdom blessings:  tax gatherers, prostitutes, Gentiles, lepers, the ceremonially unclean, the demonized.  Jesus let them know that God hadn’t forgotten them, that God was interested in them. Jesus illustrated the point that people need to know you genuinely like them and take an interest in them if your message is to get through to them. 

How many of those preaching divine judgment in our day do so with tears in their eyes (Philippians 3:18)?  How many of them have the reputation of being “friends of sinners”?  How many of them truly follow in the way of the Master?  It’s a lot easier to preach a message of judgment than to exemplify Jesus, who actually got involved in the lives of others. As David Kinnaman shows in his book unChristian (Baker), the unchurched are under the general impression that they are the “project” of the professing Christian.  Most of them come away from “witnessing” encounters with the impression that Christians—however well-meaning— are also legalistic and arrogant or superior-minded.  By contrast, the incarnate Christ had earned a right to be heard by paying the price of friendship with “outsiders.” Unfortunately, many of the law-first-grace-later messengers don’t exude a friend-of-sinners demeanor.

It seems that we should be careful about a formulaic method of communicating the good news.  After all, helping people connect with Christ is more a process than it is an event. This process includes friendship, the integrity of Christian character, a loving community, and time process the implications of Christ’s Lordship. (See Greg Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic [Victor] that nicely illustrates the process—even if you or I may not agree with all of Boyd’s arguments.)

So let’s explore whether we must follow the bad-news-first method—or if there’s more to consider. This is one of my longer pieces; so hang in there with me!

First, people will at some point need to be aware of the bad news, but are we the ones who have to bring this up?  Too often we don’t even know where people are coming from.  Perhaps they’ve been burned by the church or certain professing Christians, and they may even have a visceral reaction to the term “Christian.”  Donald Miller puts it well in his Blue Like Jazz:

In a recent radio interview I was sternly asked by the host, who did not consider himself a Christian, to defend Christianity. I told him that I couldn’t do it, and moreover, that I didn’t want to do defend the term. He asked me if I was a Christian and I told him yes. “Then why don’t you want to defend Christianity?” he asked, confused. I told him I no longer knew what the term meant. Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to his show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity, they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term Christianity meant something that no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry. I won’t do it. Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people? I told the radio show host that I would rather talk about Jesus and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that he likes me. The host looked back at me with tears in his eyes. When we were done, he asked me if we could go get lunch together. He told me how much he didn’t like Christianity but how he had always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God (Blue Like Jazz [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003], 115).

We may come in as spiritual storm-troopers rather than being “quick to listen and slow to speak.”  Yet in 1 Peter 3, Peter exhorts wives of unbelieving husbands to focus on the way they live their lives—quietly, gently, virtuously—so that their husbands may be won without a word even though they didn’t believe the word of God (3:1).  A virtuous life is a very attractive thing, and such a life may create a spiritual and moral longing in those previously disinterested in Christ—and this without a single word about anything, let alone sin!

Second, I have met plenty of “the encountered” who report that those “witnessing” about the bad-news-first commonly come across sounding judgmental, legalistic, and morally-superior, arrogant, and so on. Yes, rebels against God love darkness rather than light.  But our focal point ought not be a guilt-finding mission. Our consciously taking on Paul’s chief-of-sinners title would go a long way in building bridges.

Third, like the prodigal son, most people already know they carry shame or guilt and are looking for relief, hope, acceptance, and friendship. As Romans 2:4 reminds us, it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Christian sociologist Rodney Stark comments: “Hell fire-and-brimstone sermons to the contrary, people respond far more strongly religiously to a carrot than to a stick.  This has long been recognized by missionaries.” Stark ends his comments with the quotation from John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe [Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008], 78). 

Fourth, certain contemporary evangelistic methods in America would be deemed culturally insensitive in non-American contexts. Think of how missionaries are often taking years to learn a particular culture. Even once they have learned a foreign language, they still need to understand how the gospel connects to the culture and to the felt needs of people.   For example, Muslims tend not to feel guilty (which is assumed by many American evangelistic methods), but dirty, defiled, fearful, and often full of shame; so the string of stories in Mark 5 of Jesus’ authority over impurity, demonic powers, and death resonate with Muslims (see Nabeel Jabbour’s The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross [NavPress]). Yet well-meaning American Christians often don’t take time to contextualize the gospel when speaking with non-Christians.  They assume a ready connection exists between the non-Christian and the biblical worldview; this is, after all, “Christian America,” right? Even in 1913, J. Gresham Machen pointed out that caricatures and bad philosophies often prevent people from taking “sin” and the call to “repent” seriously. 

God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel.  False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.  We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. (Christianity and Culture,” Princeton Theological Review 11 [1913]: 7.

The gospel will not instantly make sense for people who have a completely different worldview. (Consider the momentous response to pre-evangelized Jews at Pentecost in Acts 2 with the lesser response of pagans in Athens in Acts 17.)

Fifth, how many of us came to trust in Christ because a stranger told us that we were sinners? Or did we come through friends or relatives who modeled an attractive, redeemed Christian life? The drumbeat of statistics over the years reveals that 75-90% of those who have come to Christ and faithfully continue in their discipleship were introduced to the Christian faith through believing friends and relatives; this personal connection to the gospel came through love, acceptance, and a modeling of the Christian faith. (For example, Win and Charles Arn, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples [Pasadena: Church Growth Press, 1982], 43).

Sixth, the idea that “this may be the non-Christian’s only chance to hear the gospel and she may not hear it again” often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Becky Pippert observes that Christians and non-Christians have one thing in common; they’re both uptight about evangelism! That is, we may actually create an awkward, confrontational situation (I’ve done this before!), and the non-Christian is put off by it all.  As a result, the non-Christian doesn’t want to hear “the gospel” (or “whatever that was!”) again. Sometimes well-meaning Christians tend to take the entire burden of another’s salvation upon their shoulders and fail to trust in a sovereign God who may use us to be a stepping stone in another’s life.  In John 4, Jesus reminded his disciples that they were “reaping,” thanks to the faithful labors of others who had gone before them.

Seventh, the “what if the person dies tomorrow?” question raises issues about our own view of God’s sovereignty. Keep in mind that while we are to be responsible witnesses, we mustn’t diminish God’s sovereignty on this score either. Will God put people into hell just because of our human failure (of the Christian witness)?  Too often the “what if he dies tomorrow?” idea can often creates a forced “witness” that, in my experience, creates relational (not spiritual) awkwardness and turns people off on any Christian witness for the longer term.  Relationships that respect the process, trust the Holy Spirit, and allow people time to think through the implications of the Christian faith are (statistically speaking) far more effective and long-lasting than the short-term, “I must tell him now or else” approach.

Those touched by Jesus knew that he first was genuinely interested in them. Perhaps that friend-of-sinners approach has something going for it!  The confrontational method diminishes the listening and unfolding process involved in evangelism. The gospel should be expressed in a holistic and relational manner.  Otherwise it more often than not appears to be a judgmental sales pitch. 

Eighth, Jesus and other authorities in the New Testament don’t necessarily bring up sin at the outset, and they may in fact first “dangle the benefits of salvation” before them! The Samaritan woman in John 4 first received an invitation to receive living water so that she would never thirst again. It was only toward the end of the conversation that her being a sinner came up—which was actually an incidental point that almost didn’t get brought up!

The same goes for Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Though angered at its idols, he calmly built bridges with the Athenians, quoting the Stoic thinkers they were familiar with.  Mention of repentance came only much later in the discussion.

Again, Jesus own missional message in Luke 4:18 (citing Isaiah 61:1) affirms benefits of salvation: Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, release for the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor.  Notice that Jesus even leaves off “the day of vengeance” from the original Isaiah quotation!

Another famous Isaiah quotation brings good news without mentioning the bad news:How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’  Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the LORD restores Zion.  Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:7-9).

Ninth, in what ways can we build bridges with our postmodern peers?  Try “idolatry”! While conviction of sin is important, we must be careful not simply to “scold” the postmodern or the “apatheist” (who doesn’t care if God exists or not) for, say, inferior moral standards or mushy views of truth. Yes, premarital sex or sexual lust is wrong, but usually we won’t connect with our audience if we focus on “doing bad things.” Rather, a more effective, and very biblical, emphasis comes by exposing the human tendency to make good things into ultimate things.  Using the specific term “sinner” may not readily resonate with the postmodern, but the scriptural theme of “idolatry” often does.  Idolatry is, as Tim Keller puts it, “building your identity on anything other than God.”  So rather than coming across as scolding non-Christians, we should take this advice:  

Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to give their lives meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what they should be looking for from God. This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsessiveness, envy, and resentment. I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not give much resistance. Then Christ and his salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness, but as their only hope for freedom. This is my ‘gospel for the uncircumcised.’ (Tim Keller, “The Gospel in All Its Forms,” Leadership Journal 29/2 [2008]: 15).

As a side note, as we grow in Christ, we will increasingly come to grips with the depths of our own sinfulness, which pales in comparison to any sin-detection going on around the time of our conversion.  At the outset of our Christian pilgrimage, we are often oblivious to sin except in the most basic ways.  Note what the famed preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote about his own experience:

Often . . . I have had the very affecting views of my own sinfulness and vileness, very frequently to such a degree as to hold me in a kind of loud weeping, sometimes for a considerable time together, so that I have been often obliged to shut myself up….When others that have come to talk with me about their soul’s concerns have expressed the sense they have had of their wickedness, by saying that it seemed to them they were as bad as the devil himself; I thought their expressions seemed exceeding faint and feeble to represent my wickedness . . . . My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable [i.e., inexpressible] and swallowing up all thought and imagination–like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite on infinite and multiplying infinite by infinite . . . .  When I look into my heart and take a view of my own wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell (Personal Narrative, Pt. XV).

Perhaps these reflections will give insight into more effectively helping others connect with the gospel. To reach people, we shouldn’t diminish the gravity of sin; rather, we should walk in the way of the Master, whose earthly ministry earned him the reputation of being a “friend of sinners.”  May the same be said of us redeemed sinners as well!

131 Responses to “Do We Need to Tell People the Bad News Before the Good News?”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides March 16, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Do We Need to Tell People the Bad News Before the Good News?

    Well Paul, a commenter Karyn asks that question on this threadhere. How would you answer it?


    “I had a young girl who came to see me one time who said, “I want to be saved. I want to be baptized.” I said, “OK, well, tell me why you want to be baptized.” She said, “Well, I grew up in a church, an Episcopal church, sprinkled as a baby, and then when I was 4 yrs old, I found this other church, and they baptized me there, and then when I was 8 yrs old, I went and there was a Mormon church down the road and they baptized me there, and then I went to this tent meeting revival, and they baptized me there, and . . .” she said, “. . . the way I look at it, you don’t know which one of these religions are really right, so, I just want to make sure, whoever’s right, I’m OK with them.” I said, “Well, that’s not what the Gospel is.” And I started talking to her about sin and about crucifixion and about resurrection and about repentance, and she said, “Wait, wait, wait, let me cut you off” she said, “I know you really believe what you’re saying, and I know you really love it, but let me just tell you what the deal is I’m looking for. I want to be able to get drunk and to smoke marijuana and to sleep with my boyfriend, and to go to heaven.” Well, there’s a lot of people that want that deal. And I had to say, “In order to be saved, you must repent of sin and acknowledge yourself as a sinner, and throw yourself upon the mercies of God in Christ.” . . . . She said to me, “Then I do not want Jesus, I do not want to follow in that way. I do not want to admit that I’m a sinner because I believe that if that’s what God thinks, He is wrong.” [Sadly] She found a pastor in my denomination, who would baptize her and receive her into the…

  2. Truth Unites... and Divides March 17, 2010 at 12:03 am

    [Sadly] She found a pastor in my denomination, who would baptize her and receive her into the fellowship of the church. That is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [End Quote]

    Terry Mattingly, Director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, author of the weekly “On Religion” column for Scripps Howard News Service, Founder of Get, and author of the book, “Pop Goes Religion”, recently stated that results of a survey of young Roman Catholic Milennials, (age 18-29) showed that only 20% thought premarital sex is morally wrong. I doubt that percentage is vastly different in other American Christian denominations. Given these circumstances, wherein so many Americans reject that their pet sins are even sins, and therefore, are certainly not going to repent of them, I think it would be helpful to share what people think about how pastors should approach all the people who are like the young lady in this scenario? In my view, she clearly came unrepentant, so did she need law or gospel, and in what form? [Paul Copan,] What would you do differently than Mr. Moore? According to the Lord, these are our neighbors, and that is why I’ve raised these questions.”

  3. TUAD,

    Wow, that’s quite shocking! I hope you’re not implying that I’d endorse this scenario! Even though Jesus invited people to come for living water and the bread of life and the abundant life, he also confronted the the rich young man, who wanted eternal life on his terms—with his idol of mammon. So Jesus let him go his own way. Look at the citation from Tim Keller on idolatry, which applies here. This young woman wasn’t even remotely interested in giving up her idols–the things giving her false security. She *didn’t* have any genuine spiritual hunger or thirst; she didn’t recognize her deep need for God. When there is already spiritual hunger and need, we can talk about how Jesus can satisfy that need.

    The way you’ve framed the question is interesting: “does she need law or gospel?” Would Paul have framed it this way?! Why can’t you just say that she needs the gospel? After all, Jesus and Paul preached “the gospel”–not “law and gospel.” Doesn’t the gospel message *assume* that there is bad news? The full gospel (*not* “law + gospel”) calls on us to abandon trust in self and to acknowledge who is really in charge—and all that this entails. I’m sure you would agree, but I didn’t want there to be any misleading language in the discussion.

    If you need for me to clarify further, let me know.

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides March 17, 2010 at 10:35 am

    “I hope you’re not implying that I’d endorse this scenario!”

    No, no. Not at all.

    “The way you’ve framed the question is interesting: “does she need law or gospel?”

    I didn’t frame it that way. The commenter Karyn did. Which dovetails with the general theme of this post.

    “Why can’t you just say that she needs the gospel? After all, Jesus and Paul preached “the gospel”–not “law and gospel.” Doesn’t the gospel message *assume* that there is bad news? The full gospel (*not* “law + gospel”) calls on us to abandon trust in self and to acknowledge who is really in charge—and all that this entails. I’m sure you would agree, but I didn’t want there to be any misleading language in the discussion.

    I do agree. Much thanks for the response.

    I am curious, however, what would you have done differently from Pastor Russell Moore, if anything, had you been in this particular situation?

  5. TUAD,

    Thanks for the follow-up. I would suggest something like Jesus’ telling the rich man to sell all he had. This woman wanted “faith” on her terms. I would simply ask: “And who is supposed to be running the show–you or God? Is it your agenda we’re talking about, or is it God’s? What kind of God do you think really exists–merely a god you’d like to control?” I’d point out to her that Matthew 7 reveals a parallel scenario: professing Christians who ultimately are separated from Christ as “workers of lawlessness,” despite their shows of religiosity (exorcisms, miracle-working, prophesying in Jesus’ name). “Heaven” doesn’t come to us on our terms, but on God’s.

  6. A big thought I get from reading this is that yes we need to include the bad news for the good news to have impact, but the bad news is not the same for everyone. Tim Keller presents the bad news as idolatry, as the anxiety, envy, obsessiveness, resentment someone experiences from making romance the most important thing in life. That is bad news, just as much as being a lawbreaker is bad news.

    Jesus pronounced freedom to the oppressed, recognizing the bad news that people are oppressed. Bad news doesn’t just have to mean hellfire and torment. It can mean that we feel impure, fearful, insecure, empty, restless, overwhelmed, weary, mired, unloved, etc.

    Looked at this way, sharing the bad news is not just to make the solution sound like a solution. Sharing the bad news lets people put a name to the problem. It strikes a chord and gets their attention: Hey, this Christian is talking about me! He/she understands me to some degree, because they can name what I’m experiencing or feeling.

    Of course, the bad news first is also a sales technique whereby one recognizes there is a problem in order to open the heart to the idea that the solution really does solve something that needs solving. What good does it do to have a beeper on my keychain in my pocket? I’d have to realize that I sometimes lose my keys and this would help me find them. If I never lose my keys, then this is a great solution to a problem I don’t have or don’t care about. The bad news we need to present is for a problem that someone cares about or realizes that they have.

  7. Eventually, of course, a new Christian would have to realize what the law of God means and what breaking it means, what hell and God’s wrath mean. If Jesus is only the solution for my loneliness in my twenties, then when I have a big family and social network in my forties, I may think that I no longer need Jesus.

    Other examples could be thought of, but you get the point. If the solution is for a temporary problem, or I find other ways to solve that problem outside of Christ, then the reaction could be to throw off Christianity. To be grounded in Christ, one must understand the utter destruction we would experience without him.

  8. Good points, Glenn. Thanks for contributing!

  9. You’re welcome, Paul.

    I worked with this wording:

    The problem from which we are saved is major, eternal, and has no other solution other than Christ.

    If we take any one of those three factors away, people may be shallow in their faith and quit on Christ. This is like the Ray Comfort illustration (I think it’s him) of somebody wearing an uncomfortable parachute on the plane ride – they’ll only keep it on if they know there will be a crash and this will save their life. We don’t necessarily need to present this problem every time we evangelize, but the three factors are crucial: major, eternal, and unique.

    If the problem is eternal and has a unique solution, but is not a priority for the person (not important to them), they will reject an uncomfortable submission to Christ’s Lordship.

    If the problem is major and eternal but can be solved some other way, they will reject Christ.

    If the problem is major, has a unique solution, and is temporary … uyou

  10. I have used different evangelism methods for over 40 yrs. It’s been over 4 yrs. now using the Law and Grace principle that WOTM teaches and never have I or anyone I know of called someone a sinner. They call themselves a sinner. To lump us into the catagory of “turn and burn” evangelists is simply unfair in my opinion. After using this method with hundreds of people of all different backgrounds and nationalities no one has said to me that I was even judging them. Sure, some I am sure, use this method the wrong way. Prayer and gentleness is the key. I have had even a telemarketer call me back after we were disconnected and wanted me to continue. I hadn’t even gotten past going through the commandments with him. I have seen the tears of repentance on peoples faces and most thank me for sharing the gospel. I also find in talking to most Christians that they consider themselves a “good person” and are no differant than any one else. I might also add are among the most difficult to talk to. Anyway that’s my two cents. Blessings

  11. The following comment was just posted by Tim Keller on a blog of his on The Gospel Coalition website. It reminded me of Paul Copan’s suggestion that we talk with nonbelievers about their idolatry. Keller is speaking specifically of the idolatry involved in self-righteousness. The first paragraph is a quote from George Whitefield:

    Finally he says: “Before you can speak peace in your heart, you must not only be made sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be made sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of our heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”

    Keller continues….

    All forms of works-righteousness entail idolatry. (See Martin Luther’s Large Catechism discussion of the first commandment.) Anything you look to for your salvation besides Jesus Christ (including your moral performance) is an idol by definition, a substitute god. Obviously, you don’t have to think of works-righteousness as “idolatry” per se, nor do you have to have the term “works-righteousness” or “self-righteousnss” in your head. When you first come to Christ you only have a very, very fuzzy understanding of your need. But many people who are asking, “how can I become a Christian” are helped when I tell them it isn’t only repenting of individual sins, but primarily for the main sin of looking to your own wisdom, goodness, and record to save you. Many go: “Ah! That helps.”

  12. I am one of those who witness in the streets! I have many, many friends who do so as well! Jesus met the tax gatherers, prostitutes, Gentiles, lepers, the ceremonially unclean, the demonized not in a church building, but in the “open air”. He healed many, and many were saved by his preaching as he went to them. But actually, the more Jesus preached, and people counted the cost, the turned from following him. Jesus challenges the hearer to count the cost of discipleship, and warned that trials and persecution awaited them. Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners, yes-but some would not repent at the preaching of John the Baptist either. Please , when sharing Scripture, put it in context! The incarnate Christ has earned a right to be heard because He is the Son of God, not because he was a “friend to sinners”! People connect with Christ by the power of God through the preaching of His Word-whether indoors or outdoors. The event is called regeneration!The disciples did not wait to form a “friendship”, but went through the cities preaching the Gospel. Jesus sent them “out” , not “in”. How long did the the Holy Spirit wait to fall on Cornelius and his household as Christ was preached? Did Peter form a friendship first with Cornelius? Should Phillip have waited to form a friendship to preach Christ to the eunuch? How about Lydia? God opened her heart to the Scriptures. Should we wait to form a friendship with Muslims to preach Christ to them? Did Paul form a friendship at Athens? Or did he open up his mouth in the public square and preach Christ? Doesn’t Christ warn us that with the preaching of His Word we may suffer persecution or even martyrdom? Where is the loving community in Saudi Arabia /North Korea? Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God-not “friendship” .
    The passage in 1 Peter 3 to wives is “likewise” following Pauls instructions to believers suffering unjustly,and a call to “endure”. The suffering wife is to ‘endure” by her…

  13. Paul’s “chief of sinners” was not declared to the church to make a way to build bridges. Paul’s chief of sinners was to show that God’s grace came even to Him! Context!( 1 Tim. 1:12-16)

    This ought to encourage us all the more to share the Gospel!
    Paul tells us in his letter that he was free from the blood of all men:
    Acts 20: .24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you,27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
    How many of us can say the same thing? Have we shrunk back from declaring to men the Gospel of the grace of God?

    You said, “Third, like the prodigal son, most people already know they carry shame or guilt and are looking for relief, hope, acceptance, and friendship. ”

    All unregenerate suppress the truth in unrighteousness, yet continue to practice sin. (Romans 1) It is only through the preaching of the word that they will be saved!

    Romans 2 , the “kindness of God” speaks this way:

    Indeed, it is the kindness of God (grace in Christ) that leads us to repentance! No one has an excuse who practices sin to pass judgment on another who practices the same thing! (think about the woman caught in adultery-the men, from the oldest to the greatest, convicted by their conscience, dropped stones and went away! This passage is speaking to judging with righteous judgment,and upon self-examination-all have sinned. And this, I may add-Jesus said in the “open air”. Once again, in context:

    Romans 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the…

  14. per “culture”:

    we shouldn’t withhold the Gospel while those in other culture are dying and going to Hell. The Gospel is the same no matter where it is preached. Paul didn’t wait to “learn the culture” when he went to the Gentiles! He opened his mouth and preached Christ!

    The context of the Gospel, as Paul says, is that all have sinned. The best way to show this is speaking to the conscience: lying, stealing, murder, etc are all wrong regardless of where a man lives! Paul said this in Romans 2: 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

    We can presuppose that all men know God, because the Bible says they do in Romans 1. Paul could speak to the Muslim the same as the Roman. The Law is written on their heart (conscience)!

    We need to awaken the sinners conscience by using law first! The moral law of God transcends culture! Speak to the conscience of the sinner with the law-as Paul, and Jesus,and the disciples did!

  15. “Fifth, how many of us came to trust in Christ because a stranger told us that we were sinners? ”

    The question is redundant. The GOSPEL is the power of God to salvation! were sinners? Strangers (disciples) went to the Gentiles to share the Gospel. Strangers (Jews) went to the Jews to tell them they were sinners. Jesus called the sinners to repentance!

    Why would a “sinner” want to change his life to live a lifestyle he hates? This is why sinners don’t come leaping into church-they LOVE their sin! Rather, it is the GOSPEL preached that God uses to convert men.

    If a sinner is “put off” by the Gospel, his heart is hard. He resists the Spirit. It is only the Lord who can change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh!

  16. you said “Relationships that respect the process, trust the Holy Spirit, and allow people time to think through the implications of the Christian faith are (statistically speaking) far more effective and long-lasting than the short-term, “I must tell him now or else” approach.”

    I think you are saying that relationships are far more effective than just sharing the Gospel now.

    It is the Gospel that is the power of God to salvation, not our relationships. And that is a very good thing!Relationships can turn sour (look again at the disciples and rejection of them) And yes, someone may die and enter an eternal Hell. Jesus said Matthew 10: 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

    Again, Jesus tells us to count the cost of following Him may entail. Are we willing to risk our family for the sake of the truth of the Gospel?

  17. You said “Eighth, Jesus and other authorities in the New Testament don’t necessarily bring up sin at the outset, and they may in fact first “dangle the benefits of salvation” before them!”

    Oh you mean these “benefits” of trials, troubles, and persecution that are promised those who follow Christ? Jesus tells us to “count the cost” of following Him, of giving up our very lives! Luke 14: 25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

  18. Betty, thanks so much for your responses. I can tell that you are one who loves to tell others about Christ, as I do! I talk to strangers on planes or while standing in line about Jesus (just talked to an atheist on Friday while standing in line to get coffee!).

    You miss my point about relationships. God’s Spirit can use all kinds of persons and circumstances to bring people to himself. God uses a stranger to bring another to Christ–or a crisis or personal loss. Relationship itself doesn’t bring a person to Christ. God’s Spirit does. Yet God most commonly works through relationships (75-90% of people who continue on in their faith have come to Christ through a friend or relative–not typically through a stranger). People are more likely to be receptive to another if trust has been established. This is how God has designed things to work, but that doesn’t mean he is confined to this arrangement.

    If you read the book *unChristian* by David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group (Baker), you will read how professing Christians have an inbuilt credibility gap to overcome. There is a lot of “baggage” associated with the word “Christian.” Kinnaman highlights how the unchurched think Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, anti-intellectual, treat non-Christians as projects, etc. Non-Christians want to see authenticity, love, graciousness, etc. This is most effectively done through loving, trusting relationships.

    As for the “benefits” of “trials and tribulations,” my only point is that Jesus mentions things like an abundant life, finding rest, having thirst quenched without first mentioning sin—that’s all. He doesn’t always mention “the bad news” in his conversations or teachings.

    In fact, in citing Luke 14, you’ve helped reinforce my point—namely, that people need time to contemplate the implications of the gospel and count the cost of following Christ, which sounds more like a process. So Jesus is calling on us to respect that…

  19. Paul, “….just talked to an atheist while standing in line for coffee.”

    Starbucks…by any chance?

    I wish I could have been there to hear that conversation!

    Betty, I find that every person I meet, and perhaps have opportunity to share the gospel with, is at a different place. Some, as Paul notes, have a big distrust for Christians and will have their defenses up the minute they know I am one. Others have come to know Christians before meeting me and see something they respect and are curious about. Some are feeling crushed under the weight of their own wrongdoing and guilt. Some convince themselves that they are guilty of nothing. It all depends on how the Holy Spirit is working in their lives until that point of meeting.

    Sometimes the best approach is to ask careful questions…leading the person to express their beliefs and values in a listening, interested, non-judgmental way. In that way we learn how best to introduce Jesus to the conversation. And, yes, this often takes time…days, weeks, months…

    At some point a person must understand their need….need for forgiveness and cleansing. It is the Spirit who brings the conviction of sin. Until then a person cannot respond to the gospel in repentance and saving faith.

    Regarding your comment about the ‘benefits of salvation” there are of course many positive benefits: eternal life, a personal relationship with, and direct access to God, the indwelling Spirit who transforms us so that we have the ability to depart from sinful practices and honor God with our lives, fellowship with other believers….and many others! Sometimes people are warmed to the gospel by seeing this warm and loving fellowship and caring in the Christian community.

  20. Susan, thanks for your wise, thoughtfully-written comments.

    As it turns out, the place was Einstein Bros. Bagels. I tend to meet with more people at Panera’s than Starbucks (a free second cup and a less sterile environment).

  21. Hey, free refills allows for a longer conversation! Good tip.
    Are these meetings usually things you have set up?

  22. Yes, it does lengthen the conversation a good bit, Susan. I meet with students every Friday at Einstein’s, but I’m often at Panera’s for “non-student” conversations.

  23. Excellent! It’s great to know that you carve out this time from your busy schedule to engage with individuals and students in a more intimate way. In other words, you practice what you preach and really care about the salvation of others! True apologetics should have leading others to a saving relationship with Christ as its goal. That is how you think..and live….but do you sometimes wonder about this with some apologists?

  24. Thanks, Susan. Yes, I do desire to see people reconciled to God through Christ, and apologetics and philosophy open many doors for the gospel. I know many Christian apologists and philosophers who are of like mind, but alas, many others seem more interested in refutation and crushing the opponent. What’s more, their methods are not a good witness for the gospel. May the Lord deliver us!

  25. Oh Paul, I hope that you will talk with some of those apologists who seem more interested in ‘crushing’ arguments, and gently exhort them if given the opportunity. You are one who has a gentle spirit. I think you are an apt one to have those conversations for that reason. I’m sure that wouldn’t be easy though…

  26. Read this and get back with me

    Also, I agree with this blogger who saw the same problems with your article as I did: Scripture out of context, message mistaken for method .

    Ray also has a series called Basic Training, in which he includes how to witness to loved ones/ family.

    I am extremely grateful for Way of the Master (you should have been forthcoming and said you didn’t like WOTM), and the training I have received in how to open up a conversation and turn it from the natural to the spiritual!

    Please read the above pdf!

  27. Hello, Betty. Feel free to respond to my comments to you. I think I covered the material you wrote about in your postings (and Susan kindly helped out as well!). As to this other blog response, I’ve been responding to those types of objections throughout this blog post and don’t know that I need to say much more.

    Also, I’ve written on this elsewhere (after I posted at P&P) and have offered some further clarifications:

    All best wishes in Christ,



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