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Whole Life Evangelism Part 1: An Introduction To Living on Mission

In this short series, we are looking what it means to live a life on mission for God. Or, put another way, to practice what I call whole-life evangelism. We’ll see why how we live and who we are matters as much as what we say. Today, we’ll cover a few introductory concepts.

In his classic book Life Style Evangelism, Joe Aldrich lays out the importance of “becoming before broadcasting.”[1] In a sense, he is pointing out that who we are matters as much as what we say when it comes to sharing the gospel.  While Aldrich speaks of life style evangelism, however, I believe truly effective evangelism goes beyond life style.  Our witness involves our whole lives; how we act, how we feel, how we relate, and of course, what we say. I call this whole-life evangelism, or living a life on mission.

In making his case, Aldrich draws on Aristotle to set a framework for being an effective communicator of the gospel.  Now you might recoil at the notion that someone would use the philosophy of a Greek pagan to as a means of sharing the good news. But if you suppress your gag reflex for a moment, I think you will find, as I did, that Aldrich is on to something. (Besides, we know God uses pagans all the time to further His plan of redemption.)

In his book, Aldrich draws on Aristotle’s three methods of persuasion, or what he calls the philosopher’s “three qualities of the successful communicator.” These are ethos, pathos, and logos. We are going to use these concepts to build out what whole-life evangelism, or a life on mission, looks like. But to begin, we need to understand a little more what they are.

Ethos – Our Character

The Greek word ethos (ηθος) can be translated “character” or even an “accustomed place.”  It’s where we get the words ethics or ethical. Thus, as might seem obvious, ethos speaks to one’s integrity and describes the morals and ethics of a culture that one is to follow to maintain integrity in that culture.

 If we think of Aristotle’s framework as a three-legged stool for making an effective argument, ethos is the leg that establishes the credibility of the speaker. In the context of whole-life evangelism, ethos speaks to the state of our lives and lifestyles.

Pathos – Our Heart

Pathos (παθος) is a Greek word translated as “that which is endured or experienced,” or more generally “suffering.” It also can be translated as “strong desire” or “passion.”[1]  From it we have our word pathology, which points to illness, disease or disorder.  Likewise, pathos is the foundation of empathy or sympathy; the means by which we enter into the experience of suffering in others.

In Aristotle’s three-legged stool, pathos represents the argument that appeals to the emotions of the audience.  In the context of whole-life evangelism, it might be seen as the appeal that addresses the felt-need people have for God.  But equally so, I believe it is the need in us to feel the suffering of others. It is, as the old saying goes, the breaking of our hearts for what breaks God’s heart.

Logos – Our Words

Finally, we have logos (λογος), translated “word” in Greek. Logos represents the actual words we use, or the logical content of our argument.  Consider, for instance, the argument that one should give to the poor. Whereas our ethos may tell us such giving it is the morally right thing to do, and our pathos tells us it is the heartfelt thing to do, our logos tells us it just plain makes sense. Alleviation of poverty will improve the overall state of society. In the context of whole-life evangelism, logos represents the communication of the good news, it’s where we finally get to inform folks about the truth of the gospel.  Take, for instance, the old maxim to preach always and, when necessary, use words. Logos represents the using of the words.

Over the course of the next few posts, we are going to unpack each of these concepts, and explore how who we are, in addition to what we say, shapes our Christian witness. What hopefully will emerge is a clearer picture of whole-life evangelism, or what it looks like to live life on mission.  Thanks for joining this journey, may you be blessed along the way.

Father, we praise You because You made us for Your message. You have blessed us with Your promise. You have equipped us with Your truth.  Now we ask that You prune us for Your purpose. As we explore who we are morally, emotionally, intellectually and in all aspects of our being, we ask that You draw together the entirety of who we are for Your good will. Help us lead a life on mission for You. It is in the precious name of Jesus Christ that we lift our praise and our petition.   

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 748.

[1] Joe Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism; Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World, Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 1993, 34-35.