The Evangel…

ThemeliosThe following is an excerpt from an editorial written up by my old prof, D.A. Carson. It discusses the question of whether the Gospel is only for those who are not Christians or is it also for Christians. Its for both!

“Which brings us to the text at the top of this note. Paul tells Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). That word “evangelist” (εὐαγγελιστής) is found only three times in the NT—once to designate Philip (Acts 21:8), once in a list of ministries (Eph 4:11), and here. I suspect that most of us read 2 Tim 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist,” along some such lines as the following. Paul tells Timothy, in effect, that even when he is rightly involved in preaching, teaching, instructing, correcting, even when he is known for keeping his head in all situations and learning to endure hardship, he must not forget to do the work of an evangelist.

. . .

Doubtless that is excellent counsel—but is this exactly what Paul is saying? Several factors must be raised.

(1) For some Christians, “the gospel” (equivalently, “the evangel”) is something you preach only to unconverted people. The gospel merely tips people into the kingdom; transformation and sanctification are sustained by discipleship. Once people become Christians, then the work of life transformation begins, often buttressed by various discipleship seminars: “Biblical Leadership,” “Learning to Pray,” “What to Do with Your Money,” “Christian Marriage,” and so forth—none of which falls under “gospel,” but only under post-gospel discipleship. In recent years, however, many preachers and theologians have convincingly argued that “gospel”/“evangel” is the larger category under which both evangelism and discipleship fall. In the NT, gospel is not everything—it is not law, for instance—but it is a very big thing, precisely because it is the unimaginably great news about what God is doing in and through King Jesus, especially in and through his cross and resurrection. A careful reading of Scripture shows how often Christian conduct is grounded in the gospel itself. For instance, the gospel is to be obeyed (e.g., 2 Thess 1:8); certain behavior conforms to the gospel, while other behavior does not (1 Tim 1:10–11). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)—transparently, this is a gospel appeal. In short, in the NT the gospel is preached both to unbelievers and to believers. It calls unbelievers to repentance and faith; it calls believers to ongoing faith and conformity to Jesus.

In other words, gospel ministry includes but is not restricted to what we commonly call evangelistic ministry (note the two words, gospel and evangelistic, making the discussion confusing). Gospel ministry is ministry that is faithful to the gospel, that announces the gospel and applies the gospel and encourages people to believe the gospel and thus live out the gospel. If this is so, then why should “Do the work of a gospeller” mean something more restricted, like “Do that part of gospel work that addresses unbelievers (i.e., that to which we sometimes restrict “gospel ministry,” calling it “evangelism”)?

(2) The context of 2 Tim 4:5 suggests that it is this large view of gospel ministry that is in view. After Paul’s passionate command to Timothy to preach the word, spelling out what it means (4:2), he warns that a time will come when people will not want to listen but will prefer teachers “who say what their itching ears want to hear” (4:3). “But you,” Paul tells Timothy, “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (4:5). This does not sound like a list of discretely defined chunks of ministry, as if Paul were saying, “Study hard for your preaching, visit the elderly, catechize the young, provide good counsel, do the work of an evangelist”—add them all together, and you will be a well-rounded minister. Rather, the list Paul provides focuses not on discrete ministries but on global stances throughout Timothy’s ministry: “keep your head in all circumstances” is not a discrete thing to do, something to be added, for instance, to “endure hardship.” No, all of the entries on this list are comprehensive. In this context, then, “do the work of an evangelist” simply means “do gospel work”—and that summarizes all of the instructions in the preceding lines. That’s what ministers do. They “discharge all the duties of [their] ministry”: they do gospel work. Doubtless that includes what we mean by evangelism. In that sense, “do gospel work” includes doing the work of an evangelist. But in this context it is doubtful that Paul is narrowing the field.

(3) Of course, a word might become more restrictive in its pragmatic use in a particular context. When Philip is designated “the evangelist” (Acts 21:8), does this mean “evangelist” in the modern sense? Perhaps. Luke might be remembering Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch, in which he was certainly preaching the gospel to an unbeliever. Interestingly enough, however, this passage designates him as “one of the Seven” (Acts 21:8; cf. ch. 6). The work of the Seven was not Bible teaching and evangelism, though transparently some of them, including Philip, did engage in such word-ministry. It is difficult to tell if Luke thinks of him as an evangelist in the modern sense—a specialist in outreach. He may simply have exercised gospel ministry.

The use of εὐαγγελιστής in Eph 4:11 is a bit different. There the location of the word in a series of expressions all related to word-ministries suggests that what is in view is the kind of gospel ministry that we associate with “evangelism.”

(4) Though the argument is not worth much, we should note that there is inscriptional evidence ofεὐαγγελιστής used in a pagan setting to refer to certain kinds of pagan priests, without any thought that such priests were trying to win converts.

In sum: Owing to the way in which two different English word-groups—gospel and evangel—are used to render one Greek word-group (εὐαγγέλιον and cognates), it is possible we have sometimes read into our English texts over-specifications that may not be there in the original. In its context in 2 Tim 4:5, a case can be made that εὐαγγελιστής is a prime example. “Do the work of an evangelist” may well be an exhortation to engage in evangel ministry, in gospel ministry, which includes what we today mean by evangelism but should not be restricted to it.