Theological Traps That Hinder Evangelism :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Theological Traps That Hinder Evangelism

Forrest McPhail
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 A trap is something you fall into because you don’t realize it’s there. Theological traps are errors in thinking about God and His ways that creep in and steal away our motivation for evangelism. These aberrant thoughts affect our emotions, zap our confidence, and often hold us back from faithful verbal evangelism.

Being the sinners that we are, our flesh easily falls into such traps. Outside of intervening grace, we tend to avoid sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Biblical evangelism is a supernatural event springing from grace. Our flesh is diametrically opposed to it because we are proud and selfish. That is why consistent evangelism as a lifestyle is such a battle for most of us. Evaluation of our evangelism—what we do and what we fail to do—is therefore a healthy exercise.

Great commission-centric living requires a continual renewal of our minds. How we think about God, others, and life in general, must be regularly recalibrated: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:21). As we consider together some of the theological traps that easily ensnare, let’s be honest with ourselves before God. Are we presently struggling in the quagmire of one or more of the following four traps?

Relegating our Responsibility to God’s Sovereignty

If we have a biblically healthy view of God’s sovereignty in salvation, we must admit the negative tendencies about evangelism that come with it. Our sinful flesh is prone to reason that if God is in control and election is real, then God will certainly save the elect so ultimately it’s not really up to us anyway. This kind of thinking can cause us to stray away from urgency in evangelism. This is why some people who are passionate about evangelism tend to reject strong views of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

A view of God’s sovereignty that allows or encourages apathy in evangelism is not sound doctrine. God’s Word leaves the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the will of man a mystery that cannot be fully understood.2 In passages that strongly declare God’s sovereignty, verses that declare man’s responsibility are often close by (see John 6:41-71).

Our sinful flesh, even with a thorough grasp of sound doctrine, can cause us to fail to evangelize. We might maintain a strong stance against hyper-Calvinism and be committed doctrinally to urgency about making disciples and still find ourselves apathetic and passive in evangelism.

Diminishing a Woman’s Responsibility for Evangelism

Bible-believing Christians must emphasize male leadership because God does. To fail to do so is to be unfaithful to God’s Word. However, we can also hyper-emphasize male leadership to such an extent that disciple-making for all practical purposes is seen as an exclusively male activity.

As we strive to correct extreme feminism and uphold a biblical understanding of gender and roles, we must be careful not to diminish the responsibility of women to make disciples. This pitfall of over-correction affects a Christian woman’s confidence and desire to evangelize.

Wives of pastors and missionaries, as well as single lady missionaries, can have a wrong view of themselves and their roles. Each woman has a personal responsibility before Christ to be a verbal witness for His name. One’s gender or marital status does not negate the responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18) and “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). While a mother’s ministry to her children should be her top priority, this command is not limited to just training her own children.

Hiding Behind a Lack of Spiritual Giftedness

Highlighting spiritual gifts is a focus of Scripture too. But it is possible to teach about gifts in such a way that God’s people are discouraged from evangelism. When this happens, the teaching becomes a theological trap.

I know many missionaries, but I don’t believe I know any who would see themselves as “gifted evangelists.” The perception of this “lack of gifting” can tempt a person to have low expectations about fruitfulness. This erroneous thinking can cause us to lower the bar of what it means to be a faithful witness for Christ.

The gift of the evangelist is real (see Ephesians 4:11). But we can err in defining what an evangelist is based on cultural experiences and personality types. We forget that spiritual giftedness comes in degrees, types, and various expressions. Spiritual giftedness is not a determining factor in obeying Christ’s command: “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” (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Missionaries also struggle with the sinful tendency to excuse themselves for their lack of faithfulness in witness. But cross-cultural missionaries, of all people, must obey the injunction, “do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Fearing Easy-Believism

Many of us have seen the rotten fruit of evangelism focused on obtaining quick decisions. We fear having anything to do with it. We rightly see the need in evangelism to call for repentance and its fruit even as our Lord commanded: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Some of us are so averse to this error of faith without repentance that we can allow fear to lead us into another theological pitfall—the inability to “draw the net.” While we must do what we can to assure that those we seek to win have a true understanding of the Gospel, we must not lose our ability to call on people to believe right now. Fear of false decisions should not render us unable to lead people to pray and receive Christ altogether.

Recognizing Functional Theology—Today

I really appreciate the title of Karl Dahlfred’s book, Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin. Our theology directly affects how we live, how we seek to win others for Christ, and how we think about God, mankind, the Church, the Great Commission, etc. Our theology informs our daily lives.

If our theology is right (in both heart and mind), we will be active witnesses for Jesus Christ. Our theology is not merely our doctrinal statement or creed; it is how we think about God and His ways—today. We must ask ourselves this: What does my verbal witness for Christ (or lack thereof) reveal about my theology? Have I fallen into a theological trap?


1 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Two books have helped me personally with this doctrinal tension and how it relates to evangelism. Both books were written by Ian Murray: Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching and Pentecost-Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival.