The active calling of people to respond to the message of grace and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ. While many think of evangelism as a New Testament phenomena, profound concern for all people is also obvious in the Old Testament (1 Kings 8:41-45;
Isaiah 2:2-4). God's care for the first couple after they had sinned, His plan to “bless” all people through the Israelite nation, and His continuing attempts through the prophets and through discipline to forge His people into a usable nation all speak of His concern.
While Israel's influence was primarily national and magnetic in nature, there were instances of individual and external witness (Daniel 3-6;
2 Kings 5:15-18;
Jonah 3:1-10). Though Israel was largely a failure in carrying out her mission, the large number of God-fearers at the beginning of the Christian era show that her magnetic attraction and proselytizing efforts were not entirely unfruitful.
It is, however, the New Testament which manifests the dynamic thrust of evangelism. While the word “evangelism” does not occur in the Bible, it is woven into the very fabric of Scripture.
Despite its obvious importance, a wide range of opinion seeks to define what it means and what it should include. Definitions range from the extremely narrow to the exceedingly broad.
Evangelism is derived from the Greek word euaggelion, meaning “gospel” or “good news.” The verbal forms of euaggelizesthai, meaning “to bring” or “to announce good news” occur some fifty-five times (Acts 8:4,
Acts 11:20) and are normally translated with the appropriate form of the word “preach.” Evangelism has to do with the proclamation of the message of good news.
In the light of the wide range of definitions and the continuing debate, it is well to consider two kinds of definitions. First, many insist on defining evangelism only in the strictest sense of the above New Testament words. It is preaching the gospel, communicating God's message of mercy to sinners. Such a definition places strict limits to arrive at a precise definition of evangelism. It refuses to speak in terms of recipients, results, or methods, laying all its emphasis on the message.
This type of definition is certainly correct, as far as it goes. It would represent the view of many evangelicals concerning evangelism. Many others, however, believe that such definitions are inadequate for the present day and that they are partly responsible for a truncated sort of evangelism too often practiced in the past.
Many would, therefore, prefer what might be described as a “holistic” definition, or one that takes into account the “good news of the kingdom.” This might be stated: evangelism is the Spirit-led communication of the gospel of the kingdom in such a way or ways that the recipients have a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and become responsible members of His church. Such a definition takes into account the essential work of the Holy Spirit, the various ways of conveying the good news, holistic concern for the persons involved, the need for actual communication and understanding of the message, and the necessity of productive church membership on the part of the convert.
Luke 8:2-56 shows how Jesus brought the good news. He not only preached; He demonstrated His power over the forces of nature in saving His fearful disciples. He exorcised a demon, healed a poor woman that had hemorrhaged for twelve years, and raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. Clearly he brought the good news by word and deed, and not by word only.
Paul, in similar fashion, described how he had been used to “win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God so that I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ” (Romans 15:18-19 NRSV).
Some warn that such definitions are dangerous, opening the door to an overemphasis on the social dimension of the gospel to the exclusion of the spoken message. Indeed they can be. A complete evangelism will include the verbalized gospel. Balance is a necessity, although different situations may sometimes call for more emphasis on one aspect or the other. The biblical mandate remains “to become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NAS).
G. William Schweer