Evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means good news. But originally, euangelion wasn't a religious term. Euangelion was a political term.
In the first century, when Caesar had won an important military victory, an evangelist (messenger) would brig the euangelion (good news) back to the city of the emperor's victory in battle. In the same way, when one Caesar succeeded another, gave birth to an heir, or achieved another act worthy of celebration, messengers would spread the euangelion.
The early gospel writer co-opted Caesar's term in order to bring the euangelion of another king named Jesus. Evangelism comes from a tradition of sharing good news.
But the method of evangelism most of us grew up with wasn't exactly good news. At least, it didn't start that way, did it?
Most of you remember the first question you were to ask. I mentioned it on the first blog post in the series.
"Do you know where you would end up tonight if you were to die?"
That sounds more like bad news. Because what we hoped the person would say is "I don't know" or "Hell." Because if they responded with either of those answers, you were right on track. Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and Acts 2:38 were in your arsenal and sure to give hope to your unsuspecting "friend."
We knew the well-worn, fail-proof Bible study process.
But as I think about it, I'm uneasy about that whole method.
Here's what I mean...
When I have good news to share with my wife, I don't have to determine a fool-proof way to break the good news to her. I don't have a strategy for sharing good news with her. And even without a strategy, she celebrates the good news with me.
The only time I have to determine my approach to sharing news with my wife is when it is bad news.
Which makes me wonder why we spend so much time trying to deliver the euangelion (the good news) in a such a strategic, step-by-step way. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we have to rehearse our telling of the good news?
Are we sure it's good news?
Is it good news?
Karl Marx once said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." It was his way of saying that religion is a way for those in power to maintain the status quo in this world. If the upper classes could convince the lower classes that a better world was on its way, perhaps they would be content to live a less-than-abundant life now.
But Jesus did not come to give us "pie in the sky when we die by and by."
Jesus promised us eternal life. Not eternal life that begins after a life of misery. Not heaven after the maintenance of status quo on earth.
Look at what he said.
"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b).
Jesus came to announce a kingdom that would change everything now. He said, "The kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15b). He prayed, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
That makes it sound like Marx misunderstood Jesus.
That makes it sound like we misunderstood Jesus.
Evangelism isn't about sharing bad news that will eventually turn into good news in another lifetime.
Evangelism is about sharing good news that has already begun affecting our world and will one day fully affect our existence forever.
There is a hard edge to evangelism. The proper response to the good news requires repentance. It requires tuning our lives into the world that God is bringing. But it is a beautiful world that needs more messengers. It's the best news you could possibly share.
We've all been the bearer of bad news. We've all been in the position of carrying bad news to someone who was unaware that the conversation we were about to begin would alter their lives forever.
I've been in hospital rooms with people who have lost family or friends who are close to them. It's hard to lose someone you love. But I've noticed the most difficult expression on their faces often comes when they realize that they have to deliver the message that "Daddy isn't coming home" to the kids.
No one wants to deliver that message.
But I've seen people fight over delivering good news. I've seen my kids fight over getting share good news.
Have you ever seen a young child give a gift picked out for a parent? The gift is wrapped in a way only a mother could love. And before mom can even pull out the tissue paper (Hey! There's nothing wrong with gift bags!), the child ruins the surprise and tells her what the gift is.
The good news doesn't need to be packaged. The good news doesn't need a strategy for "breaking the news." The good news is good news on its own, without our help.
And in that sense, evangelism doesn't sound like a chore. It sounds like a privilege.
You are a messenger of the king. He gives you the honor of announcing his reign. And that reign is better than anything Caesar could conceive of.
Caesar's euangelion might be good news for some.
But the euangelion of Jesus is good news for all.