I have watched two videos from the Way of the Master website, the first is entitled “Hell’s best kept secret”, the second is entitled “God’s wonderful plan”. Both of these videos claim to be showing the biblical way to evangelism as pursued by Spurgeon, Whitfield and Wesley. Firstly I will look at what is claimed to be the Biblical way, secondly I will make some comments from a historical theological perspective and thirdly I will raise some outstanding concerns.
The Biblical basis: The claim is that biblical evangelism always starts with the law; appeal is made to the account of the Rich Young ruler and the Lady at the well in Samaria. Granted in the first case Jesus uses the law explicitly to show the rich young ruler his need of salvation but he still rejects the teaching of Jesus. In the case of the Samaritan women we have no explicit reference to the law but only an implicit reference. We are informed by the teaching on these videos that one must use the law explicitly for evangelism to be successful. My biggest problem with this is someone obviously forgot to tell the apostles this if we take the sermons in Acts seriously. On the day of Pentecost there is no explicit account of Peter expounding the Law but rather he preached Christ and his atoning work, he demonstrated this by quoting from the Old Testament but not from the Ten Commandments. Yet we are told time after time on these videos that we must use the Ten Commandments in our evangelism. We are told that modern evangelistic techniques reduce the gospel to seeking peace and happiness, the critique of modern evangelism is not always fair but I would grant that the Biblical emphasis on repentance is often missing. We are told that that the real motivation to evangelize is so that people will see that they have to escape from the wrath to come, surely this as self-centred as the previous method but the subject has been changed. The purpose of the proclamation of the gospel is to see that God is glorified as he reveals himself as the God of holy love. Our emphasis is to point men to God and show them who he is in all his glory and his grace. This is why the apostles preached Jesus Christ and him crucified. When God is revealed then sinners will see their need of a Saviour, it is our task to proclaim the gospel in such a way that lost people will embrace the God of holy love. As we preach Christ sinners will be convinced of their sin.
I feel that this technique tries to do the work of the Holy Spirit for him, instead of relying on him to draw sinners to himself in the way that he desires. If we use this teaching and insist that we must proclaim the law first some of the most needy people in our world will find that all it does is convince them that they are worthless, something that they already feel, in such cases instead of proclaiming the law we need to show the grace and love of Christ so that they may see that in the God of the bible there is real hope.
My conclusion then is that this method is fatally flawed because it does not place Christ at the centre of its proclamation.
Secondly: Historical Theology and the issues it raises. We are told that Spurgeon, Wesley and Whitfield used this approach; I believe this is a profound misunderstanding of their common acceptance of the Puritan idea that sometimes the terrors of the law are needed to bring a person to Christ. What is overlooked here is that these three preachers could thunder the law and its claims but also any reading of their sermons shows that they also could be winsome and tender. The ambition of all three men was to preach Christ and him crucified under the leading of the Holy Spirit. All three would stress repentance in coming to Christ, sin must be forsaken but I cannot imagine any of the three going onto the streets and starting the message with the Ten Commandments. Yes they used the Ten Commandments in their preaching but only as a means to reveal who God is in all his holiness and grace. I find it intriguing that Jonathan Edwards is not mentioned, his best known sermon is “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”. Edwards was keen to show forth the glory of who God is and in his book “the Religious Affections” he makes it clear that God deals with people in diverse ways the important thing is that they come to know Christ. Edwards was one of the first to clearly teach what has been called Christian hedonism, he believed that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (” Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1). Reformed Theology has emphasised the glory of God as the main focus of all its teaching, including its evangelistic methods, it therefore dislikes techniques because using a technique shows a lack of trust in the way the Sovereign God works.
Thirdly other concerns: This whole technique borders on manipulation, in all of the video examples seen people were made to feel how bad they were before the hope of a Saviour is mentioned. One of the criticisms they level at other techniques is the high fall off rate but I fear that this could be the same for this, frightening or shaming people into the kingdom is not a biblical pattern but yet this what the fruit of this technique is. Surely when people realize that they have been manipulated to pray the sinner’s prayer they too will fall away. I have referred to this throughout this paper as a technique and perhaps this is the most damning criticism of it. We are assured that this is the method, the only correct way to present the gospel but as shown above there is very little biblical support for this statement and the evidence of church History also goes against it.
Another concern is the way Scripture is used, let me give two examples. Firstly, in the first video the speaker refers to John 3:18 without any reference to the preceding verses, the whole purpose of this was to emphasise that people were under condemnation if they do not accept Christ as saviour, while this is undoubtedly true the context shows that God in his love does not want to leave the sinner in that place. The second example also from the first video advises people to use Psalm 51 to see if they are Christians and if not to use the Psalm as the basis for confession and receiving Christ, this is to treat the Psalm in a way that does not do justice to the fact that this is the prayer of a backslidden man not that of a new convert.
I feel that it is easy to be critical of others and a critical spirit is to be avoided but on the other hand we need to test everything by the Word of God, I have attempted to be as fair as possible in the above and I acknowledge that the teachers of the Way of the Master are my brothers in Christ. These men have a passion to see the lives of believers built on a solid foundation, I share that passion but I believe their methodology is wrong.