In this 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. In this, our final, post, we’ll explore why our ability to explain and defend the gospel is so critical to our witness.
St. Francis of Assisi is often misquoted as charging the Christian to always “preach the gospel, and when necessary use words.” There is no evidence he actually ever said or wrote this. And maybe for good reason; St. Francis was an evangelist. And every evangelist knows that when preaching the gospel, it’s always necessary to use words.
Until now, in our journey through whole life evangelism, we’ve been looking at how the non-verbal (or less verbal) aspects of our lives affect our witness. Our ethos, or the manner in which we live, doesn’t involve a gospel presentation, but certainly can support or undermine it. Likewise, our pathos, or the way we love, care and empathize with others, doesn’t necessarily center on sharing the gospel, but can strengthen or weaken how it is received. These things alone can impact the sharing of the gospel, but they cannot replace it.
So today, we are going to look at the importance of the actual words; the intentional conveyance and defense of the gospel message. In the context of our approach to whole life evangelism, this would be our “logos” – our words.
So what is “logos”? It’s basically the Greek word for “word.” Merriam Webster defines logos as “the divine wisdom manifest in the creation, government, and redemption of the world and often identified with the second person of the Trinity” or the “reason that in ancient Greek philosophy is the controlling principle in the universe.”
Logos is, as you might have guessed, the word from which we get “logic”, which Cambridge Dictionary defines as “a particular way of thinking, especially one that is reasonable and based on good judgment; a formal, scientific method of examining or thinking about ideas.” So logos is about words, wisdom, reason and logic.
We have been looking at Aristotle’s methods of persuasion as a guide in our journey, and in logos we come to the final one. In his work Rhetoric, the philosopher explains it this way: “Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience in to a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself…Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”
Logos, then, is this third method – the “persuasion…effected through the speech itself”, or the written or spoken argument if you prefer. In philosophy, the effectiveness of the argument can depend on several factors, such as whether it is based on facts, is supported by evidence, and is logical. In many ways, it is not much different when it comes to evangelism. We need to consider and convey the facts, the evidence and the logic of the gospel.
Logos in Whole Life Evangelism
When it comes to whole life evangelism, logos basically completes the picture that our ethos and pathos begin to paint. I find Peter’s often-quoted verse helpful in seeing this. The apostle writes, in 1 Peter 3:15, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Our “hope” is seen in our ethos (how we live) by the hope we express; and in our pathos (how we care) by the hope and encouragement we give. Our “answer”, however, is found in our logos, the logical explanation or reason for why we have hope and why we share hope. Our answer is the gospel, and in sharing the gospel, we complete the picture of redemption expressed through our lives.
Logos Carried Out
There are many aspects to sharing gospel, but for our purposes I want to highlight three and focus on one. The first is knowledge, or our ability to understand and explain the biblical text. We need to spend the time needed to prayerfully and intentionally comprehend God’s word. The second aspect, or component, is something we often refer to as “apologetics.” This involves our ability to defend the gospel from competing, erroneous world views.
Understanding, explaining and defending the gospel are obviously critical elements for sharing it. We cannot effectively transmit truth unless we are prepared to explain it and support it. But there is a third component I want to focus on here, because for me it’s where the rubber really hits the road. And that is relating the gospel. Put another way, it is our personal witness and application of the gospel.
Relating the Gospel
Our personal witness and our ability to show how the gospel applies to us both involve relating the biblical text to life. Our personal witness, our own testimonies, do this by showing how the gospel has changed our lives. Some of the best examples of this come from the Apostle Paul. For a great illustration of Paul’s use of personal witness, check out his defense before the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 22.
Paul’s testimony, much like our own, tells a powerful story of redemption, but does so in a relatable way. The concept of salvation, which for many is no more than an abstract theological idea, is made real. How God changed you is concrete and undeniable; it is something other people can grasp and possibly even relate to. As you think through sharing your testimony with others, it might help to consider a few questions. These might include: Does anything about your life align with the lives of the person you are trying to reach? How did believing change you? And how, where and when does believing give you comfort?
Applying the Gospel
Application of the gospel, meanwhile, calls on us to relate how the can gospel change someone else’s life. Thus, it centers not on our testimonies, but their potential future testimony. Application thus turns on the answers to a few key questions about the people we seek to reach: Who are they?Where are they?And how are they? The answers to the first question – who are they – reveal personalities, life experiences, and other individual characteristics. The second question – where are they – considers cultural influences and world views. The third question – how are they – speaks to their emotional, physical and spiritual states.
Every person has different answers to these questions; we are all shaped differently. In the midst of such diversity, however, the miraculous thing is that the gospel relates to all of us. To the guilt-ridden, it is the gift of forgiveness. To the anxiety-prone, it is the gift of peace. To the shame-prone, it is the gift of loving acceptance. But to know how the gospel might apply in any one person’s life, we have to know the person. To make the gospel relatable to others, we first must relate to others.
Once again, Paul gives great example. He expressed this powerfully in his first letter to the Corinthian church: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that may win more,” he writes. (1 Cor. 9:19). He then goes on to explain how he became like those he sought to reach in order to reach them. To the Jew, he became like a Jew. To the Gentile, he became like a Gentile. To the weak, he became weak. In all cases, he related so that he could make the gospel relatable.
Paul also gives us great examples of how he did this. Acts 13:16-42, for instance, shows how he used the history of the Hebrew Bible to show Jews how it ultimately led to Jesus. Later, in Acts 17:22-34, in his famous sermon on Mars Hill, he used the lens of the pagan gods and Greek philosophy to reveal Christ to the Gentiles.
The larger takeaway is this. The gospel truly is the answer to everything. Every need. Every desire. Every longing. And when we understand the needs, desires and longings of other people, we can share the gospel in a life-penetrating way. But to do so, we have to actually share the gospel. We have to engage logos. We have to tell the story. And what a perfect time of year to start doing just that.
Father, You have given us the greatest gift of all time. The gift of our salvation through the sacrifice of Your Son. And with that gift, You also gave us the gift of the story of redemption. Now, Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, help us regift it. Help us pay it forward, so all the world would know You are God.
 Rhetoric, Book 1, Part 2, Aristotle (350 BCE)