Reformed Theology and the Style of Evangelism

By John H. Leith
Edited by James C. Goodloe IV

The responsibility to bear witness to the gracious presence of God in Jesus Christ “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” has been the perennial task of the Christian community from the beginning. But the style and form of evangelism has varied according to time and place. There is no one way of evangelism, as the history of Christians witnessing and confessing their faith makes very clear. The life of the Christian community has been and is enriched by a variety of evangelistic styles and by multiple theological confessions.

There is, however, a limit to possible Christian theologies, and the preeminent theological task of the church is to test its proclamation by the word of God in Jesus Christ, as attested in scripture, to see that it is within the boundary. There is also a limit to the legitimate styles of evangelism. Some styles of evangelism corrupt and others strengthen the witness, but more significantly, style always betrays the real content. “There is an intimate but seldom seen connection between a person’s thought and his style, which Alfred North Whitehead defined precisely as the ‘ultimate morality of mind.'”

The purpose of this paper is to relate Reformed theology to the form and style of evangelism. The paper presupposes that evangelism as shaped by Reformed theology is a valid and effective form of evangelism, but it does not presuppose that such form of evangelism is the only form that has validity or effectiveness. It is hoped that the proposal will be the occasion for self-criticism in the work of evangelism and for renewal of theological and ecclesiastical life in the Reformed tradition.

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