This is the fifth article in my series on Donald Whitney’s acclaimed classic, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Donald Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. If you missed the earlier articles in this series, please follow this link and scroll to read them. Today I will provide a brief summary of Whitney’s chapter on the spiritual discipline of evangelism. This may serve as primer for Whitney’s excellent work. All of the quotations below are also from Whitney’s book, including page references.
“EVANGELISM IS . . . EXPECTED” (120)
Whitney opens his discussion asserting, “Only the sheer rapture of being lost in the worship of God is as exhilarating as telling someone about Jesus Christ” (119). Although God does not expect us all to use the same methods, He clearly expects us all to evangelize. As Scriptural proof texts, Whitney cites Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24: 46-47, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8. Although these commands were given directly to the Apostles, common sense tells us that by extension they are given to us as well. Christianity simply cannot be propagated by any other method than relating the message of the Gospel. As Americans we should be aware of the fact that we would never have received the Gospel if no one obeyed the command to “make disciples of all nations.” This logic should be enough to convince us that not only those with the gift of evangelism should be telling others about Jesus. 1 Peter 2:9 makes the is clear: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (120-22). I would add that this verse and it’s context (verses 1-11) make clear implications not only for evangelism but worship as well—as neither can be sustained by mankind on this earth without the other.
“EVANGELISM IS . . . EMPOWERED” (122)
Whitney addresses the many fears that plague Christians when they think about evangelism. These range from a lack of confidence in our biblical knowledge or ability to answer questions to fear of rejection for being different. (122). However, Whitney believes that the most paralyzing fear comes from the sheer weightiness of the subject—that heaven and hell hang in the balance for those who are the recipients of our message. Fear of failure in seeing those we share with receive the gospel can grip us. However, Whitney gives us a tool to irradiate this fear. We need to evaluate success in terms of “careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient.” In other words we need to see ourselves as mail persons—simply deliverers of the message (123-24).
Another fear, however, can be the mode of witness. Whitney affirms that speaking the gospel can take a variety of forms whether they be “. . . spoken, written, or recorded; delivered to one person or to a crowd” (120). I hear this as incredibly refreshing! This means that the message can even be artistic—through texted music—or through a form like you are reading now on the internet. Related to this, Whitney states, “the preconceived style of evangelism you fear may not rank among the best ways for you to help make disciples for Christ” (132).
Although a sense of personal inadequacy or lack of eloquence may make us self-conscious about witnessing, Whitney affirms that our witness is empowered in two senses. We learn of the first sense in Acts 1:8, where Jesus tells us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Whitney affirms that as each believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we are empowered by Him “in ways and methods compatible with. . . [our] personality, spiritual gift[s] opportunities, and so on . . .” to share the gospel (124-25). The second sense in which our witness is empowered is by the message of the gospel itself. Romans 1:16 tells us, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (125). This assures us that when we are faithful to share, although we do not know when or where persons will respond, we know that God’s power in the gospel will bring those whom He is calling to Himself (126).
“EVANGELISM IS . . . A DISCIPLINE” (127)
Whitney makes this point emphatically clear, quoting Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Interpreting this for us, he says that we must see the word “let” as a command to act intentionally, “Let there be the light of good works shining in your life; let there be the evidence of God-honoring change radiating from you. Let it begin! Make room for it!” (127-28). That said, he lists reasons why people often don’t evangelize, including busy schedules, working and living primarily among believers, or the limitations of a busy secular workplace where there seems to be no opportunity for the topic to be pursued. This is precisely why Whitney says evangelism is a discipline, we have to work to find opportunities to make it happen. He points us to the instruction found in Colossians 4:5-6 where Paul states, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (emphasis Whitney’s, 129-30). Including examples beyond the limitations of this short article, Whitney encourages us to use our creativity in coming up with opportunities and means to share our faith (131-33).
In closing, Whitey asserts that “. . . we can find long- term solutions to our inconsistency and frequent lack of witnessing if we will discipline ourselves for evangelism (135). Whitney understands that many people fear sharing the gospel, because of their own public sinfulness. He acknowledges that while a holy life certainly bears witness to the message of the gospel, we will never be perfect in this life. Also, as evidence of the gospel’s work in us, we can repent and ask forgiveness of those we have wronged. Repentance such as this sets us apart from those who don’t know Christ, opening up the door for a powerful witness (136-37). Through the very title of his chapter, Whitney affirms that obeying God by sharing the gospel leads to godliness, but he also affirms this truth with these words: “May we discipline ourselves to live so that we can say with the apostle Paul, ‘I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it’ (I Corinthians 9:23, NASB)” (139).
I recommend this excellent book that you may grow in all of the spiritual disciplines. Such growth will garner a greater witness from the impact of your life radically transformed by the gospel.
Source: Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Rev. Ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.