Is It Still Evangelism If There Are No Words?

Scot McKnight: “I know of no text that says someone evangelized without saying a word.”

The words for evangelism in the New Testament, particularly when one focuses on the key “gospeling” texts, are verbal proclamation words and not behavior words. I know of no text that says someone evangelized without saying a word, or that tells us someone announced the good news in how they lived.

To “gospel” in the New Testament is to verbalize by declaring something about Jesus as the Messiah/King and Lord who saves people from their sins.

Pressure-Pointed Preachers

For some, this point of mine is wrongheaded. And I understand some of the hesitation. Some of us surely have sat under pressure-pointed preachers who sought to precipitate decisions by using persuasion and guilt-producing rhetoric. And I know some who were themselves turned off to Jesus (or the church or Christianity) by the manner of evangelism they experienced at the hands of buttonholing evangelists.

For such folks, the very idea of verbal proclamation can be unnerving. Still, [having had] bad experiences doesn’t shift the true witness of the New Testament. The terms are about proclaiming a message about Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord who saves.

Gospeling Events

Having said that, evangelism in the New Testament—or gospeling—is verbal witness or verbal announcement about Jesus as King and Lord. This is not to say that other dimensions of life don’t participate in gospeling or that they don’t prepare for or prop up gospeling.

In particular, it is patently clear that the Lord’s Supper is a gospeling event. Paul says that very thing in 1 Corinthians 11. And I’m persuaded that baptism is a “gospeling” event. These two sacramental events are gospeling events because they embody and mediate the story of Jesus Christ. Which means any event that embodies the life, death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord can be said to be participating in gospeling.

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The Credibility of the Gospel

What perhaps is the unwritten element at work in New Testament gospeling is the potency of the person’s life and, even more, the credibility of the Gospel because of the way the community of Jesus followers live, love and dwell with one another. So, yes …
The Gospel is performed as well as proclaimed.

This all leads to a very common question I’ve been asked: Is a life that embodies what Christ calls us to a gospeling event? I would like to say we are treading here onto turf that gets farther and farther away from what “gospeling” means in the New Testament. The New Testament terms about gospeling are verbal terms and not behavior terms.

What I fear is that so many contend that behavior alone or community alone are evangelism. I doubt it, because, as Paul puts it in Romans 10, if they don’t hear, how will they know? The ineradicable form of evangelism is to declare the story of Jesus. All other dimensions gain their only clarity once that declaration is clear. Without that proclamation, there is no gospeling or Gospel.

Scott McKnight is an author and is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois.