The Necessity of Listening in Evangelism

I have a unique privilege to spend time out and about witnessing to people in public venues. While I want to be careful with my words, I think it is important for us who would be apprentices of Jesus to deal with certain topics in balance. I recently had a blessed time doing outreach at a home game for the Arizona baseball team known as the Diamondbacks. I want to be perfectly clear that I enjoy very much working with some of the dear brothers and sisters who go out to share the good news of Messiah and believe them to be good and faithful warriors for God’s kingdom on the whole. I am not certain whether reformed theology and Calvinism are responsible for some of the things I see when we are out there. I see a tendency to feel that simply stridently and rudely ignoring the objections and opinions of those to whom they are witnessing is a complete, effective, and loving proclamation of the gospel. In other words, that winning the argument and bringing someone to faith involves riding roughshod over their concerns and objections related to the truth of the gospel being shared. I contend that this is neither biblical nor wise.

One of my favorite apologists, Ravi Zacharias, has often observed that the Christian apologist is to conduct oneself as a lady or gentleman. Often the very people who will ignore the opinions of others and not address them in a kind way are the very ones who proclaim on a street corner how much they love the individuals they’re trying to reach. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is kind, so unkindness by its very nature is not love. Ignoring and not allowing people to tell their story and give their objections (to a limited level) diminishes their dignity and dishonors their creator.

Let’s demonstrate this from the word of God:

“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:22–24, NKJV).’”

First, Paul the Jew, who has an absolute natural hatred for idolatry, complements these men by stating that they are very religious. He does not state that the reason for their objects of worship is their total depravity. Second, while he makes use of the truth of the Word, he does not proof text them with a whole bunch of verses. In fact, he does not directly use Scripture at all. Third, he relates the altar to “the unknown god” to the one true God and states that their problem is ignorance, not a willful, knowledgeable rejection of God.

The apostle Paul is careful to distinguish between a deliberate, conscious, knowledgeable rejection of Jesus and an ignorant or unconscious rejection of God. He bears witness that his own kinsmen have a zeal for the one true God but are darkened in their understanding of him, having rejected the method of righteousness which God has prescribed. Concerning the Jews, he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:1–2, NKJVK).” He does not believe for one moment that they are consciously and deliberately attempting not to worship the God of the universe. Nor does he assume that they cannot respond to some knowledge of God on some level.

We do not know people’s reason for rejecting Jesus if we do not give them the opportunity to explain their story and tell us their reasons, then we are not giving God a chance to get around their roadblocks. It is the height of unloving behavior to assume things about a person without seeking to lovingly communicate with that person. Yes, human beings do resist God. However, this in no way means that all human beings resist everything about God to the same extent in the same way, or that they cannot respond to what they know about God on some limited and non-saving level. Furthermore, God uses the responses of unsaved people, though in themselves non-saving, as part of His Providence to lead them to His Son.

We must be careful to balance the truth of man’s sinfulness with the equal truth of them being made in the image of God and thus having an ability to respond, however ineffectually, to the overtures of God. We must also acknowledge that God uses these imperfect responses as part of His plan in saving an individual. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is respectful and loving, not simply by stating we love people but by listening to their hearts and looking for the way God wants to reach them as we preach the gospel in outreach.

“My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18, NKJV).”