I just finished reading The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs, founder and Resident Scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary. This is perhaps the best and fullest piece I have read on evangelism.
Woven throughout the book is what Barrs feels to be the seven principles of communicating the gospel. They are: showing respect, building bridges for the gospel, understanding what others believe, speaking the right language, reasoned persuasion, clarifying the good news, and challenging the heart and mind. Don’t let this list fool you. This isn’t just “Seven Steps to Convert a Non-Believer.” Barrs is personal, delicate, and Scriptural as he writes. The title of the book is most definitely what Barrs is getting at.
Perhaps this book was encouraging and challenging to me because I’m in a context in South Africa that doesn’t lend well to prepared, memorized presentations of the gospel. South Africa isn’t that far from America, or even Europe. Relationships need to be built up and established.
Regarding those memorized summaries of the gospel, Barrs writes, “I must be ready to have a genuine conversation with the individual before me rather than giving him or her ‘the pitch’ as if I am a salesman who is eager to get through my presentation as quickly as possible and make my sale” (p. 176).
I think that Christians oftentimes just want to “get to the gospel” and they act as if that is the only important thing we can say to a person. Consider Jesus himself who sometimes didn’t clearly explain the gospel (such as with the young rich man in Luke 18, as one example). Barrs says, “Every conversation Jesus had was different, for Jesus treated the people He met as individuals” (p. 177). In other words, not every conversation can get to the gospel by opening up a tract or reciting what we learned when we were seven years old.
This book is so rich in its detail that I can’t write about everything in it (that would be a really long review). The bottom line is that Barrs challenges the traditional 1980s Christian “way of doing evangelism” by calling us to live life with and around non-Christians, understanding and respecting what they believe, and being wise and discerning about how to reach each person as a unique individual made in the image of God.