Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review of Jesse Johnson’s “Way of the Master” Seminar – Shepherd’s Conference


I want to keep this review as short and to the point as possible. I listened to Jesse Johnson’s take on evangelism and Ray Comfort’s WOTM method. I agree entirely with some of the points Jesse makes. However, there are other points that make me a tad uncomfortable. From my vantage point, I heard two fundamental points in Jesse’s lecture. First, I heard Jesse decry the idea of method in evangelism. The main idea is that the NT does not use a method for evangelism nor does it instruct us to adopt one. On this point Jesse is correct on this point. The NT does not endorse a method of evangelism nor does it provide examples for one. The NT also does not endorse the ideal of method in evangelism. However, is this truth alone enough to criticize the ideal of method in evangelism. I am not so sure that it is. The NT does not speak to a specific method for doing church either, but one would be hard pressed to find one that did not use a method. The only hint of a worship structure is that we should do all things decently and in order. We have music pastors and youth pastors, none of which are mentioned in the NT. Yet, these offices are built on a very specific method for doing church ministry. On the one hand it seems to me that to avoid the idea of method or the concept of some sort of method in evangelism is impossible. Even if we say that our method is simply to introduce people to Jesus Christ, that is still a method. Moreover, even if we say that that approach requires a high degree of fluidity, that is still a method. It seems self-defeating to me to dismiss even the idea of method in evangelism.

On the other hand, Jesse is right to correct the thinking that evangelism can become more successful if only we can find just the right method. The right method for evangelism is to confront people with the person of Jesus Christ and the revelation of God that He delivered. The goal is to give men and women the truth of the gospel as clearly and as accurately as we can without regard for how they will respond to it. It is when we concern ourselves with results that evangelism and methods begin to run afoul of Scripture. This is the major problem with method in evangelism in modern, western Christianity. Methods are established that are designed with human response in mind as opposed to effective and accurate presentation of the truth. Jesse also mentioned that evangelism methods tend toward arrogance and condescension. I think this is irrelevant. It isn’t the method that is to be faulted here. It is the person. There is no logical connection between method and arrogance. This could be just as true for those not using a canned approach. Eliminating method does not guarantee the removal of arrogance.

Secondly, Jesse criticized Ray Comforts use of the Law of Moses in evangelism and some of his misuses of Scripture. I think Jesse is right on this point. The Law of Moses was never given to Gentiles in general. Therefore, it is inappropriate to specifically reference the Mosaic Law when confronting unbelieving Gentiles with their sin. However, I do think Jesse’s point is a bit over-stated. First of all, I think it is unfair for Jesse to go off on the tangent he did regarding the numerous uses of the word nomos in the NT. I do not think Ray Comfort believes that nomos always refers to the Mosaic Law. This was a bit over-blown. I do not think this portion of the lecture added much value around the specific subject of evangelism. Confronting people with their rejection of the greatest commandment to love God with all their being accomplishes the very same thing. What does it mean to love God with our whole being? It means we do those things which are pleasing in His sight. Moreover, the ethical components of the Mosaic Law are clearly drawn from the overarching Law of God. The command not to commit adultery is applicable to all men, not just those under the Mosaic Law. With a few tweaks, one can engage the unbeliever without referencing a Law that was never given to them even though the morality of that Law is identical to the one that exits in their conscience in many respects. Romans two makes this point unambiguous.

Finally, after listening to the lecture and agreeing with most of what Jesse had to say, I was still left with mixed emotions. I wondered if this was such a big problem that it required a resource at a conference like this taking this kind of time to deal with something that seems quite low on the list of priorities. In other words, I wonder if this time could have been better spent on something more significant than Ray Comfort’s errors here and there in his evangelistic ministry. Maybe this is a good question, maybe it isn’t. But it is a question I have and I do not think I am alone.

In summary, I have said that it is invalid to criticize method in evangelism on the basis that the NT does not use a specific method nor does it teach one specific method. This fact does not ipso facto nullify method in evangelism. What it does is call into question any view that would be overly restrictive or insistent that one specific method be employed to the exclusion of other methods. What it does is support the argument that a variety of methods may be used in evangelism. In this regard, Jesse makes his case even if he may take it a bit too far. I have also argued that the most important aspect of evangelism is a biblically accurate introduction of the individual to Jesus Christ and His mission and revelation of God the Father. It is when we become concerned with the impact of this introduction on those to whom it is made that we begin to encounter problems. While Ray Comfort may be misguided in his method by imposing the Mosaic Law on those to whom it was never given, this error fails to reach egregious levels. I do not fault Jesse for making the correction whatever. All error is worth correcting. In the end, I think Jesse would have been much better off making a case for evangelism from a positive standpoint rather than selecting the most popular reformed evangelist our country has known in modern times and offer a critical review that accomplished little more than correct an error that is far less harmful than most of those confronting the church today. I appreciateJesse's concern for truth and for biblical evangelism. We agree on more than we disagree in terms of his critique of WOTM evangelism.



7 comments:

  1. Excellent,unbiased review.

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  2. Wow! So as we talk to sinners about sin we can NEVER reference the 10 Commandments because it was given to the Jews and not the Gentiles? You said: "With a few tweaks, one can engage the unbeliever without referencing a Law that was never given to them even though the morality of that Law is identical to the one that exits in their conscience in many respects. Romans two makes this point unambiguous." Talk about splitting hairs! The biblical basis of bringing up the Law (do not steal, do not commit adultery, etc) is to show the sinner their sin. In their conscience they know it's wrong to do these things and therefore stand guilty before God because of their trangressions. I simply see the 10 Commandments as a tool to clearly show every person's moral failure and sin before holy God. Is this the only method of evangelism? Certainly not! But the apostle Paul agreed it certainly is effective! I appreciate you write up and insight in this issue. May we strive together for the Gospel! God bless!

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  3. Thanks for your review. I thought it was pretty fair and balanced. I also mostly agree with Jesse.

    This whole conversation made me wonder what is the "work of the law" that is written on every man's heart. My conclusion is that it is the two greatest commandments, supreme love for God and love for others. Jesus said that the entire Law and Prophets "depends" (or hangs on) these two. This means that these two are more than merely a summary of the the Law but the pegs on which the Law depends or is suspended upon. In other words, the

    These two great commands, for Jews under the Old Covenant, were fulfilled by keeping every statute in the Mosaic Covenant. Love for God and others under the Old Covenant meant the stoning of adulterers, circumcision, the observance of feast days and dietary laws. The fulfillment of these two commands for Gentiles is different in that it doesn't include the command to rest on Saturday or observe the Passover, but obviously it includes not murdering your neighbor or lying to him etc, and not worshiping idols. What is sin for the Gentiles? Whatever the Scriptures specifically condemn them for eg Romans 1, 1 Cor 6:9-10, and wherever else in the Old or New Testaments where God indicts humanity at large.

    BTW this doesn't mean that we should never walk people through the commandments. I do so often. I'm just saying that I think it's more biblically accurate to ask unbelievers if they've kept the two great commands AND THEN ask them how many lies have they told, have they looked at a woman with lust etc. Or if you do mention the Ten Commandments, which I think is OK, just be careful that you don't tell them that they are the standard (lest they think they will be judged for working on Saturday). God's nature and character is the standard.

    Another important point that Jesse Johnson said is that we need to be careful with equating TWOTM's good person test with "THE" biblical way to share the gospel. Law to the proud and grace to the humble principle is biblical. But that doesn't mean that unless you have walked a person through the Good Person Test you haven't preached the biblical gospel to them. The main issue is that we confront sin. This can be done by discussing the two greatest commands, or what the Bible says about the human heart, or emphasizing the attributes of God and His holiness, etc. The main issue is that we confront sin.

    Just some thoughts. God bless.

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  4. Ed...I'm two years late, but a friend just emailed me this. Thanks for the review. It is charitable, fair, and accurately represents what I said. I appreciate that. Thanks man!

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  5. Why would it not be appropriate to use the Law of Moses on a Gentile if it is written on their heart according to Romans 2?

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    1. Because it is not the law of Moses that is written on the heart per se, but the moral law which only composes certain aspects of the law of Moses. What we would say is that the Law of God is administered differently in the divine covenants but that each covenant is an expression of the law of God to one degree or another. The aspects of the Law of Moses that are also shared with the Law of God are written on the hearts of men and do apply to the Gentiles. I ope that makes sense.

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