Evangelism Methods in the Bible Part 2: Paul

In our last post, we covered the evangelism methods of Peter; in this post we share Paul’s evangelism strategy. Before we get into Paul, however, let’s quickly recap what we learned in the last post.

The Gospel

From our study in 1 Corinthians 15, we saw that the Gospel is a message containing four key elements:

  1. Christ died for our sins
  2. He was buried
  3. He was raised on the third day
  4. He appeared

Evangelism Methods of Peter

Peter’s strategy in Acts 2 involved repetition. He mentioned that Jesus sin 3 times, Jesus Christ 3 times, Jesus’ death 3 times, Jesus being buried twice, Jesus rising 3 times, Jesus being seen by witnesses 3 times, and the call to respond by faith and repentance 3 times. Peter’s primary goal was to make sure that the message of the Gospel was understood.

We also saw that since he was talking to Jews, he quoted Scripture extensively in order to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah (the “Christ”). He helped them understand that Jesus was who He said He was by showing them fulfilled prophecy. And he also got them to see their own sin by connecting the dots for them: they had killed their own King.

Evangelism Methods of Paul

How does Paul differ? On the surface, his method looks very different at times. Look at the following sermon he preached in Acts 17, and count up two things: (1) how many times he quotes Scripture and (2) how often he uses the name of Jesus:

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In Him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed His offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Crunching the Numbers

How many times did Paul quote Scripture? Zero times. How many times did Paul mention Jesus by name? Not even once. Instead, he just calls Jesus a “man” and he quotes poets and philosophers instead of Scripture! Is Paul even preaching the Gospel?

Yes!

  • Paul still persuades them to see their own sin of ignoring God (v. 30).
  • He mentions Jesus, just not by name. He is the Man whom God raised, the one who will judge everyone at the end of history (v.31).
  • Like Peter, Paul called his listeners to repent (v. 30).
  • And, praise God, Paul’s preaching also led to salvation (v.34)!

So there are clearly similarities! The core message of the Gospel, the one laid out in 1 Corinthians 15, the one Peter repeated 3 times in his sermon, is still present in Paul’s preaching. But that leads to the next question:

Why the Differences?

If they’re preaching the same Gospel, why is there a need to preach it differently? They preach it differently because their audiences are different. Peter focused in on quoting Scripture because He was talking to Jews who respected Scripture. Paul, on the other hand, was talking to Gentiles with no knowledge of Scripture. That’s why he didn’t lead with quoting Scripture.

Paul first notices that the Athenian people were religious, because they had false idols all over their city. While gaining situational awareness and learning about the people he was called to witness to, he discovered an alter with an inscription “To an unknown God.” He uses this as his hook to meet them on common ground. Paul knew that the Athenian people prided themselves on philosophy. They waited eagerly for foreigners travel through and share new ideas in Athens. Knowing this, Paul helped them to understand the God whom they already acknowledge exists (“to the unknown god”) but knew nothing about.

Evangelism Methods for Today: Acts 2 or Acts 17?

Which kind of culture do you think we live in? Do we live in an “Acts 2 culture,” where people have knowledge and respect for Scripture? Or do we live in an “Acts 17 culture,” where people have many different competing ideas about what’s true and little knowledge or respect for the Bible?

More and more, it seems we are living in an Acts 17 culture: most people are not actually aware of what the Bible teaches. Acts 17 should be a go-to model for evangelism in the modern world.

Practically, this means we need to be able to meet people where they already are. Imitate Paul’s example, who found correct religious beliefs they already had and built on it. He didn’t spend all his time critiquing them for worshiping false gods. He acknowledged that they were genuinely trying to be pious, and he was filling in the missing pieces.

Ways to Find Common Ground Today

One method would be to find a cause that they’re passionate about. For example, if they are passionate about ending slavery throughout the modern world or homelessness, begin talking about their views of humanity. Why do people deserve to not be enslaved and homeless? Why do we have so much value? It isn’t because we are so good; it’s because we’re so loved by God.

Another tip would be to focus on the bigger issues first, like God’s existence, what God is like, who we as people are, what sin is, and what Jesus did to save us from sin. When there is less common ground, it can be riskier to get into the weeds.

Example of Finding Common Ground

One time I was sharing the Gospel with someone, and we got onto the topic of prophecy. I showed him how Isaiah was able to describe Jesus’ life hundreds of years before He lived. When I asked my new friend how this was possible, he said “I guess he was channeling some kind of higher power.” Now, was Isaiah channeling a higher power? No. This makes it sound like God was a spirit under the power of Isaiah. Rather, the Spirit inspired Isaiah to write of Jesus. And is God just an ambiguous “higher power”? Not really. This makes it sound like God is just a force, not a person. I thought about these two issues as I spoke to him.

But I decided to take another route. I said “I’ve never used the word channeling to describe it, but yes, I agree with you: the only way someone could accurately describe someone’s life hundreds of years in advance is if Something beyond space and time told him about it. So, who do you think told Isaiah about Jesus?” This strategy keeps us moving toward the Gospel; disagreeing about each and every little thing wastes precious time.

Conclusion: Evangelism Methods and the Heart of Evangelism

Here’s one more things we can learn from Paul’s evangelism in Acts 17. He had compassion. “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (v. 16).

Paul didn’t preach or do evangelism out of feeling of superiority. He felt compassion for people who lacked knowledge. May that be true for each of us as well.

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