by Matt Manry
Two books that I have read over the past few weeks have had to do with epistemology (Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma by Kevin Diller) and evangelism (The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson). And for some reason, one has been resonating in my mind ever since I completed these two books: What can epistemology teach us about evangelism? Or, to put it another way: How does epistemology affect the way we evangelize?
Now I know that many people might not even really know what epistemology really entails. No problem. Epistemology can simply be defined as the study of knowledge. It asks and seeks to answer questions like: What is truth? How do we know that what we believe is true? How can a belief that we hold count as knowledge? This might seem somewhat complicated, but stick with me, and I promise to make my points very clear and concise from this point on.
A Theo-Foundational Approach
So what stood out to me in Kevin Diller’s excellent book was his definition of Theo-Foundationalism. According to Diller, Theo-Foundationalism can be defined in the following manner: “God, in his act of self-revelation, creates and enables our capacity to receive the knowledge of him.” Simply put, it is only in God’s timing and by God’s grace that we are able to receive true knowledge of God. It is only a divine act by God that allows one to see the truthfulness of the gospel message. Essentially what I am trying to point out is that God is the foundation of all knowledge.
So what might this epistemological approach teach us about evangelism?
Almost every Christian church has some kind of evangelistic strategy that they try and implement to reach unbelievers. The foundation for this is obviously found in The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). What I am suggesting in this article is not a new evangelistic strategy, but rather a foundational approach that Christian evangelism can be built on. Evangelistic strategies must be shaped to fit the cultural context in which every particular church inhabits. However, the evangelistic foundation never-changes. It is based on the Word of God and the core teachings of the Christian church.
With all of that in mind, consider how Theo-Foundational evangelism might shape your evangelistic efforts.
1. Theo-Foundational evangelism puts the emphasis on God.
Evangelism can be extremely stressful if the focus is on our performance. Imagine an evangelistic practice that always placed the burden of converting others on its adherents. Wouldn’t that be demanding? Wouldn’t that be extremely difficult? This is why Theo-foundational evangelism primarily emphasizes God’s work in the evangelistic process. It really is liberating. As Paul says in Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Essentially God is the one who is always at work through our imperfect evangelism.
2. Theo-Foundational evangelism stresses the work of the Holy Spirit.
Theo-Foundational evangelism also highlights the Holy Spirit’s role in conversion. It is by the Spirit of God that one can truly come to see the light of the gospel. This is simply because human beings are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and slaves to sin (John 8:34). That is why there is a need for the Holy Spirit’s work. He is the one who infiltrates the lives of unbelievers and changes the hearts of sinners. We simply are playing the intermediary role when we evangelize.
3. Theo-Foundational evangelism and its epistemological emphasis.
What is unique about this evangelistic method is that it is “Theo-Foundational.” This model explicitly emphasizes an epistemological approach. What exactly might this mean? It means that all knowledge is God-centered and God-founded. So when we tell someone the good news, we trust unapologetically in God’s sovereign epistemological work. He is the one who reveals Himself to those whom He chooses (Rom. 9:18). Of course this just promotes the idea that God is the one who starts, sustains, and finishes the work of salvation in his creatures.
I believe that Theo-Foundational evangelism is a method that I have developed to simply try and make the core Christian teaching of evangelism more explicit. And to be honest, I really do believe that understanding epistemology helps us to become better evangelist. If we know that God is the foundation of all of our knowing, than we can trust in this sure foundation when preaching the gospel.
A Theo-Foundational evangelist simply puts all his chips in God’s corner and knows that it is only through God alone that one can see and comprehend the truth. This might be something that you already believe, but I honestly think that Theo-Foundational evangelism might be able to help you and your church better understand how epistemology really does affect our evangelism.
Matt Manry is an assistant pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship.