By Lauren Pratt
Author and apologist Lee Strobel recently visited Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as the keynote speaker for the Page Lecture Series. A former legal editor for the Chicago Tribune, Strobel’s investigative instincts into Christianity peaked after his wife came to faith. He talked about how he moved from atheism to full-fledged belief in Christ. He described how an embodied gospel and a love for neighbor has led others like himself to the feet of Jesus. Strobel, author of The Case for Christ and some 40 other books, provided timeless truths that Jesus and his followers practiced and which still ring true today as we seek to engage our culture with the gospel. Below are two key takeaways I gained from Lee Strobel’s lectures last week regarding this very topic of engagement.
Embody the gospel.
I recently finished up The Simplest Way to Change the World by Brandon Clements and Dustin Willis. In their book, they explain that the way the gospel is going to move forward is through opening our doors to our neighbors.
Strobel reiterated the same concept. What I heard from Strobel is that while a solid theological foundation and apologetic argument for the gospel is necessary, the gospel is best communicated in relationship.
Did you get that? The gospel is best communicated in personal relationship with others. In a culture that is increasingly skeptical to our message, we can’t just talk about the gospel; we need to embody it. Strobel explained that this is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus prayed for his lost friends. He let them know their questions and doubts were always welcome. He sacrificially served them.
Clements and Willis codify this point well in their book when they write,
Hospitality is a theology of recognition where through simple acts we convey the truth that wayward sinners are made in the image of God, where we say to those who might doubt their worth or purpose, ‘I see you! You are welcome here. Pull up a chair.’
The practice of loving neighbor is a direct command from Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most importantcommand. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.
I can’t help but notice in this passage that Jesus tells the Pharisees that loving neighbor is just as significant as the command to love God. He says of the command to love neighbor that “the second is like it.” Essentially, to love God fully means that we also love neighbor like ourselves.
Again, in Romans 15:7, Paul writes, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Paul is communicating that if you really grasp the incredible riches of Christ’s grace, you will extend that kindness to others. You will desire that they be welcomed in to the family of God as well through word and deed.
As Strobel explained during his lectures, “When we sacrificially serve as Jesus did, it cracks open the hardest of hearts.”
Develop an evangelistic heart.
As we build intentional relationships with a non-Christians, we should couple that with gospel proclamation. Acts of service without the gospel are simply a nice gestures. Gospel proclamation without acts of service fails to communicate a holistic message that God came to make “all things new.” God is making all things new, and while we still have breath, he has chosen for us to be his ambassadors in this task of renewal.
As we seek share the gospel with others, we should also be modeling this practice for those we are discipling. It’s important to communicate the biblical imperative and principles of evangelism. However, we need to avoid placing those we disciple into a proverbial evangelistic box. Start by asking, “How can they develop an evangelistic lifestyle that is sustainable for how God wired them?”
Strobel highlighted six evangelistic styles, and people tend to be wired toward different approaches:
- Direct (Peter in Acts 2)
- Intellectual (Paul at Mars Hill)
- Testimonial (the blind man in John 9)
- Relational style (Matthew the tax collector in Luke 5)
- Invitational style (Woman at the well in John 4)
- Serving (Dorcas in Acts 9).
While all of these methods are different, the end result is the same—reaching people with the gospel. As we disciple others, let’s be more careful to look for people who are faithful to the task of evangelism and not simply good mimickers of our methods.
We see other example of this spiritual development in Scripture as well. Paul writes to Timothy, to whom he is a mentor, in 2 Timothy 2:2, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to men who will be able to teach others also.”
Again, we hear this from Jesus right before he ascends to heaven to be at the right hand of the Father. Jesus gives the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20:
Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Friends, let us develop disciples who reproduce a sustainable evangelistic practice in others. This may mean that he or she doesn’t share the gospel just like you. That’s okay—because at the heart of it, we simply want people to obey Christ’s call to “go and make disciples.” So, let’s get after it. Through embodiment of the gospel and developing an evangelistic practice in you and others, we could turn the world upside down.
Day one of the Page Lecture Series can be viewed here.
Day two of the Page Lecture Series can be viewed here.
Southeastern’s Library Talk with Lee Strobel and Dr. Ken Keathley can be viewed here.