Nine great questions to start spiritual conversations

Sometimes starting spiritual conversations can be a daunting task. Because the first words used in transitioning a conversation to a spiritual topic can be complicated, here are some ideas for questions that help you with that transition:

  • “Are you a praying man (or woman)?”
  • “Has the Lord given you a church to attend?”
  • “How would you say your life is going spiritually?”

If the person shows little or no interest at this point, another question can be used to probe their receptivity to further conversation. It is usually best not to push too hard if you get clear resistance. The Bible says that although there were other women gathered at the place of prayer, Lydia was apparently the only one listening. Ears that are willing to listen are a necessity if we want to share the gospel with someone.

In some contexts a comment about a person’s name (on a badge), a piece of jewelry, or a tattoo can provide an interesting start to a conversation. For example:

  • “Joshua. That’s a great name. Did you know that it’s from the Bible? Do you know what Joshua means?” [The Lord saves]
  • “That’s a massive cross you have around your neck. Do you know what happened on the cross?”
  • “Hey, that’s a really cool Tattoo. What does it mean to you?”

Once a conversation is started, you may then get the opportunity to transition into the gospel message. Here are some more in depth questions:

  • “What do you think of Jesus?”
  • “Does your pastor/priest ever speak about being born again?”
  • “At what point are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?”

Any of these questions can allow you to seamlessly transition into a gospel presentation.
Starting spiritual conversations can be threatening. But having some questions in your mind before you start the conversation can be very helpful. I trust that you will be able to use some of these ideas!

Five Paradigm Shifts in Bible Translation, Part One

Several weeks ago, as I was considering the history of Bible translation into English, a new chart came to mind. It seems like viewing history in this way allows for a revised viewpoint.

Could not this approach be called “Viewing History as a Game of Chess”?

In seeking to look at the history of English Bible translation chronologically, several major paradigm shifts became evident. Some of the older shifts may appear obvious. However, several of the more recent shifts may be less obvious

This chart that there are five distinct paradigm shifts that have occurred and are occurring in eight centuries of English Bible translation. In this, my first blog on this subject, I will cover the first two paradigm shifts

(1) A Bible in English: Wycliffe 1st and 2nd editions (1382, 1388)
The first major shift in English Bible translation was the transition from no available English Bibles to the translation of the entire Bible into English. All approved Bibles in England prior to that time were in Latin, a language the common people did not understand.

(2) The New Testament from the Greek: Tyndale and Geneva Bible (1534-1560)
The next major paradigm shift in English Bible translation took place when William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the Greek text, rather than from the Latin text. He published his work in 1534. Tyndale’s translation removed a lot of the Catholic biases found in the Latin Vulgate. He was publicly burned alive for his audacity in setting out to translate the Bible in 1536.

It must be remembered that Martin Luther had published his German New Testament in 1522, also published from Erasmus’ Greek text. Pierre Robert Olivétan published a French version of the Bible in 1534, a version funded by the Alpine Waldenses—only to die mysteriously on a trip to Rome in 1538. Olivétan’s version that became the basis for the French Geneva of 1560, also influencing the 1560 English Geneva translation.

Each of the aforementioned translations yielded a radical impact within the language group where these Bibles were disseminated. In each society people came to believe in Christ as a result of the Bible translations. Furthermore, because these Bibles led towns and cities to distance themselves from Catholicism, the revivals that took place were considered “Peasant Revolts” and led to military crusades to squelch their impact.

What can be learned from these first two stages?
A first and foremost lesson relates to the power of Word of God put into print in the common language of the people. God’s Word is living and active, and does its supernatural work through the language known to its recipients. A second lesson regards the need for a good original from which to translate. While the Wycliffe English Bible was definitely better than having no Bible in English. It was through the use of a Greek original during the Protestant Reformation that the Bible brought about dynamic societal change in many countries in Europe.

Recent Patterns in Bible Translation?

Several years ago I was shocked by a Bible translation when sharing the gospel in Marseilles, France. I had misplaced the French Bible I normally use (1979 Nouvelle Edition de Genève) in the reception area of a hotel. When I looked for it the next day it was nowhere to be found. So I used one of the giveaway Bibles that my fellow evangelist had brought from the U.S., the 2000 Le Semeur (The Sower).

That afternoon, when sharing the gospel in the old port area of Marseilles, I read Romans 3:23 to the North African man whom I had engaged in conversation. The verse and its translation are as follows:

  • Rom 3:23 (Le Semeur), “Tous ont péché, en effet, et sont privés de la glorieuse présence de Dieu.”
  • Rom 3:23 (my translation), “All have sinned, in fact, and are deprived of the glorious presence of God.”

When I saw the word “presence”, I was flustered, never having encountered the word presence in that text before. It seemed to pull the rug out from under my entire gospel presentation. The additional word had changed the meaning of the text—from teaching sin as a deprivation of God’s glory to teaching sin as physical separation from God.

My Marseille experience with the Le Semeur remained etched on my heart as I returned to teach evangelism in Kansas City. In fact, it was that experience that led me to consider: (1) the importance of Bible translation for personal evangelism; and (2) the fact that some translations sound an unclear tone as regards the message of the gospel.

Translations of the Bible are not merely words on a page they are living organisms of potentiality—carrying with them doctrinal significance and spiritual impact!

Since that mission trip to Marseille, the study of various Bible translations has become of great interest to me. I have found that there appears to be discernible patterns of unusual translations being inserted into contemporary English Bibles, much like the one I encountered in the French Bible in Marseille. For example, please note the following unusual translations:

  • Rom 3:23, “everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (American Bible Society’s 1993 Good News Translation—GNT);
  • Rom 1:16 (GNT), “I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles”;
  • Rom 1:16, “I am proud of the good news! It is God’s powerful way of saving all people who have faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles” (American Bible Society’s 1992 Contemporary English Version).

The insertion of “presence” into Romans 3:23 in the GNT matches what I encountered in the 2000 French Le Semeur. The addition of “presence” in this text forces a relational view of the atonement, hindering the use of this verse for communicating the substitutionary atonement.

The removal of the negative “not ashamed” Romans 1:16 has important ramifications to the power that text. The concept of not being ashamed of the gospel is mentioned by Paul in 2 Timothy 1:8, as it also is in the Servant Song of Isaiah 50. Further, removing the active verb construct “who believe” to the equivocal “have faith” removes active belief as the only requirement for saving faith as communicated in Acts 16:31.

  • Acts 16:31 (ESV), “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”

“Having faith” can mean a lot of different things, including some whose religious experience resides in reciting a creed to “declare their faith.”

The ramifications of these two changes, as a small example, should use bring pause as we consider contemporary Bible translation work.

The Relentless Pursuit of God

Isaiah 50 verses 4 through 7 provide an interesting picture of the inter-relationship between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. In this passage we find, as it were, God’s self-revelation to Jesus day after day, followed by Jesus’ affirmation of perfect obedience. The passage is written in the first person, as if Jesus narrated it Himself—His “personal testimony” if you will.

The 19th Century commentator Franz Delitzsch wrote of this passage:

  • “The servant of Jehovah affords us deep insight here into His hidden life.”

Following a portion in which God speaks and opens the ear of the Messiah, we have an affirmation of obedience. In this portion, the obedience of Jesus is exemplified by a rhetorical extreme, that being Jesus giving His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that pluck out the hair. This passage provides a very graphic and extreme example of obedience to the max.

Let’s look at this interesting passage as written by Isaiah:

  • Isa 50:4-7 (ESV), “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
  • “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.
  • “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.
  • “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”

Herein, Jesus is testifying, off the pen of Isaiah, about His relationship with God the Father. It is an interesting look into the Trinity to say the least. It also gives us a glimpse into Christian salvation, as God must speak into our ears for us to consider issues of eternal salvation

In this amazing passage we find three ways in which Jesus exemplified a relentless pursuit of God: (1) The relentless pursuit of God begins with a listening ear; (2) The relentless pursuit of God requires an obedient heart; and (3) The relentless pursuit of God demands immovable conviction.

The relentless pursuit of God begins with God Himself. In this case, it did not begin with Jesus, nor does it begin with us. God must intervene into human affairs and individually speak to our consciences before we can respond by relentlessly pursuing Him.

  • “For this reason, the relentless pursuit of God must begin with a listening ear!”

Jesus, as narrated by Isaiah, testified of God’s work in His own life using three verbs: “give,” “awaken,” and “open.” God gave Jesus tongue of one who is taught. God awakened the ear of Jesus morning-by-morning. Then God opened His ear to hear as One who is taught.

Interestingly, these verbs give us an idea of the process of God’s self-revelation to His own Son on earth—an unusual concept to get our minds around to be sure. But even more importantly, Jesus went through this process so that He could be “in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”

For the Christian, a relationship with God begins when someone shares the gospel with us. We receive the words of someone who is taught. Through this gospel, our ear is awakened to hear. We receive “a hearing of faith” (Gal 3:3). This awakening becomes completed action when our ears are opened (Acts 16:14). These words provide a very interesting progression that requires quiet pondering!

Jesus, then, after He had received the gift of learning, the awakening of inspiration, and the opening of the ear, responded with obedience.

  • “The relentless pursuit of God requires an obedient heart!”

In this section of His testimony, Jesus used four verbs to describe His obedience, three negative and one positive: “not rebellious,” “turned not backward,” “gave,” and “hid not.”

Perhaps this use of negative verbs displays those pitfalls into which the sons of Adam are prone to fall: rebellion, turning aside, and hiding in shame. A perusal of the biblical accounts provides many examples of all three of these problematic behaviors. Likewise, there seems to be a progression from the most obvious and open transgressions to the least obvious and hidden sins.

It is in this section that the absolute obedience of Jesus stands out. Even while Jesus is being hit in the face and spat upon, in the biblical record, Peter, as analogous of man’s own best efforts, is in the background denying Christ. Meanwhile, the back of Jesus is struck by smiters, and his beard is being plucked out by those who will soon crucify Him. Does not Isaiah 50:6 provides an incredibly lucid picture of the events immediately preceding the crucifixion event?

  • “Lastly, the relentless pursuit of God demands immovable conviction!”

For Jesus to stay the course through the unsurpassed experience of the crucifixion, and all the events surrounding it, He needed immovable conviction. And Isaiah communicated this conviction through the testimony of Jesus, “I have set my face like a flint!”

Jesus had made a decision of the will that nothing, no experience, no suffering, no abandonment, nothing would move Him from accomplishing God’s will. The political powers were against Him. The religious leaders incited the mob against Him. The soldiers were doing their duty. His own disciples either fled or denied Him. Even God the Father abandoned Jesus when He was on the cross. Nevertheless, Jesus remained resolute until the end.

For the Christian Jesus provides an example of resolution to obey God and His word no matter what the cost. For the Christian, the promises of God ring in our ears, giving us hope no matter what kind of shame may be inflicted upon us by mankind. Almost with a sense of foreshadowing, Jesus told His disciples:

  • “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5)

Let’s follow the example of Jesus by relentlessly pursuing God in all we do!

Why the Title “Evangelizology”?

As the beneficiary of an excellent theological education from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), one course impacted me the most—“Introduction to Evangelism.” The impact of this course was not its content as much as the practice of evangelism that it required. I am very grateful for this course, as it changed the future trajectory of my entire life and study.
It was the wrestlings of my heart in taking “Introduction to Evangelism” that pushed me to study the Scriptures:

  • Was the requirement of sharing the gospel weekly truly biblical?
  • Was my professor not wrong in assuming that I may need to speak to strangers about Jesus?
  • What indeed does the New Testament truly say about evangelism?

In order to meet the requirement for a weekly contact report, I became a regular participant on the Wheaton Evangelistic Team (my undergrad alma mater), sharing the gospel in downtown Chicago on Friday nights. On one of these nights, another college student said, “Come on, Tom. Let’s go speak to the carriage drivers.” This student, Henry Beaulieu, initiated me into street evangelism. It was not long before I regularly visited with the carriage drivers to share the gospel and to pray with them. Soon I crossed East Pearson Street to speak to the taxi drivers parked there.
I was hooked. But—

  • What about evangelism in the New Testament?
  • Was my professor biblically sound in requiring me to turn in 10 contact reports in 10 weeks?

I could never have imagined where this journey of research was to lead me!
Let me backtrack a bit. I was born in France to missionary parents. Therefore, French is like my mother tongue, although my mother is of Norwegian descent born in Brooklyn, New York 🙂
I first read the word “evangelize” as a verb in the French Bible of my youth, the 1910 Louis Segond—not recognizing its significance. In that Bible the verb “evangelize” is found two times. After I had Greek in seminary, I became vaguely aware of the Greek verb evangelizo, which is usually translated “preach the gospel.” Again I did not recognize its relationship to the evangelism class that I took my first quarter at TEDS.
It was not until I read David Barrett’s “Evangelize! A Survey of the Concept” in 1988 that I gained interest in this powerful verb. Yet it took another 12 years until, as a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the power of the verb “evangelize” forcefully grabbed my attention. It was through seeing its use in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) that I experienced the blessing of this verb.
The 2000 HCSB that I saw at that time had six uses of the verb “evangelize.” In its 2009 edition a seventh use was added. Here are the seven uses in the current HCSB:

  • Acts 8:25, “Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing the many villages of the Samaritans.”
  • Acts 8:40, “Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”
  • Acts 14:7, “And they kept evangelizing.”
  • Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.”
  • Acts 16:10, “After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”
  • Rom 15:20, “So my aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, in order that I will not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
  • 1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

I was so excited when I saw these uses during a doctoral colloquium at Southern that I immediately went to show them to Dr. Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School at that time.
Then, as a professor of evangelism I took the time to study this verb in great detail. I began doing “evangelizology”—I studied the biblical methodology of evangelizing! It so happens that the Greek verb “evangelize” is found 55 times in the New Testament. To make a long story short, the verb evangelize was buried and un-translated as “evangelize” in modern language Bibles for a very long time.
For example, Wycliffe’s 1382 first edition used the English verb “evangelise” 36 times. However, six years later in the 1388, posthumous second edition Wycliffe, 33 uses of “evangelise” were removed, leaving only 3 uses. “Evangelize” was not used in the Tyndale translation or in the King James Version. This non-use of “evangelize” in English Bibles continued up to the 2000 HCSB (with only very minor exceptions). The HCSB’s 6 or 7 uses of “evangelize” represents a huge shift in the translation of this Greek verb.
Let me give three other uses to wet your appetite. Jesus was the only one in the New Testament who said Himself, “I must evangelize … because I was sent for this purpose”:

  • Luke 4:42-23, “When it was day, He went out and made His way to a deserted place. But the crowds were searching for Him. They came to Him and tried to keep Him from leaving them. But He said to them, ‘I must evangelize the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.’”

Paul pronounced a woe on himself if he did not evangelize:

  • 1 Cor 9:17, “For if I evangelize, I have no reason to boast, because an obligation is placed on me. And woe to me if I do not evangelize!”

In fact, the theme verb for the Book of Romans is actually the verb “evangelize”:
Rom 1:14-17, “I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. So I am eager to evangelize to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”
Notice that verses 16 and 17 represent prepositional phrases modifying the “I am eager to evangelize” in verse 15. So, via his letter to the Romans, Paul proceeded to share the gospel to those in the church of Rome at that time. It only makes sense, since today we still speak of a “Roman Road” presentation of the gospel!
Four concluding thoughts about the biblical verb “evangelize”: Seeing the verb in context can help us understand:

  • Who evangelized;
  • Why they evangelized;
  • How they evangelized; and
  • What was the content of their message.

We find angels evangelizing, Jesus evangelizing, the apostles evangelizing, the scattered church evangelizing, Philip evangelizing, and Paul and his team evangelizing. They evangelized because they were sent to evangelize and they were compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so. They evangelized on the streets, from house to house, in the marketplaces, and from city to city. Their message was the word of God, the word of the Lord, and the word of the kingdom; it was the gospel; they evangelized about Jesus, Jesus Christ, and the Christ. The study of this verbs and its many synonyms is fascinating!
What is exciting to me about the verb “evangelize” is that it is not limited to pastors. The New Testament verb “evangelize” therefore unleashes all church members to reach lost people for Christ. Translating this verb as “preach the gospel” (as is most often done), limits its applicability to ordained pastors. A Baptist deacon once told me, “I am not called to preach!” The implication of his words was, “You are the preacher, you are called to preach.” If we take this notion and consider that the verb “preach” is regularly used to replace the verb “evangelize” in the English Bible, it limits its contextual applicability only to ordained clergy. God, however, has not limited evangelizing to ordained clergy—nor should it be reread into the translation of Scripture in that way.
Therefore the awakening of my mind to the verb “evangelize” has taken almost 3 decades. I am very grateful to David Barrett for his study and to the HCSB for unearthing this biblical term in English. It is with this background in mind that I have named my blog “evangelizology.” So come with me on a journey of evangelizology—the central theme of this blog!

Respect for Private Property in Deuteronomy

In my daily handwriting of Scripture, I came across several very interesting verses in Deuteronomy 24:

  • “When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you” (Deut 24:10-11).

Tucked in amongst what my New King James Bible calls “Miscellaneous Laws” is this little bombshell about private property. As usual, God’s Word is stated in clear and concise language, is non-equivocal in its meaning, and is applicable to contemporary life!

I was reminded of John Locke’s famous three rights: “Life, liberty, and property.” These three have been enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights. The protection of private property being found in the Fourth Amendment:

  • “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It appears that the Fourth Amendment is merely a working expansion of Deuteronomy 24:10-11.

Lately, however, there has been a storm of controversy regarding digital private property. Is it right for one who is a lender (hardware supplier, software distributor, or government agency) to enter the hard drive or communication files of John Q. Public without his consent or without his knowledge.

As inconvenient as it may sound for the lender, Moses in Deuteronomy tells him, “Stay out of the house!” May God give our society divine wisdom in dealing with the issues surrounding digital privacy in these troubled times.

The Metamorphosis from Persecution to Suffering

Since hearing it in Handel’s Messiah, I have been pondering a prophecy from Isaiah for several weeks:

  • “I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa 50:6).

In this case, Jesus willingly and willfully endured the shame of the cross (and its preamble) because He was the herald of the Good News of salvation. He was suffering for the gospel as an example to all those who would follow Him and tell of Him!

And yet, there is a substantive difference between the doctrine of persecution and a theology of suffering. Suffering can involve self-imposed pain and hardship in a Buddhist, Stoic, or Monastic sense. Whereas, persecution for the proclamation of the gospel is not self-imposed. It is acted out by others out of a hatred for the gospel.

Paul referred to this same persecution for the gospel in Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

As the Early Church moved from an evangelism emphasis to a lifestyle emphasis, so morphed its doctrine of suffering. When the church became a state-church–state-sponsored, state-supported, state-promoted, and state-protected–then this change became inextricably entrenched. In a state church system, is not the general population considered a part of the church? If everybody is a Christian, then who is left to persecute Christians? The doctrine of persecution had morphed to adapt to a state-protected church.

But persecution for the gospel did and does exist. And in part, the state-church became a chief source in persecuting others for the gospel. And yet state-church theology continued to adapt, develop, and be passed down. Perhaps this is why a doctrine of persecution is not part of the regular diet of study in a course in systematic theology.

  • “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with us in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8).