Wesleyan Evangelism vs. Modern Methods – John Boruff

After considering the evangelism options before me, I believe what the modern church desperately needs right now is a renewal of 18th century Wesleyan evangelism. Real, true blue John Wesley style evangelism. But why such a narrow view? I will try to explain, but before I get into what I believe Wesleyan evangelism to be–I will survey the present options, and explain why I think they are ineffective. This is not to say that people don’t get saved through these methods, just to say that not very many people do: and that they fall extremely short of the pattern we see in the Book of Acts.

Modern Methods of Evangelism Don’t Cut It–In My Opinion

1. Friendship Evangelism – This is the most popular way that Christians today approach the concept of reaching the lost. It goes like this: “I am a saved Christian. Most of the people around me don’t care about God, Heaven, Hell, or their eternal salvation; many in fact don’t believe in God, but think they came from monkeys millions of years ago by evolution, and an atheistic Big Bang before that. How can I share the Gospel of salvation with all these people? Oh, I know. My pastor told the church in his sermon the other day, that I can’t save the world–I’m only one person. But if I concentrate on one or two people, I may succeed in winning them to Christ. So, I will ask my Muslim neighbor over for a Barbecue; and my Agnostic co-worker and I will go bowling on Tuesday. Eventually, we’ll get to talking and shooting the breeze, and he’ll ask me what I believe in. Then I’ll tell him I believe in Jesus Christ, and explain how I got saved. And if he asks me any deeper questions along those lines, then I’ll show how he can be saved too.” I have several problems with this approach: (1) Although there are occasions of Christ leading people to salvation by one-on-one friendship, such as Matthew and Zacchaeus the Tax Collectors, and the Woman at the Well: that was only 3 people. (2) A heart full of God’s love for the whole world–even the WHOLE world–will not rest content with only reaching out to 2 or 3 people. If the WHOLE WORLD IS HEADED FOR HELL FIRE, it is the greatest apathy to ignore 99% of humanity, and try to preach the Gospel to only .0000001%. (3) Jesus preached in public to thousands and thousands of people (e.g., feeding fish to the 5,000 and the 4,000). This was His regular way of evangelism, and the apostles in the Book of Acts followed His example (e.g., Peter and the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost)–except the one-on-one witnessing event between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. (4) Friendship evangelism is too passive. I tried it in high school and college. It is very blandIt is very compromising, and probably encourages religious pluralism and tolerance of world religions more than the New Testament allows for (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). And when people are not living by the commandments of Christ, how can there be anything but a watering down of the Christian’s morals–and not the other way around. Apostle Paul said: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

2. One-on-One Witnessing with Gospel Tracts. This is another very popular option with more conservative Evangelical churches. True, some people get saved this way. But really: did Jesus and the apostles use tracts? No. And, like friendship evangelism, it is still numerically limited. 2 or 3 souls saved–at best. But, I will say, it seems better than friendship evangelism, because going out into the streets and passing out Gospel tracts–is a lot more pro-active and “go get e’m.”

3. Door-to-door witnessing would also fall into this category as well. But most of the people simply say, “Oh, I go to church. I’m a Christian.” They’re not saved, but that’s their answer. They’ll think you’re a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon.

4. Media Evangelism. Televangelism on TV, radio, internet, or even “phone fishing” have all been used. People have gotten saved through these things, but the problem with TV and radio and even internet evangelism: is it usually results in ridiculous BEGGING FOR MINISTRY FUNDS. That really discredits your sincerity to those you are trying to convert (1 Corinthians 9:18). It’s also very impersonal. There’s something Hollywood, plastic, and “sales pitch” about it.

5. Treasure Hunts. This is a new concept that came out of Bethel Church (Redding, CA) around 2007. This is where Charismatics will soak (listen to the Holy Spirit) and try to receive specific words of knowledge or mental visions about people in their area that God wants them to reach. Sometimes God speaks to them specifically, and people are found, converted, and even miraculously healed! But, again the limitation: one-on-one: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Ananias and Paul are the only occasions of this in the New Testament. It is number limited. Also, the soteriology is off in the Charismatic movement. Often, they are not only prophetically inaccurate, and frustrate the people they think God wants them to speak to, but they only preach “God’s love” or “God can heal you” instead of preaching justification by faith, regeneration, and sanctification (the Gospel). It also denigrates the dignity of evangelism into a cheap form of entertainment (yay! a “treasure hunt” adventure for the kiddies!).

6. Confrontational Evangelism. This was invented by “Brother Jed” in 1975 when he established The Campus Ministry USA. Drawing inspiration from the harsh and offensive holiness preacher “Holy Hubert” during the Jesus movement, Brother Jed has led the open air preaching movement for pretty much the last 30 years. The reason why street preachers are so harsh and abrasive today is because of this Brother Jed Smock. Woe to him! I think Jesse Morrell and Kerrigan Skelly are following in Smock’s footsteps more than they’d like to admit. SOAPA as well (The Southeast Open Air Preachers Association). John Wesley was confrontational, but I also believe he was a bit gentler and decent than these guys. Hence, the need to turn to Wesley for evangelism guidance.

The Need for Old-Time Wesleyan Evangelism

John Wesley Open Air PreachingIn 1989, revival expert Leonard Ravenhill was asked in an interview what he felt the #1 hindrance to revival was in America. Referring to in-church evangelistic revival meetings, his response was the following:

The #1 hindrance to revival in America is evangelism. We’ve made it easy for people to come forward and say a little prayer and go out. Stop them! You ask teenagers in your church: “#1. Are you saved?” “Yes.” “From what?” “Oh, from Hell.” “Are you saved from lust? Are you saved from pride?”—They don’t know…Talk about the witness of the Spirit that John Wesley preached on more than anything else—they don’t know what you’re talking about! They sing “Blessed Assurance” and THEY HAVE NO ASSURANCE!

The hindrance #1 is we’ve made it so easy for people to come forward, they go out at the door, I watched some recently…they had to get out of the door—they were lighting cigarettes—they won’t go in home under anguish. Do you know what dear Spurgeon said when he was 15? He was under conviction of sin for weeks and weeks—he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat! Where do you get conviction like that?! Dear God, our people: they’re a bit upset in the meeting—they go out and go back to sin, go back to sit before TV till midnight. There’s no concern! There has to come an awakening in the church to the peril! Those loved ones of yours at the end of the table—“They don’t go to church.” “No! They’re going to HELL! Why didn’t you say it?”

To examine this fiery answer from the lips of this holy prophet, I will break up what modern evangelists should burden themselves with preaching, in terms of soteriology:

1. No Easy “Sinner’s Prayer” Will Do. There Needs to Be Thorough PREACHING of Repentance from Sin, and a Changing of Your Life to Live a Holy Life.

2. PREACHING Salvation from Hell is Not Enough (Justification); You Must Also PREACH Deliverance from Living a Sinful Life (Sanctification).

3. PREACH on the “Witness of the Spirit” Contained in John Wesley’s Sermons and Writings (Regeneration).

4. PREACH That It Is Good to Feel Conviction of Sins.

5. There Needs to Be an Urgent PREACHING of the Danger of HELL FIRE!

Take note that most of John Wesley’s Gospel preaching (evangelism)–was open air PREACHING. Not friendship evangelism, not one-on-one with Gospel tracts, nor door-to-door witnessing, nor media evangelism, nor treasure hunts, nor was he ridiculously unloving and hateful like these “confrontational evangelism” street preachers. All he did was “go into all the world and PREACH the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). He was known for saying, “The world is my parish.” I think its time we get back to this old path of Wesley. Read the books, regurgitate the old Methodist teachings, and experience God in a true revival of Christian life and COMMUNITY.

Universalist Wesleyan Evangelism vs. Evangelical Wesleyan Evangelism

But I want to point something out before we get into this. Be sure to do what the old-timers did, not what modern United Methodists are doing. The moderns don’t represent Wesley’s revival evangelism at all! Randy Maddox’s Responsible Grace–a popular “theology of John Wesley” book for the United Methodists–in chapter 1, argues that Wesley was a Universalist! They took his doctrine of prevenient grace and turned it into universal salvation. They literally believe that John Wesley believed Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists will all be saved from Hell as long as they do “good works.” Nothing is more anti-Christian or more un-Biblical or un-Wesleyan! Wesley is rolling over in his grave at this nonsense! Justification by faith is only possible through a faith in Jesus’ sacrificial atonement on the cross for the forgiveness of sins: Wesley consciously preached this till his dying day. But these Methodist Universalists today have this inaccurate view of Wesley, and so their idea of “Wesleyan evangelism” is one of inter-faith dialogue and humanitarianism. Slowly but surely, they say, “We should introduce the perfect revelation of Christ–the full expression of God–to our non-Christian friends.” NO!! THEY’RE GOING TO HELL if they don’t turn to Jesus now! Thus the urgency of the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel, and the persecution they suffered for it.

Any “Methodist” or “Wesleyan” books coming from either Abingdon Press (except for Kenneth Collins), Kingswood Books, Upper Room, Oxford University Press–be warned of these Universalist influences. True blue Wesley, old-time Methodist, non-Universalist books will come from either Zondervan/Francis Asbury Press, Schmul Publishing, Beacon Hill Press, InterVarsity Press, Bethany House Publishers (publishes Leonard Ravenhill and Charles Finney!), etc. (But be careful even about Zondervan and IVP; sometimes they publish moderate “Evangelical” universalism. It’s very subtle and tricky. Clark Pinnock is one such example.) So far, the faithful Wesley scholars I know of are: Harald Lindstrom, John Deschner, Kenneth Collins, Thomas Oden, and Steve Harper. All have been published by Zondervan, and are strictly Evangelical Wesleyans, with no universalism. These are called “neo-Wesleyan” scholars because they want to represent the TRUE EVANGELICAL JOHN WESLEY–not this United Methodist universalism, etc. Some old-time Wesleyan theologians would be: Thomas Jackson, Adam Clarke, William Carpenter, Thomas Ralston (got some good stuff!), S. M. Merrill (I’m becoming more his fan), and Wilbur Tillett.

When confronted with the concept of universal salvation by William Law, the racy response from John Wesley was:

“Jews, Mohametans, Deists, Heathens, are all members of the Church of Christ! Should we not add devils too?…There can hardly be any doctrine under Heaven more agreeable to flesh and blood; nor any which more directly tends to prevent the very dawn of conviction” (“Letter to William Law,” 2.5, in Thomas Oden’s John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, p. 218).

Wesley continued his accusation against Law’s Christian universalism: “These are your arguments to prove that Christ is in every man — a blessing which St. Paul thought was peculiar to believers. He said, ‘Christ is in you except ye be reprobates,’ unbelievers. You say, Christ is in you whether ye be reprobates or no. ‘If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,’ saith the Apostle. Yea, but ‘every man,’ saith Mr. Law, ‘hath the Spirit of God. The Spirit of Christ is in every soul’ (Spirit of Prayer, Part I. p. 63). ‘He that hath not the Son of God hath not life,’ saith St. John. But Mr. Law saith, ‘Every man hath the Son of God.’ Sleep on, then, ye sons of Belial, and take your rest; ye are all safe: for ‘he that hath the Son hath life.’”

John Wesley called non-Christians and Christian universalists “sons of Belial”–that is, sons of the devil. Many United Methodists would fall under that condemnation!

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About John Boruff

John Boruff is the founder of WesleyGospel.com, a husband, father, and sometimes an open air preacher. He graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion and views himself as a Baptistic Pentecostal. As a Christian, he feels connected with all members of the body of Christ, but can identify the most with churches like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. In 2015, he released "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which is meant to be a Bible study for open air preaching. For his other writings, search articles on this site or see the E-Books section.
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