When you hear the word “evangelize” what comes to your mind? How do you understand that word? When I hear that word I think of it as explaining the gospel to an unbeliever and calling him to faith and repentance. I think that is how most people use it. My friend Mark Dever uses it that way. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis use it that way. My friend Lig Duncan uses it that way. John MacArthur uses it that way. I think it’s safe to say that many gospel-centered believers use it that way. And there’s nothing wrong with using the word that way. I’ve used it that way and will continue to use the word evangelism to speak of proclaiming/explaining the gospel to unbelievers and calling them to faith and repentance.
But Paul didn’t use the word that way. P.T. O’Brien explains commenting on Romans 1:15-16 (Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, Andreas Kostenberger and Peter O’Brien, 183):
First, both contexts and Pauline usage require that the verb euangelizomai be understood here as meaning to “preach the gospel” not to “proclaim” or “preach” in a general sense. Secondly, although this verb is often taken to include only initial or primary evangelism, Paul employs the euangellion word-group to cover the whole range of evangelistic and teaching ministry – from the initial proclamation of the gospel to the building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the faith.
So when we use the term “evangelize” in English we mean what Kostenberger and O’Brien call “primary evangelism” or “initial proclamation of the gospel.” Kostenberger and O’Brien are also stuck in the usage of “evangelism” in this way when they refer to the Greek word group covering both “evangelistic and teaching ministry.” They distinguish between the two in English usage. They assert here based on Romans 1:15-16 that the Greek word euangelizomai (where we get the English word “evangelize”) includes “building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the faith.”
Using “evangelism” in this “primary” sense exclusively helps Christians think (wrongly) that the gospel is just for unbelievers or for the beginning of the Christian life. This is a very popular sentiment in Christian churches here in the U.S. But Tim Keller says, the gospel is not the ABC’s of Christianity but the A to Z of Christianity. Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, authors of Total Church, use the word “gospel” as a verb explaining how believers in their church are “to gospel one another.” That is taking into account the broader use of the term euagelizomai. I think the term “evangelize” is so locked into a certain usage that I’d much rather coin a new verb like Timmis and Chester have. I’m experimenting with the verb “gospelize.” To gospelize is (to use Kostnberger/O’Brien’s terms) to proclaim and apply the gospel for the conversion of unbeliever AND for the building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the faith.
What do you think?