An Interview On Evangelism With Tom Schreiner (and Red Tailed Hawks!)

I meant to post this several years ago, but you know… life. Anyway, I found it and was encouraged all over again by it!

I had the great privilege of hosting Tom and Diane Schreiner a few  months [years…] back as Diane spoke at our church’s Ladies’ Breakfast, and Tom preached on Sunday. Tom is an incredibly gifted New Testament scholar, and his works have had a profound influence on Steve and myself. He was also my pastor for about ten years, and our experience of being in a local church under great leadership was life altering.

The highlight of the whole weekend, for me, was this picture:

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[Tom Schreiner: Pastor, New Testament Scholar, potential falconer, and friend of hawks everywhere]

Little known fact: Tom Schreiner loves to watch hawks. I mean, loves.  He can tell you a ton of stories about the hawks that live in their neighborhood.  I’m glad I could bring one up close and personal!

But another highlight was this conversation we had on evangelism. Enjoy!

What did evangelism look like in the New Testament?

In Acts we see the apostles going to the synagogues and preaching the Gospel. So we actually see the focus is on public evangelism, isn’t it? In public venues where they are going to synagogues and proclaiming the word of God. Doubtless there was also person-to-person, individual evangelism. Although quite remarkably that’s not emphasized so much in the New Testament, although it was doubtlessly there. But the New Testament emphasizes larger events that took place, perhaps because it came out of Judaism, and the Old Testament so they’re going to the synagogues to preach the gospel. For the Jews, Paul could go into virtually every city and preach in the synagogues.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Rob Plummer’ s book where he talks about Paul’s mission -there is a stream out there that argues that Paul did not believe that Christians should evangelize. Rob counteracts rightly that view, but there wouldn’t even be a debate if Paul talked a lot about what individual Christians should do. He doesn’t talk a lot about it. When you think of the ancient world, one of the reasons they don’t emphasize it as much as we’d expect is because it’s obvious. I mean, you live close to people, you’re seeing them every day. Our society is so different but imagine you’re living cheek by jowl, closely packed in with other people, and if you really worshiped and belonged to God it just couldn’t be hidden. It would just be known. But in our culture you use the garage door opener, go into your garage, and you may not see the neighbors who live right next door to you. Even where we live, one of our neighbors drove Uber for another neighbor and they didn’t even know each other and have lived in the same cul-de-sac for three or four years. They didn’t even know it! That would not have been possible in the ancient world. Not only would they know each other, but they’d know what people loved.

I know you didn’t ask me this, but I think it makes evangelism a greater challenge today. It makes it a greater challenge for me, given what I do, working at the seminary because forming those kinds of relationship with people is just different and harder.

What’s the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism?

Without the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing. We don’t save people. Beyond that, it’s wrong to think that if we shared the gospel and they don’t respond, we’re failures. In Acts 26, Paul shared the gospel there in front of Agrippa and Festus, and we’ve got no indication that anyone was saved, but Paul was faithful. Luke views that as a great event in his life!  So it is the Spirit that convicts, and I think convicts means convinces. The Spirit convicts people of sin, righteousness, and judgment. So if somebody is saved, we didn’t save them. So we could begin to think we save people. Honestly, I’ve thought that about myself, in my early years as a Christian. I thought I could convince people to become Christians if I just had long enough. I’d leave so many conversations thinking that if I just had a little bit longer. But the Lord slowly showed me through my experience in Scripture that it’s just wrong to think that way. I can’t convince anybody. Only the Spirit can do it. So our job is to be faithful, and we recognize many people don’t want to become Christians. If they do become Christians, it’s not because of us but because the Spirit draws them to Christ.

The other part that’s important to know is that it takes the pressure off. We don’t have to answer exactly right. Some of us get really nervous. “If I just said this…” “If only I knew my apologetics better…” “If only I knew the Bible better…” But that’s not the main reason people aren’t becoming Christians. It’s the Spirit that wins them. I think it frees us up a little bit. We don’t have to have an answer to every question. A lot of times, those questions are a smoke screen. Not that we shouldn’t answer, we should try. But that’s not why many aren’t becoming Christians.

What does the Bible mean when it says the Spirit convicts people?

I think it means, in John 16, the conviction is not a potential conviction, or a convicting that people can just push away. It’s an effectual conviction. He convinces them in their sin that they are going to be judged by Jesus’ righteousness, and they’re saved.

What should Christians be doing to fuel their passion for evangelism?

 The most important thing is their own relationship with God. Their time in the Word, their time in prayer. If a believer is excited about God, and Jesus Christ, they’re going to talk about it. The apostle Paul is the great example, isn’t he? He was excited about the Lord. Like in Philippians, these guards are chained up with him and you know that Paul shared the gospel with every one of them. He didn’t talk about sports the whole time! I think Paul did talk about sports, or other things, I don’t think he was a monomaniacal person, but that’s not going to get into the letter! And he tells us at the end of the letter, “Greetings from Caesar’s household.” Some people got converted from being chained up with Paul all day! Some of these guards might have been thinking, “who got chained to who here?” So, if we’re excited about Jesus, and we have relationships with people, we’re going to talk about it.

What do you think about church wide evangelistic events?

I think they’re good as long as you recognize they’re supplemental, they’re not the primary means by which you reach people. I think you want to communicate that. The primary means is through personal relationships and individual Christians. Michael Greene, in “One To One” says that the vast majority are reached through friendship. Events are good supplements and they can draw a person into church. That can be helpful as well, and we can be creative. A lot of people are lonely, they want to have friends, and relationships.

What are some common pieces of pastoral advice that you’ve given and that you give regularly?

I think the most important thing is that evangelism takes place mainly in the context of relationships. You want to go relational. Invite neighbors over for dinner, that’s a good way to do it. Bring them cookies or bread, pray with them when they share a need. Be sure, though, that you don’t wait too long to tell them about Jesus or the Gospel that it becomes really awkward because after five months of knowing them, and you still haven’t brought it up. Then you’re stuck thinking, “how do I bring this into the conversation?”

How do you do bring the Gospel into conversations?

I think you naturally talk about Church and Christ, put it into your conversation just normally. Even maybe share what you learned in the Bible that day with them, or what you’ve learned at church, in the conversation. I think that’s helpful. If you’re friends, if you’re really talking about things, I think it’s easy for us to just talk about other things but our goal is always to share the gospel. Pray for them if they express concerns to you. That may depend on the level of your relationship, if you don’t know them well, praying for them could be weird. If they’re a next door neighbor and you start to get to know them though, that’s good. We’ve done that with our next door neighbor, we pray with them all the time.

How can pastors and the church encourage people that they, as individual Christians, are the front line of evangelism?

I think by emphasizing that evangelism isn’t fundamentally done through the pastors, or the elders. It’s a church wide phenomenon. It’s the responsibility of every believer, of the entire church, and it isn’t fundamentally programmatic. It’s relational. By relational, I don’t mean “don’t share the gospel.” But most people, in a very suspicious society, are trying to sell us things all the time for their own advantage and not ours. So people are suspicious about outsiders. If they know you, and they trust you, and they recognize who you are, you’re just going to have more of a voice with them. So events can help, but they just ought to always be subsidiary.

What about the use of tracts?

I think we should all know the gospel, and should know how to say the Gospel briefly, concisely, in four or five points. We interview all the members of our church before they join, and we ask them to share the gospel with us briefly so we can know they know the gospel, and can communicate it. But tracts are helpful, as long as they’re good! Some tracts are terrible. I wouldn’t say to just rely on a tract, but they’re good to give people so they can take it home. I’ve just heard so many stories where people take it home, and they didn’t even care about getting them at the time, but God used them later. So I think they can be helpful, and there are some good ones out there. Actually, there are quite a few good ones out there. Some of them are too long, and I think it’s good to use a brief one that gets to heart of it.

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