In his 2017 book Offering Christ: John Wesley’s Evangelistic Vision (Kingswood), John Wesley Fellow Jack Jackson encourages readers to see proclamation of the gospel, “the practice of a person telling the gospel story to another person or group” (xvii), as central to the task of evangelism. Examining key aspects of early Methodism, from Wesley’s preaching to class meetings and home visitations, Jackson notes a broad audience for proclamation, arguing that proclaiming the gospel was a way of “offering Christ” to nonbelievers, newly interested Methodists, and devout disciples alike. This is because the purpose of proclamation, similarly expanded, was not merely to achieve “immediate conversion.” Proclamation, Jackson shows, was essential to the entire Wesleyan way of salvation, from awakening to justification to sanctification. Therefore, proclamation’s broad scope, along with its being understood as a means of grace, was central to a holistic Methodist evangelism.
Although most of Offering Christ deals with Methodism of the Wesleyan era, Jackson is not shy about his present-day concerns: first, to encourage Methodists and Wesleyans today to recenter gospel proclamation; second, to reject the assumption, inherited from nineteenth-century evangelists, that proclamation is primarily for “immediate conversion”; and, third, to reject evangelism-without-proclamation in the form of “expanding the concept of evangelism to include many other aspects of the church’s mission” (183). Jackson’s agenda, however, is suggestive, not prescriptive. He does not offer a program for contemporary evangelism, but he does drop hints along the way.
One such hint is found in the title of the book, Offering Christ, and in a few passages where Jackson employs the language of “encounter.” If proclamation is “offering Christ” both to those who do not know him and to those who wish to know him better, then could preaching the gospel be a means, not just of conveying a message or a story about Jesus, but of allowing people to encounter Jesus Christ? Should we hope that people might actually meet Jesus, in a personal way, in our proclamation?
Jackson does not develop his work on Wesley to answer these questions, but I have found that the voice of another missiologist, Edward Rommen, nicely complements Jackson’s work at exactly this point. Rommen is a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, and though he writes from an Orthodox perspective, Wesleyan and Methodist Christians will resonate with his work. In Into All the World: An Orthodox Theology of Mission (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017), for example, Rommen says that making disciples is the goal of Orthodox missions.
For my money, however, it is to Rommen’s emphasis, found not just in his Into All the World but also his Get Real: On Evangelism in the Late Modern World (William Carey Library, 2010), on “the gospel as Person” that Wesleyan and Methodist Christians should attend. In evangelism, Rommen says, “what we are trying to do is introduce a person” (Get Real, 204), namely, Jesus Christ. Rommen brings to bear the sacramental realism of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy both to underscore and to give theological depth to the typically evangelical desire for a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But this personal relationship is not just about Christ. It is also about treating both the one who proclaims and the one who hears as persons in need of knowing Jesus intimately. Our mutual personhood is rooted, and restored, in Christ. This means, according to Rommen, that the identity of the one who proclaims must be defined in and by Christ. It also means we see the one who hears in personal, not utilitarian, terms. “Having fully accepted our own personhood in Christ,” Rommen argues, “we would be inclined to extend that evaluation to those we hoped to introduce to Christ” (Get Real, 202).
Rommen thus helps us see that genuine proclamation is a means of facilitating an introduction to, or an encounter with, Jesus Christ. Or, as Jackson would remind us, proclamation is a means of grace. We should preach the gospel so that others may come to know Christ, or to know him better, as they are awakened, converted, or sanctified. We ought to proclaim the gospel in such a way as to betray our conviction that Christ himself is actually knowable, not merely in facts or stories about him, but as a Person. In so doing, we offer Christ to those who need him.
The theological roots for this conviction, from Christ’s promise in the Great Commission to the mystery of the incarnation, go all the way down to the heart of Scripture: Jesus Christ is God with us, always. John Wesley taps these roots at the close of his sermon on “The Scripture Way of Salvation”:
Stay for nothing. Why should you? Christ is ready. And he is all you want. He is waiting for you. He is at the door! Let your inmost soul cry out,
Come in, come in, thou heavenly Guest!
Nor hence again remove:
But sup with me, and let the feast
Be everlasting love.