Hello, reader! What you’re about to embark upon (if you dare?!) is a very, very long email I wrote to a friend concerning the topic of “Power Evangelism.” The time and effort I put into composing the email made me think, “Eh…I might as well share it with people,” so that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Before you get into the meat of this post, I’ll give you some more information on the topic being discussed. If this introduction doesn’t sound up your alley, then please: feel free to stop now. I’d honestly hate to lose reader interest over what I’m essentially publishing as a resource for those already interested in the topic.
Before I wrote this “dissertation” (har har), I knew very little about the concept of “Power Evangelism” except for what my friend had told me in passing: namely, that it’s a form of evangelizing that pairs the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus with the performing of miracles. It sounded neat enough, but then I came across a verse in John 6 that made me rethink the topic.
After sending the email, I (perhaps too late) googled the term to see if I had been discussing the correct thing all along. Here’s what I found on Wikipedia, so if this sounds intriguing to you, you have my blessing to continue reading the rest:
Power Evangelism is a book by Christian charismatic leader John Wimber. The term is also applied to the movement and the process described in the book. Power evangelism is a form of evangelism which relies on the supernatural power and gifts of the Holy Spirit to reach new converts and work through born again Christians. It is not the way most churches practice evangelism currently, which relies on an intellectual argument with the hope of salvation through logic and structured rituals. Many believe power evangelism is the way Jesus operated although it is known he also was a great student of the Torah. Although most Christians would believe that a person is brought to faith primarily through the action of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, in this form of evangelism supernatural events such as healings, prophetic revelation, words of knowledge and speaking in tongues are a demonstration of the power, and therefore the reality, of God.
(Note: Again, I did not know of this book until after composing this email. Anything I wrote about or against the concept may indirectly concern what was written in John Wimber’s book, but none of it is meant to be addressed directly toward the book or Wimber himself. From what I’ve now read, he seems to have been a solid guy.)
Still in? Cool. So, I presented my John 6 issue with my friend and he responded by pointing to Matthew 9:35-10:1 and Luke 9 & 10 as counter-evidence in support of Power Evangelism. With too much coffee in my system and far too much time on my hands, here’s everything I wrote in response. You have been warned.
As for John 6:26, you’re right, it’s a specific observation Jesus is making concerning a specific event. However, what you should see is that it sets up something that, if true here, can be true elsewhere. Is Jesus establishing what must be the reaction to a miracle? Of course not. There are plenty of examples throughout Scripture of people witnessing a miracle, then repenting in true faith. But what happens here in John 6 is a human reaction to a miracle that is always possible in response to a miracle.
John 6:26 (ESV): Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
John 6:26 (NLT): Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.
What’s happening in context is, Jesus is talking to the people who ate of the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men. They continue to follow Jesus after the miracle, but Jesus quite explicitly tells them that they do not actually believe. They want another miracle and they seem extremely interested in what Jesus has to say, but they are not saved. These people “received” a miracle, so to speak, but they do not understand the truth behind it. Jesus begins explaining the truth behind the miracle, but eventually, the crowd is so offended and disgruntled that they depart.
Let’s relate this back to your proof text, Matthew 9:35-10:1. Are there things in this passage that apply to us? Of course. Are there things in this passage that can teach us about evangelism? Of course. But we cannot outright apply Jesus commands to us, as if Jesus were saying these things directly to us, until we understand the passage’s meaning in context of the lives of disciples as well as within the Gospel of Matthew as a whole.
Matthew 9:35-10:1 (ESV): And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
When Jesus begins giving his instructions, we know from his very first statement that they do not apply directly to us, for he says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Now, in the Book of Matthew, I don’t (at the moment) see any description of what the disciples actually do after being sent out, but we know from Luke 9:6 that “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”
Presumably, all twelve are out there, performing wild miracles. Really? All twelve? Even Judas the nonbeliever? Yes, presumably. At this point, while arguably only eleven of the disciples are converted, we know that none of them–pre-Pentecost–have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yet it is precisely by the power and authority of the Spirit that these miracles are being performed. As Jesus says in His sending instructions, in Matthew 10:20, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
This is sort of a tangent, but it reminds me of what’s described in 1 Peter 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:21, how the Old Testament prophets would receive the Spirit or be anointed by the Spirit or be carried along by the Spirit for periods of time. Yet Old Testament believers were never promised the indwelling of the Spirit, a future promise that was prophesied by the likes of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, nor do we have reason to believe that the Spirit stayed upon any Old Testament-believers permanently (see Psalm 51:11).
Thus we see that the circumstances of Matthew 10 were very specific. The twelve disciples, not yet receiving the indwelling Spirit, went about to Israel only to perform Spirit-empowered miracles. What Jesus commanded the disciples to do here was with an Israel-specific purpose, but similar language is used by Jesus in Matthew 10 and when Jesus sends his disciples out to the whole world in Matthew 28:19-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Between Matthew chapters 10 and 28, which is the greater command? Obviously the latter, what we call the “Great Commission,” is the greater. But surely it would be worth asking, Are the two commands compatible? Within this, I think we should also ask, Was Matthew 10 given to us with the purpose of it being a model for future evangelizing? Matthew 10 is undoubtedly filled with eternal truths and perfectly holy wisdom, but let’s examine the results of the disciples going around and telling people, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” whilst healing and casting out demons. Was this “method” effective?
Ironically, I think the answer to the question is…no.
Soon thereafter, Matthew writes: “Then [Jesus] began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent” (chapter 11, verse 20).
Did Matthew just say “most”? Yes, he did. Apparently, most of the people/cities who witnessed Jesus’s miracles were not brought to repentance. Within the scope of the whole Gospel account, there’s a bigger-picture thing happening here, where the people of Israel continue to deny Christ before his gospel and grace are eventually given to the Gentile world. To be fair, Jesus also says that if the same miracles had been performed in Gentile cities, there would have been far greater numbers of people repenting than what was witnessed in Israel. But even in Luke 10, after Jesus sends out the seventy-two and they return with joy about all the miracles they’d just performed, Jesus makes the same woeful proclamation concerning all the cities that did not repent.
This is truly an astounding thing to admit. Jesus, who is claiming that the kingdom of God has arrived and is repeatedly asserting his deity and oneness with the Father, is performing all these miracles that continually fail to bring people to repentance. So what good are these miracles for our evangelism today?
When you speak to me about Power Evangelism, the sense I’m getting is that you are trying to deal with the “burden of proof,” i.e., the obligation to prove one’s case. When you’re out evangelizing, you’ll do whatever you can to prove the truth of the Gospel that you’re preaching. If you’re telling someone about Jesus and then are able to perform a miracle in Jesus’s name, what undeniable evidence that would be! You personally described Power Evangelism as “what you say plus the realization that authority goes with it.”
I mentioned earlier that this concept harkens back to our disagreements concerning how people are saved, which I will summarize for the purpose of this discussion: whether a man believes and is saved because God first regenerates him or he is saved because he first chooses to believe. In believing the latter, it makes perfect sense that you would feel the burden of proof. If salvation comes by a man making the conscious, determined, free-will choice to believe in Jesus, then evangelism becomes the act of a Christian doing whatever he can to help this man come to a saving knowledge of the truth. If this were the case, it would behoove you to be as effective as possible in your preaching. Try to know the answers to all the questions. Be an eloquent and well-spoken teacher. Pray for miracles while telling the most convicting, hard-to-argue conversion stories you know. Make the truth undeniable! Help this man believe!
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, if the man does not come to a saving knowledge of Christ, it is easy to blame yourself. “If only I was better prepared to answer his question about evolution.” “If only I’d thought of that other Bible passage to show him.” “If only God had performed a miracle to prove the truth to him.” I have had these thoughts in my own past and I have seen how these thoughts have played out in the lives of others, often leading to despair–how impossible it is that all the world be saved!–or leading to retreat, hiding inside books and seminars until the confidence returns to go back into the world and answer all the hard questions.
However, when you realize that God is sovereignly in control of every step of the salvation process, there’s peace. I am no longer evangelizing with faith in my own abilities to explain the truth, nor am I evangelizing with the goal of convincing someone else of the truth. I am merely sharing the truth as best as I know it, having faith that the Holy Spirit will speak through me, and praying that God will give the person listening “ears to hear” and “eyes to see.” Now, can it be a very good thing to, while sharing the Gospel, also give someone something to eat? Of course! And if the Holy Spirit leads me to perform a miracle, should I quench Him? Of course not! But to focus on these types of additions to evangelizing can lead to a distorting of the truth, such as the cults that promise miracles to those who join or the social gospel groups who prioritize feeding the hungry and clothing the poor over the importance of sharing the truth of the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ and the reasons why He had to die for us all.
I know you would agree with the importance of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. No miracles would occur apart from the Spirit and, if people are saved, we both agree that the Holy Spirit would immediately fill them. So ultimately, why am I offering such a pushback against the concept of Power Evangelism? Honestly, as I consider the idea of it in light of these texts, I must refuse it. I denounce it along with anything else that would even suggest that the Gospel lacks all the power and authority it needs. The truth has authority. Let us not forget Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” When we are sharing the Gospel, all evangelism is “power” evangelism, for the Gospel is the very “power of God for salvation”; and the only miracle required in salvation is a heart of stone being turned into a heart of flesh.
Does it really matter whether you and I disagree about faith preceding regeneration or regeneration preceding faith? I can safely say, “No,” because I know that God will still save whomever He chooses to save (Romans 9:15-18). You would likely also answer, “No,” but if you were being philosophically consistent, you’d have to hope that I would still share the Gospel with as much profundity and proof as possible. But if we are going to try to answer this grand question — Does man choose God or does God choose man? — then why don’t we consult the text? Ironically, all three of the primary texts we’ve been analyzing tonight (Matthew 10-11, Luke 9-10, and John 6) end with the exact same conclusion. Let’s allow Scripture to speak for itself:
Matthew 11:27 (ESV): “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Luke 10:22 (ESV): “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
John 6:65 (ESV): And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
(If you’ve read this far, wow! Good job! This is where my thoughts on the subject end, but if you want to keep learning more, I listened to a teaching after-the-fact that ironically hit on almost every point that’s discussed here, only in more detail by someone much wiser than me. I’m referring to David Platt’s Secret Church 5: Exploring the Holy Spirit, specifically “Session 4,” and I highly recommend listening to it–all four sessions if you have the time and endurance. Otherwise, I don’t publish highly theological posts like this too often, as the blog is mostly dedicated to music and film, but feel free to subscribe for more!)