Question: How do you go about resolving the tension between, on the one hand, having a “dialogue” approach to evangelism and viewing it as a process, and, on the other hand, wanting to get the whole gospel into the conversation? I find that if I don’t get the whole gospel outline into the conversation, I feel guilty and anxious afterwards, because what if a) I don’t get another chance to talk to this person, or b) they don’t get another chance to hear the gospel? E.g. they get hit by a car next week (I realize that’s a bit of a cliche but you get the picture).
My answer: It is a tension and I choose to live with it rather than trying to resolve it. Instead, I pray for wisdom to know exactly how to engage with a particular person. I rest in the reality that Jesus spoke to different people in different ways and that Paul varied his approaches depending on his audience. Sometimes they allowed the conversation to be incomplete, or, as you word it, they didn’t “get the whole gospel outline into the conversation.” (See, for example, Mark 10 or Acts 17:16-34).
I believe, for some people, the wise approach is to try to move them from a point of unbelief to a point of considering something they have previously rejected. They might need to consider that they may have been wrong about things for a very long time. I find that some people need to wrestle with that before they can consider “the whole gospel.” In other cases, the wise thing is to push it all the way to, “Can you think of any reason right now not to place your trust in what Christ did on the cross?”
I have to rest in the fact that God is the one who causes the growth and superintends the process of who he brings in and out of a particular person’s life. I realize this is counter to what many people teach but I sometimes wonder if my concern of “What if I don’t get another chance….” is more of a concern for my own comfort or a “clear conscience” than a concern for God’s glory or knowing “how to answer everyone” (see Col. 4:6).
I do think I need to resist the temptation to seek a kind of “comfortable evangelism.” For me, any kind of “comfortable evangelism” is too timid. In reality, it reveals my idolatrous longing for a hassle-free life or people’s approval of me or something with “self” as the centerpiece.
If you have a question about evangelism you’d like to pose, please click on the link above marked “contact me” and I’ll do my best to work this Q & A format into future blogs.