The Christian gospel is the most significant message ever entrusted to human beings. It is the message of a love so strong it overcomes every obstacle in order to rescue sinful people from judgment. Jesus is God come to save us, by bearing himself all the consequences of our sin and opening up a new life of hope and joy and peace. This is breathtakingly good news, all the more so because our situation without it is so dire. The gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah changes everything. It is the powerful way God saves people (Rom 1:16).
The extraordinary privilege of being entrusted with the gospel, especially when seen against the stark reality of judgment as its only alternative, ought to make us urgent about evangelism. There is such great need in our world, and we have the one true answer to it. How could we possibly withhold it from those lost and blindly careering towards disaster? How could we possibly stay silent when the empty lies of the evil one are peddled as truth and those we love are settling for far less than God has always intended for them? We don’t need a command to get out there and evangelise, it’s just obvious. It flows naturally out of the gospel. Everybody needs to hear about Jesus.
A friend of mine asked not that long ago where all our evangelistic fire had gone. Where’s that sense of urgency, that passion for the lost, that clarity of focus on Jesus and the salvation available only through him, which used to characterise Christians in this part of the world? It made me think. Have we become too comfortable or perhaps too fearful? Do we still believe it?
When I studied at Moore College in the 1980s, it seemed that everyone wanted to be an evangelist. It helped that we had a champion of evangelism in Sydney, the larger-than-life John Chapman. Chappo challenged us to take every opportunity. I remember him saying, “If you don’t have an evangelistic tract in your pocket you won’t be looking for anyone to give it to, will you?” He spoke at large meetings and small, offering people the opportunity for a “fresh start”. He taught us how to evangelise as we taught the Bible. He firmly believed that the gospel lies at the very centre of the Bible and so every part of the Bible is related in some way or other to Jesus, his death and resurrection. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney was richly blessed by the ministry of John Chapman—and many other places were too!
But it wasn’t only Chappo. I remember a series of lunches at the top table in the College dining room (yes, we used to have one of those!), at which Peter Jensen asked each of us in our final year how we would turn a conversation in this situation or that, with this person or that, to the gospel of the Lord Jesus. I remember coming across, hidden on one of the shelves in the stack in the old Moore College Library, an evangelistic tract that Broughton Knox had written for use by the College mission teams. I remember the impact on many of student minister positions with the Department of Evangelism. In one parish I served, I just kept falling over people who had come to Christ because they had heard the gospel from the senior minister. Quietly and unobtrusively, he was—and remains—one of the most indefatigable evangelists I know, taking every opportunity.
So what has happened to make my friend doubt that the fire is still burning within us? There have been huge cultural changes since the 1980s. Anti-Christian propaganda has been pumped through our education system and popular entertainment boldly and insistently for almost all that period, and certainly more vigorously in the last ten years. In the 1980s, to be a Christian might have caused others to label you as somewhat quaint but out of touch. Yet today, some voices can be heard arguing that Christians are dangerous and should be silenced in public. Back then we certainly spoke about persecution, but only heard about it from a distance. But in recent years, in a number of traditionally Christian countries, the prosecutions have begun, and vehement denunciations can be heard in many forms of media. We all seem to be much less resilient than the generation before us, let alone those who grew up through the gritty war years of the mid twentieth century. We seem to be perennially on the back foot.
I suspect we’ve also bought into technique, programs and strategy more than we thought we should 40 years ago. Perhaps that’s made us a little more inward looking. Of course, increasing levels of compliance and administration, and more people talking about leadership than about gospelling and global mission, have pushed us further down that direction.
So how do we get the fire back? Not, I suspect, by trying to work ourselves up into a frenzy. Not by browbeating each other either. To be honest, I don’t even think it will be the result of a brilliant ministry strategy centring on evangelism. We are far better off turning our attention again to the gospel itself. It is the wonder of the gospel that stirs the imagination, warms and captures the heart, and puts fire in our bellies.
In the following pages, showcasing some of what is going on at Moore, I hope you will notice Jesus and his gospel at the very centre of everything. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of Jesus’ goodness, his extraordinary mercy and compassion, which are matched by his constant faithfulness to the will of his Father. He is truly the most impressive man ever to have walked on earth. He always did what was right. He always acted out of love. His unimaginable strength and power are matched by gentleness, compassion and grace. And he has done everything—absolutely everything—necessary to save us from sin and secure our future. He gathers us up into his relationship with his Father.
What a Saviour we come to know in the gospel! What a salvation is ours in the gospel! Let’s not let anything quench that evangelistic fire.