Published on September 23rd, 2015 | by Jaycen Saab0
The Myth of Relational Evangelism
Modern day evangelism has become wounded by well-intending Christians attempting to be politically correct rather than being biblically correct.
Relationships make up the lifeblood of our interaction on a daily basis. Whether it be with family, friends, or co-workers, relationships are something we nurture and strengthen. They allow us to share laughs, love, and even share our sorrows.
When it comes to sharing the Gospel of Christ, what better way than through a relationship with someone? Who wouldn’t want to share the Good News with someone they care for enough to invest in a relationship with? These are great ways to share the Gospel of Christ. It is what’s known today as “relational evangelism”.
Relational evangelism in and of itself can be effective and done in accordance with Scripture. And by “accordance with Scripture” I mean the blatant proclamation of the Gospel (Romans 10:17). The Gospel must be explained, we cannot “love people to Jesus”, it is the power of the Gospel unto salvation (Romans 1:16). That is where the rub comes in and the necessity for this post.
Modern day evangelism has become wounded by well-intending Christians attempting to be politically correct rather than being biblically correct. By striving to be politically correct and unoffensive, relational evangelism is fast becoming the go-to method of evangelism. And it is because of the abundant embracing of relational evangelism that it is viewed in many churches as the way to evangelize. Furthermore, it has been labeled as the “loving way” to evangelize.
This creates a problem for the time-tested, Scripture-backed, biblical method of evangelism known as “open-air evangelism” or “street preaching”. Open-air evangelism is often confrontational as darkness hates the light. When a person’s position of sin and their path to eternal tragedy is revealed as only the Gospel can do, some repent and believe unto salvation (Mark 1:15), but most harden their hearts even more with hatred towards the one who has exposed their sin. The open-air evangelist is then portrayed as judgmental, bigoted, arrogant, etc.
This causes a problem and hinders the spread of the Gospel because Christians hesitate or refuse to share the Gospel without first “establishing a relationship” with the unbeliever. When in reality, as you will see in a moment, it is often impractical and unrealistic to think one could establish a relationship with every unbeliever before the Gospel is shared. It is devastating when it becomes touted as the only approach and Christians refuse to proclaim the Gospel because of a lack of relationship.
Nowhere in Scripture does it mandate believers to have a relationship to herald the Gospel. Noah did not have relationships with those he was calling to repentance before the flood, neither did Jonah in Nineveh, nor Jeremiah in Jerusalem, nor John the Baptist as the forerunner to Christ, nor Peter and John in the streets in the Book of Acts, nor Paul with all the people at Mars Hill, etc. In fact, neither did Jesus have “personal relationships” with everyone as He took the law to the nth degree in the sermon on the mount. Just because you do not have a personal relationship with an unbeliever, does NOT automatically mean or imply that you cannot lovingly and respectfully share the Gospel with them.
Why do I point this out? Open-air proclamation of the Gospel does not require personal relationships or to spend an inordinate amount of time getting someone to like you before you can tell them the truth of the Gospel of Christ. Our command from Christ was, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15).
The best illustration for this contrast would be to imagine a cliff lay up ahead as a blind person is walking towards it. Relational evangelism would call for a Christian to hang out, get to know the blind person, discover his likes and dislikes, and mention that there’s a cliff up ahead timidly as not to upset the blind person. If the blind person gets upset thinking about his stroll being disrupted, well, that Christian will stop talking about the cliff and get back to it eventually.
Now, in contrast open-air evangelism would bypass the niceties. That Christian would grab the blind person by the arm (lovingly) and warn them like, “HEY! THERE’S A CLIFF!! LOOK OUT!” He wouldn’t worry about disrupting the blind person’s leisurely stroll.
One example where we see this in a real-world application is doing pro-life work on the frontlines. It is very different than fighting the battle politically. Not to degrade political work by such organizations like West Virginians for Life as they do excellent work fighting for the unborn through legislature, but it is completely different. Open-air ministry aims to change the heart of the mother with the Gospel. When a mother TYPICALLY comes to the abortuary to slaughter her child, you DO NOT have time to build a meaningful, personal relationship. You have seconds to minutes at best as she passes by. If you can convince her (lovingly) to stop and talk, great. Either way, you’re on borrowed time. If she passes by (typical) and continues inside, her only hope, the baby’s only hope, is to proclaim the Gospel that God may break her hardened heart. Like it or not, she is the instigator and catalyst that initiates the murder of the image of God inside her.
The same holds true for other common scenarios we find the open-air evangelist encountering. It may be a person on their way to a night of partying at a local bar or someone waiting at the bus station. Regardless, it is impractical to think that there is time to stop and cultivate a relationship in those situations. If a relationship was required to share the Gospel, none of those people would ever hear it.
We must understand that we are fighting for the eternal life of an unbeliever. It is spiritual warfare and spiritual warfare is not won based on relationships. Spiritual warfare is fought and won by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. As long as that is the focus and centerpiece of our evangelism efforts, relational and open-air evangelism can be equally effective. But to place the relational approach on a mantle above open-air evangelism because it is less confrontational and say that it is the preferred method is, well… a myth.
Soli Deo Gloria!