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Just Do It!

Priscilla Pope-Levison outlines and appraises eight models of evangelism

George P Wood on October 27, 2020

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Because the euangelion (Greek, “good news”) is the center of Christianity, evangelism is a core function of the Christian Church. But how is it best practiced? Models of Evangelism by Priscilla Pope-Levison answers that question by identifying eight types of evangelism, each of which is characterized by “longevity,” “a substantial body of literature,” and “a significant number of proponents.”

Pope-Levison offers these definitions of the eight models:

  • Personal: developing a one-on-one relationship that provides a comfortable context for evangelism.
  • Small group: convening 8 to 12 people for a short-term, focused study on the gospel.
  • Visitation: knocking on doors, getting to know neighbors’ needs and religious inclinations, and initiating conversations about the gospel.
  • Liturgical: integrating evangelism into the church’s worship as it follows the Christian calendar.
  • Church growth: establishing new ports of entry that receptive people can easily join in order to be introduced to the gospel.
  • Prophetic: challenging individuals and structures to pursue the gospel in word and deed in its social, political, and economic fullness.
  • Revival: an organized, crowd-based gathering that typically includes music, an evangelistic message, an invitation, and follow-up.
  • Media: appropriating media ranging from the printed word to the internet for an evangelistic purpose.

For each model, Pope-Levison identifies its biblical, theological, historical, and practical foundations, then provides a fair-minded appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses.

To illustrate Pope-Levison’s methodology, consider how she treats personal evangelism. Biblically, the New Testament contains “countless examples … of individuals sharing good news one-on-one.” Pope-Levison focuses especially on such encounters from the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts.

Theologically, personal evangelism “finds its orientation in two theological foci: Christology and Pneumatology,” specifically the Incarnation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus was sent into the world to make known the invisible God,” Pope-Levison writes. “He entrusted and commissioned his disciples to make the invisible God known to the world.” After His ascension, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on His followers as “the divine instigator and guide for personal evangelism.” Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:29-30 is an example of Spirit-instigated personal evangelism.

Whatever the model of evangelism, the important thing is just to do it.

Historically, Pope-Levison shows that many individuals have come to saving faith in Christ through the personal evangelism of an acquaintance. She mentions Dwight L. Moody in the 19th century and Charles Colson in the 20th. She also points out that personal evangelism is the preferred strategy of campus ministries such as InterVarsity, Navigators, and Cru.

Practically, Pope-Levison notes the “stark simplicity” of personal evangelism, which “requires no theological degree,” “demands no need to control a conversation,” “necessitates no hyperspirituality,” and “requires no sacred space.” Instead, personal evangelism builds on five core practices: 1) Begin with lifestyle evangelism, 2) Raise your evangelistic temperature, 3) Foster the relationship, 4) Share the gospel, and 5) Follow up.

As she appraises personal evangelism, Pope-Levison notes that it is both the “simplest” and the “hardest” of the models of evangelism. Simplest because any Christian can do it with any nonbeliever anywhere and anytime. Hardest, however, because it imposes a potential cost on the evangelist.

Speaking for the evangelist, Pope-Levison writes, “I will bear the brunt of embarrassment; I will face the risk of rejection; I will be liable to the charge of ignorance; I will confront the reality that I am not yet a candidate for sainthood.” The motivation of the evangelist is thus “the key obstacle” to overcome in this model of evangelism.

One other concern Pope-Levison expresses about personal evangelism is its weak ecclesiology. She worries that “it may seem like the church, the body of Christ, is irrelevant.” After all, the focus is on individual conversion, not church membership. This is not an insuperable difficulty, however. Still, personal evangelists need to keep in mind that Christians are called to follow Christ not as lone rangers but in the company of other believers.

As noted above, Pope-Levison uses the same methodology for each model. As the book goes on, she demonstrates how these models intersect in various ways. They do not compete with one another so much as complement one another.

So, who should read Models of Evangelism? It is published by Baker Academic, so the intended readers are undergraduate and graduate students preparing for ministry in the local church. I think pastors and other church leaders would also benefit greatly from the book as they think about how their churches can evangelize their communities.

It is said that a woman approached Dwight L. Moody after one of his evangelistic crusades and said, “I don’t like the way you do evangelism.”

Moody responded, “Well, ma’am, let me ask you, how do you do it?”

She said, “I don’t.”

To which Moody replied, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it!”

Whatever the model of evangelism, the important thing is just to do it.

Book Reviewed

Priscilla Pope-Levison, Models of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020).

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