November 2, 2008

J. I. Packer (1926–) on the Importance of Friendliness in Evangelism

The next time you engage in face-to-face evangelism yourself, or read some (perhaps totally anonymous) blogger who fancies himself as an evangelist and/or an über-apologist on the internet, or if you enter into a "Christian" chat room, observe if the following principles in Packer's book are being violated.
There is a famous old book on personal evangelism by C. G. Trumbull, entitled Taking Men Alive. In the third chapter of that book, the author tells us of the rule that his father, H. C. Trumbull, made for himself in this matter. It was as follows: 'Whenever I am justified in choosing my subject of conversation with another, the theme of themes (Christ) shall have prominence between us, so that I may learn of his need, and, if possible, meet it.' The key words here are: 'whenever I am justified in choosing my subject of conversation with another'. They remind us, first, that personal evangelism, like all our dealings with our fellow-men, should be courteous. And they remind us, second, that personal evangelism needs normally to be founded on friendship. You are not usually justified in choosing the subject of conversation with another till you have already begun to give yourself to him in friendship and established a relationship with him in which he feels that you respect him, and are interested in him, and are treating him as a human being, and not just as some kind of 'case'. With some people, you may establish such a relationship in five minutes, whereas with others it may take months. But the principle remains the same. The right to talk intimately to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ had to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and really care about him. And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging in to the privacy of other people's souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away—these modes of behaviour, in which strong and loquacious personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! In fact, rudeness of this sort dishonours God; moreover, it creates resentment, and prejudices people against the Christ whose professed followers act so objectionably. The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other man. We have to give ourselves in honest friendship to people, if ever our relationship with them is to reach the point at which we are justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ, and can speak to them about their own spiritual needs without being either discourteous or offensive. If you wish to do personal evangelism, then—and I hope you do; you ought to—pray for the gift of friendship. A genuine friendliness is in any case a prime mark of the man who is learning to love his neighbor as himself.
J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1991), 80–82.

Some of the Christians on the internet who are violating these principles are not only not accountable to other believers, but they are not even accountable to their own Church elders, and yet demand respect for their "evangelistic" or "apologetical" activities. As Packer points out above, we are hardening people against the truth, rather than winning them to the truth, when we behave "so objectionably" toward others.
ESV 1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Biblical apologetics doesn't merely involve an intellectual ability to give an answer to those who contradict God's words. It also involves a level of maturity in conversation such that our neighbor can tell that we have an interest in their ultimate well-being, that we truly respect them as made in God's image, and genuinely desire that they come to the knowledge of the truth.

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