Ten years ago evangelicals would deride liberals for their notion of the spiritual journey. Today, it seems, the liberals were right. The language, or at least the notion, of journeying is now almost ubiquitous. The evangelical trip with God begins with friendship, then a course offering an introduction to the Christian faith. At some point along this path, perhaps after a second time along, the person is merged into the church and the journey continues.
Within this model of conversion, personal evangelism is purely invitational, “would you like to come on a course with me, where you’ll learn about Jesus.” Christians lose the focus and ability to present the gospel on their own, whenever the opportunity presents itself. There is little expectation of people being converted on the spot.
Horatius Bonar challenges this sort of process evangelism in the third chapter of “God’s way of Holiness“. The challenge centres on a recovery of the clarity of gospel, an awakening from neonomianism [update in response to comment: neonomianism is the mixing of gospel and law as the basis of our acceptance before God, and so, the neonomian journey of faith involves a mixture of belief and behaviour]:
The apostles evidently had great confidence in the gospel. They gave it fair play, and spoke it out in all its absolute freeness, as men who could trust it for its moral influence, as well as for its saving power, and who felt that the more speedily and certainly its good news were realized by the sinner, the more would that moral influence come into play. They did not hide it, nor trammel it, nor fence it round with conditions, as if doubtful of the policy of preaching it freely. …They had no misgivings as to its bearings on morality, nor were they afraid of men believing it too soon, or getting too immediate relief from it. The idea does not seem to have entered their mind, that men could betake themselves to Christ too soon, or too confidently, or without sufficient preparation. Their object in preaching it was, not to induce men to commence a course of preparation for receiving Christ, but to receive Him at once and on the spot; not to lead them through the long avenue of a gradually amended life to the cross of the Sin-bearer, but to bring them at once into contact with the cross, that sin in them might be slain, the old man crucified, and a life of true morality begun…
[today’s preachers] state the gospel so timorously, so warily, so guardedly, with so many conditions, terms, and reservations, that by the time they have finished their statement, they have left no good news in that which they set out with announcing as “the gospel of the grace of God.” The more fully that the gospel is preached, in the grand old apostolic way, the more likely is it to accomplish the results which it did in the apostolic days. The gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved–loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness.
It seems that modelling straightforward personal evangelism with clear, uncluttered, gospel preaching in the Apostolic sense is necessary for local revival, otherwise we will continue to rely solely on the gradual persuading others to join us on the journey.