What's the biblical motivation for evangelism?


It seems to me that our evangelism has become quite messed up because we’ve made it all about the destiny of the individual after death. But I question whether this is the basis for the proclamation of the Good News in the NT at all. The message of Jesus was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It wasn’t, “repent, for if you don’t the consequences for you personally will be very nasty in the afterlife.” It’s true he did talk about judgment on “this generation” for refusing the offer of God’s grace. But much of that involved national temporal judgment which horrifically came to pass in 67-70 AD under Titus and his legions, including the ultimate destruction of the Temple which Jesus predicted. Refusing God’s grace does have consequences, and not just in the next life, and not just for individuals. How many national calamities are actually the judgment of God for refusing to receive the kingdom? It’s interesting that N.T. Wright (and others as well) interprets the “gehenna” sayings as part of that national judgment on “this generation”. It wasn’t that gehenna was a future place of misery for unrepentant sinners, but that Jerusalem was literally going to be turned into a big burning garbage dump, complete with corpses and all the rest (and it was). I think there might be something to that idea. The horror of that experience for that generation might be hard for us to relate to, but I found this artist’s rendition of the destruction of the Temple on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Franc … ez_017.jpg.

So the “big picture” of evangelism is announcing the inbreaking of the kingdom of God and calling people to repentance in light of that coming kingdom. It’s not just about what happens to sinners after they die. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:8-12 have always struck me as significant in terms of what evangelism is really all about: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”

It seems to me that evangelism has more to do with announcing the victory of Jesus to the principalities and powers as it does with the destiny of individual human beings in the afterlife. This world is under the control of spiritual forces of wickedness. Our calling is to bring first our own lives, and then the lives of those around us, under God’s rulership and thus help bring about the defeat of those principalities and powers. It’s interesting to me that the most commonly held motivation for evangelism today is concern for the fate of individual sinners after death. And yet I can’t think of a single passage in the NT that ever mentions this as a motivation for evangelism. I’ve wondered about that for a long time, even before I became a hopeful universalist. I think we should really be concerned about the fact that God’s rule is not being received by so many people, and that so many people are living in misery NOW because of that, imprisoned by false beliefs and ideas, and in bondage to deceiving spirits. Evangelism is spiritual warfare, not just trying to give people “fire insurance” for eternity! I think a lot of evangelism is ineffective because there is very little emphasis on repentance. We’re so much into the idea that salvation is not earned that it’s like we’re afraid to tell people they need to DO something other than come forward to an altar call and pray the sinners’ prayer.

It’s struck me for quite some time (even before I became a hopeful universalist) how very different our evangelism is from the evangelism I see in the NT. On the Day of Pentecost, when the crowds were cut to heart over their guilt for the murder of the very One whom God had sent to them, and they asked “what should we do?”, Peter didn’t say "okay, all of you who sincerely believe in your hearts come forward, and then pray these words after me . . .” Instead, he said “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, change your life and start demonstrating the reign of God by bringing your lives under his rulership. It’s also interesting to me that he said to the crowd, “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” He didn’t say “save yourselves from damnation in the afterlife!”

Just a few thoughts.

Eph. 3.10-11

Good essay!

(Although I will point out that if the repent or be punished warnings are not restricted merely to the forthcoming fall of Jerusalem–and I disagree strongly with NT Wright about so restricting them–then of course there are plenty of warnings in the Gospels and RevJohn about forthcoming judgment for all of us, not only the pre-70s Israelites, being an important part of the evangelical call. Maybe a few places in the Epistles, too.)



I agree with you that judgment is not strictly this-worldly, and certainly it isn’t restricted to first-century Jews. I also think Wright might overstate things, although I haven’t read enough of his stuff to offer a strong opinion on that. But it does open up some new windows on Jesus’ prophetic ministry which is often overlooked. I’m also still very much in the process of working through my thinking in regards to a lot of this. My ideas on evangelism have actually been developing for several years, but my hopeful universalism is fairly new (as in last week!). Of course, the ideas behind the latter were laid down in my life many years ago and have been latent for a long time, I just never had the need to really evaluate them.

I’ve actually preached in dozens of churches on Paul’s sermon in Athens in Acts 17. There are definite universalist implications there, including the universal fatherhood of God in 17:28-29. It also includes a universal call to repentance in the light of God’s coming universal judgment in 17:30-31. Repentance really is the heart of the Gospel message even though a lot of people almost seem to make it an afterthought. I took Evangelism Explosion training, and repentance is relegated to a sub-point AFTER the person has accepted Christ, where it’s presented as almost an optional thing - sort of a way of demonstrating gratitude to God for saving me from hell. But of course E.E. is based on a very Calvinistic view which I think gets things backwards quite often. I guess in order to make sure you don’t get the mistaken impression that you’ve earned your salvation, it’s important not to try to do anything good until after you’re saved!

Incidentally, I saw an article on Wikipedia that said that John Wesley embraced universalism towards the end of his life. It cited a book by Kalen Fristad called Destined for Salvation, which I have since ordered. Are you familiar with this book? My church background is in the Wesleyan tradition, as is my missions agency. I would be so amazed if there was anything to this claim about Wesley. What do you think about it?


Which would have to involve warning the Athenian pagans that God was about to wholly ruin Jerusalem for the sins of Israel and so they had better repent–if NT Wright is correct… :mrgreen: (He really has pushed that line far far too far, in the past, although I keep hoping that some critical exchanges will lead him to modify that better. Anyone with news on this, please feel free to contribute!)

No, although I keep hearing a rumor to this effect every once in a while. His doctrinal language sure seems to lean that way.

Would “Gregory” consider someone evaluating Wesley (for Gregory’s upcoming essay anthology by various authors on overt and tacit universalist theologians in Christian history), perhaps along the same line as Karl Barth? (Whose theology seems pointed right at universalism logically, though he continued to deny it.)

I’ll try to remember to send a private mail to “Gregory” (that’s a pseudonym, as you may already realize), asking if he’s considered this for his new book.

Good comment, too, btw. I know I’m not the only one who’s really glad to have you here! :smiley:


I’m so very glad to find this list. I have been a hopeful universalist (and certaintly an inclusivist) for several years. I know of Thomas Talbot through his excellent chapter in “Perspectives On Election” (edited by Chad Owen Brand, B&H Academic, 2006).

I thought this was an excellent posting and one I heartedly endorse. May I ask a question and make a couple of comments?

  1. I’m interested in why Jason is objecting to Wright’s explanation of gehenna in the synoptics. I happen to think Wright is right on target.

  2. Wright does not deny the concept of final judgement as you probably know, but the emphasis throughout his
    theological work is on the theme of ‘setting the world to rights.’ That includes both the negative judgement on sin and evil doers and the rescue of humanity. While denying absolute universalism, Wright does seem to have this ‘hopeful’ aspect to his eschatology. I would, at the very least, classify him as an ‘inclusivist.’

  3. My own views are similar to the original post. The final enemies are sin and death, not mankind. And the Adam/Christ analogy in Romans 5 does at the very least point to some kind of universalism. Final judgement takes place on this world took place on the cross in principle and will occur in finality at the end of history. This will definitely include individuals, but the promises of the Bible clearly seem to indicate judgement is for the wicked in particular. The Bible also promises that those who suffer the abuse of the wicked are delivered (saved). Of course, none of us knows with any kind of precise knowledge exactly what the wicked will suffer. I, for one, do not believe suffering is some kind of eternal damnation in a literal hell.

Rance Darity


Hi Rance,

Thanks for your positive comments. I’ve only been posting here for a few days myself, and my hopeful universalism is fairly recent (as in last week!). I have to admit, if I had seen Wright’s comments on Gehenna a year ago I would have thought “too liberal” even though of course Wright is nothing of the kind. Actually, his idea of Gehenna seems more literal than the fundamentalist party line which spiritualizes it entirely. I’m still working through the issues myself. I’ve referred to some of “Jesus and the Victory of God” for his comments, but I’m planning to read the whole thing (which I haven’t done yet).

I like what you say about the idea of “setting the world to rights”, which I would say would include the lost children of God being brought home. The idea of an eternal burning hell of conscious torment is, it seems to me, an idea that keeps people in bondage to fear. It’s worse than the most terrifying horror movie ever made. I think the full meaning of redemption and what Jesus accomplished on the cross has to include as a central theme the Father who is looking for his lost children to bring them home, and will stop at nothing until he’s found them all. I’d like to think that even includes the wicked ones!


Thank you,
Glad you are going to read JVG by Wright. In my view, that book and Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament come close to being the most important books for biblical theology in the past twenty years.

Concerning Wright: when I have heard him lecture on the resurrection, he was asked both times about what happens to the non-believer. He usually affirms he is not a universalist, but is quick to point out Revelation 22:21-- ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ His suggestion is that this is one of those signposts pointing forward through the fog to something that is difficult to say, but his insinuation is that here you have the nations (outside the New Jerusalem) alive and well in the eschaton. I once remember reading F. F. Bruce who made the same point. It was clear Bruce was not an exclusivist, but either a hopeful universalist or at the least an inclusivist. I have more comments from Wright in some of his books that I will share later on. Also Wright is abundantly clear that we misunderstand hell if we take the literal view. His view is that those who persist all the way through on worshipping something other than God will become less and less human. Interesting.


I don’t really have time for a technical discussion on that (though I very much want to! :laughing: resisting… resisting…)

The grossly overshort version is that, in the past (I’m emphasizing this, because I haven’t kept up with him much in the last couple of years, except at secondhand–but I keep hearing the same things at secondhand, too) NTW has leaned pretty hard on the concept that all judgment pronouncements and prophecies by Christ (including in parables) are aimed at warning them about the upcoming fall of Israel and only that.

I certainly do not disagree that many of these were also (or perhaps in some cases even ‘only’) warning about that upcoming event. But I think NTW pushes interpretations along this line far beyond the weight that can be borne from a narrative/thematic analysis of the meaning of the texts. Mark 9:49-50, which I’ve brought up again recently in another thread (in a quick critique/question regarding the highly respected evangelical annihilationist exegete, John Stott), is one such example: it simply doesn’t fit, conceptually, with a destruction of Jerusalem warning motif.

True. And as far as I know, he’s an inclusivistic limited annihilationist more-or-less like C. S. Lewis.

I would very much like to do a series on his ideas of post-mortem judgment and salvation–not least so that I can catch up on where he’s actually at today!–but that’ll have to be done later. (Maybe one of the other guest authors will do so? NTW has said a few challenging things about “Gregory” and Thomas before; maybe he’ll agree to dialogue with them someday, here or elsewhere–perhaps after “Gregory” publicly reveals his real identity next year with the publication of his edited anthology of commissioned essays by other scholars on universalistic theologians.)


Jason Pratt:
I certainly do not disagree that many of these were also (or perhaps in some cases even ‘only’) warning about that upcoming event. But I think NTW pushes interpretations along this line far beyond the weight that can be borne from a narrative/thematic analysis of the meaning of the texts. Mark 9:49-50, which I’ve brought up again recently in another thread (in a quick critique/question regarding the highly respected evangelical annihilationist exegete, John Stott), is one such example: it simply doesn’t fit, conceptually, with a destruction of Jerusalem warning motif.

Jason, I’m not exactly sure every reference in the Synoptics to judgment refers to the soon coming catastrophe uopn Israel, but in the main I would argue that they do since Jesus is not issuing timeless warnings directed at generic humankind. Rather, as you well know, his vocation was historically to warn Israel of its coming calamity, to point the way through judgment toward the inbreaking of the reign of Israel’s god. In Mark 9, the Son of Man points to the naer appearance of the kingdom (‘some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power’ vs. 1)Then the transfiguration with its affirmation of his soon coming death and resurrection and the fact that Elijah has come already (to restore all things). Everything in the remaining part of the chapter moves toward the fulfillment of his vocation as the suffering servant and beyond to his resurrection. As throughout the Gospel, Jesus seems to be redefining Israel around himself. Those Jews who side against him are the ones who will be ‘cast out,’ ‘thrown into gehenna where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.’ Note the language comes directly out of Isaiah 66, where Israel sees the utter destruction of YHWH’s enemies, their dead bodies scattered upon the battlefield. Note that the symbolism in Isaiah 66 is not about some postmortem existence for the individual. It’s all about the rescue of Israel. Even in vss. 43-48, the emphasis is upon entering/not entering the kingdom (not life after death) and avoiding judgment. Jesus does not seem to be describing a going to heaven vs. going to hell scenario at the end of a person’s life, but rather what happens to those in Israel in regard to the kingdom coming among them. The Jewish metaphors is what throws modern readers off, is it not?


I’ll have to comment more extensively on this tomorrow (God willing–also keeping in mind that I have a substantial backlog of posts I want to catch up and comment on, going back several weeks. Just a reminder to myself. :wink: )

But, with an eye on keeping the topic aimed at in Frazman’s original post: I would ask, in consideration of this and similar phrases in your assessment of Mark 9 (which, perhaps accidentally, didn’t include comments on the two verses I actually mentioned from Mark 9 as not fitting into the ‘warning of Israel’s coming destruction scenario’, including on how they fit into your description of the rest of the purpose of the teaching in Mark 9 as solely involving such a warning… {inhale} :mrgreen: )…

… “What’s the Biblical motivation for evangelism” in this? How is this relevant even to (currently non-Christian) Jews today, much less to any non-Jews at any time before or after the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70? Moreover, how is this relevant to those who were already following Jesus, per se, in those days?–who are the ones whom Jesus is addressing, in the narrative, pretty much throughout all the key points of Mark 9 and the Synoptic parallels–and who are the ones that Jesus is warning.

I know how those questions can be fairly easily and pertinently answered, on my understanding of the narrative thrusts between the Transfiguration scene (with lead-ins) and the end of the final visit to Capernaum (which in Mark finishes out with the final verse of chp 9, if I recall correctly. Not at the office right now. :wink: ) And I even know how those questions can be pertinently answered (if not quite as easily in regard to thematic and narrative logic) on the ground of traditional interpretations of this material.

But, that’s because I (and most other exegetes) aren’t denying that Jesus is issuing timeless principle warnings to generic humankind, when we’re interpreting the meaning of the Mark 9 material. Also, far more particularly, He’s issuing some pretty timeless principle warnings to His own avowed followers (and especially to the leaders among those followers)–a position that other exegetes have admittedly long had trouble noting and applying, but which I can appeal to because (duh) it’s blatantly obviously there on the page.

I don’t recall, offhand, Jesus warning unbelieving Jews about the coming destruction of Israel (this being a sign of the judgment of Israel and the crowning “arrival” of the Son of Man at the right hand of the Father), as a topic in those chapters; although something of that sort might be there, too, here and there (it certainly is elsewhere)–I would want to check my notes and materials back at the office. And I’m pretty good at detecting and reporting underlying Jewish disputational links, as well as picking up on narrative and thematic logic, in the Gospel material. If I don’t find that as a (much less the) primary theme in Mark 9, it isn’t because I’m not looking for such things.

But regardless, the question again is: if that warning against the eschatological judgment forthcoming on Jerusalem (specifically aimed at Israel rebelling against God’s Messiah and therefore against God, in various ways) is the primary theme of Mark 9… then what’s the Biblical motivation for evangelism, in this, for the other 99.9999% of all humanity who aren’t rebellious Jews living pre-70CE (only in Palestine…? also in the Diaspora…?)

It looks to me that the answer must logically be, “no relevance, for the rest of us, especially evangelically” if Jesus’ warnings here are restricted topically to a group who isn’t the rest of us about a condition that will be fulfilled and so will pass away in 70. But then, this runs directly counter to verses 49-50 (not even counting some other elements of Mark 9 as it stands, and saying even less about narrative material in this sequence unique to the other two Synoptics).

An interpretation that does not first take account of, and incorporate, the actual narrative and thematic details overtly on the page, is not (in my experience) an interpretation that is very likely to be correct.

But, as I said, I’ll have to wait until tomorrow or later to comment more extensively on this. :mrgreen:



The object of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to free man from Satan’s dominion ( Hebrews 2:14) and make it possible for man to receive the life of God.( John 1:12) Each individual must appropriate by faith what God has already provided by grace in order for Jesus’ payment to take effect in their life. Eternal life is to have an intimate relationship with Father through the Son.