(Editor's note: This article is also available in Spanish. To read the Spanish edition, click here.)
One of the first things we should keep clear when we speak of evangelization is that it represents much more than a mere transmission technique of certain “spiritual laws” or “essential things we need to know.” This kind of content ends up being a reductionism that has no solid base in scripture. In fact, it represents a type of sales technique. The gospel, as expressed in the New Testament, is an exposition of the totality of God’s purpose for humankind and all of creation.
Therefore, the transmission of the gospel—that is, evangelization—implies a message that displays what God has proposed to do with his creation through Jesus Christ. How is evangelization related to worship? What should an evangelization that promotes the glory of God look like? In what sense is a doxological1 evangelization an eschatological anticipation? There are at least three aspects of doxological evangelization.
1. A Doxological Evangelization Is Trinitarian in its Content and Exposition
In the hymn of Ephesians 1:4-14, Paul refers to the spiritual blessings that demonstrate the redemptive plan of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of the persons of the Trinity—in what theology calls “economic Trinity”2—carries out its saving action following an eternally pre-elaborated plan. In effect, Paul says the Father “chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (1:4-5).
Subsequently, in Jesus Christ, we have redemption, forgiveness of sins and knowledge of the mystery of the will of God to bring all things together in Christ and an eternal inheritance. Finally, the Holy Spirit seals us as God’s property, thus guaranteeing our inheritance in the triune God. There is no doubt this brief synthesis of the purpose of God is the gospel. Paul himself says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (1:13).
Therefore, the action of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit must be set forth in all evangelization that aspires to be biblical. This is not simply about reducing evangelization to “come to Christ and accept him as your personal Savior”; rather, it is to say that evangelization implies setting forth how the one and triune God is involved in a salvific process that was initiated in eternity when he elected us in Christ. It is important to emphasize that in this Trinitarian hymn, each of the stanzas end with the expression “to the praise of his glory” (1:6, 12 and 14). To this expression, John Stott says,
“The glory of God is the revelation of God, and the glory of his grace is his self-revelation as the God of grace. To live for the praise of the glory of his grace is to worship him with our words and works as the God of grace. It also means to make others see him and praise him.”3
Therefore, we can affirm that biblical evangelization is doxological because it always tends to glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doxological evangelization is, in this sense, profoundly theocentric because it implies proclaiming that:
- the Father elected us and predestined us in Christ,
- the Son redeemed us with his blood and made us to know the integrating mystery of all things created and
- the Spirit is the one who marked us with his seal to show us that we are God’s property.
A theocentric evangelization centers on God’s action before human action. It emphasizes that salvation is much more than a recipe for happiness or “having success.” It speaks of knowing and preaching that the one and triune God has eternally designed a salvific plan that is unfolding in history and is converting it into “salvation history.”4
2. Doxological Evangelization Promotes the Glory of God
This second aspect of doxological evangelization has to do with motivations. To speak of motivations means to speak of motives and impulses. Why do we do what we do? What are the deepest motivations of our actions? These questions are incisive because they penetrate deep in our hearts which, as the Bible says, are deceitful.
In every region of the world we see a great interest in missions and evangelization. Nevertheless, not everything done in these areas is motivated by the glory of God. Sadly, sometimes we can even suspect that the motives are carnal—like having the most important church in a city, having renown and fame as an evangelist or achieving success that people will wish to follow. Paul himself referred to those who “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely” (Philippians 1:17), and, in spite of this, the apostle rejoiced. However, the true motivation for evangelization is to promote the glory of God.
This is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, a passage inserted into a section we could entitle missiological and evangelistic. In effect, Paul refers to the fact that we have the gospel in jars of clay; that our bodies are fragile and mortal. Paul defines his evangelistic mission in these terms: “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5). He further adds:
“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written, 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (4:13-15)
This passage is extremely rich and profound in content; however, here we wish only to emphasize the following concepts:
- There is a dialectical relationship that the apostle expresses in the binomial death vs. life. In the measure that we die, we produce life in other people. In this way, the life of the resurrected Jesus is manifested in those who believe the kerygma.
- It is out of faith that we evangelize others: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” We should evangelize with that same spirit of faith.
- All that we are living out is so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Doxological evangelization is done from the motivation of promoting the glory of God in the world. According to Culbert G. Rutenber,
“No action is in itself Christian: neither preaching, nor prayer, nor speaking to men about Christ. The act is Christian by its motive. Is it done from the love for Christ and from the desire to live for the praise of his glory? Christians do many things that non-Christians do, but for different reasons. This makes the absolute difference.”5
3. Doxological Evangelization as Prolepsis of Eternal Glory
There is a third aspect of doxological evangelization that I would like to underscore: it has to do with the eschatological vision of glory. Theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have emphasized the prominent place of eschatology in the apostolic kerygma. In effect, neither the message of Jesus nor the theology of Paul would be understandable without taking into account that the Kingdom of God is an eschatological reality, and that eschatology is not a simple speculation about the future, but that, as Moltmann well defines it, “…it means the doctrine of the Christian hope, which embraces both the object hoped for and also the hope inspired by it.”6
For his part, Pannenberg underscores the category of prolepsis7 in the apostolic message and the resurrection of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is a future reality of God—that is, an eschatological reality. But that reality has been made present in Jesus of Nazareth, and, above all, in his resurrection. In effect, the resurrection of Jesus is an eschatological event that in some way anticipates the future of the triumph of God over the powers of death. Another aspect that must be emphasized in Pannenberg’s theology is that “it points out his central idea or the very paradigm of his theology, that is, the revelation of God in history. The arrival of the Kingdom is the foundation of the message of Jesus; and, therefore, without the materialization of that future, that message loses its base.”
We can synthesize these concepts by saying that the Kingdom of God is an eschatological reality that has been anticipated in the present through the Christ event, and, fundamentally, his resurrection from the dead.
Subsequently, the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the center of the kerygma, is also a way of anticipating the future glory all of the redeemed will enjoy in the presence of the triune God in a new world. Doxological evangelization must be a way of anticipating the bringing together of all things in Christ. In Pannenberg’s words: “Here is the eternal basis of God’s coming forth from the immanence of the divine life as the economic Trinity and of the incorporation of creatures, mediated thereby, into the unity of the trinitarian life.”8
It is necessary to revise our concepts of gospel and evangelization. Such words have often fallen into reductionisms that do not represent the totality of apostolic kerygma. A doxological evangelization is trinitarian in both its content and exposition. In this sense, all true evangelization must demonstrate that it is not speaking of a mere “salvation of the soul” or an “encounter with Christ” in purely individualistic terms that signify obtaining “a passport to heaven.”
To evangelize is to proclaim what the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit bring about within the plan of salvation that not only includes persons created in his image, but also all of God’s creation that groans while awaiting redemption. Doxological evangelization promotes the glory of God and not ours, and, as such, is far from highly praising “successful ministries” or “ecclesiastical enterprises” that are presented to us as models to imitate.
True evangelization makes it possible for the persons who receive it to live for the glory of God. Finally, doxological evangelization is a kind of anticipation of the eternal glory that all God’s creation will experience in the new heavens and the new earth when God will be all in all.
1. The terms doxological and doxology are derived from New Testament Greek, where the root doxa means “glory.” Curiously, the same term in the classical Greek writings signified “opinion.” The Greeks distinguished between doxa and episteme; that is, between a mere opinion about something and a certain secure knowledge. Today we would say “scientific.”
2. While the immanent Trinity points to what it is in itself, in its eternal communion, the economic Trinity focuses on the way in which the Trinity reveals itself in salvation history.
3. John R. W. Stott. 1987. La Nueva Humanidad. El Mensaje de Efesios. Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: Certeza. p. 48.
4. This expression corresponds to the German term heilsgeschichte. For its meaning, see Oscar Cullmann, Cristo y el Tiempo, Barcelona: Estela, 1967, pp. 18ss. In a philosophical focus on the theme, Karl Löwith says, “From the point of view of faith, it can be said….that salvation history embraces all other histories, because the history of the world has its origin in original sin.” Historia del Mundo y Salvación. Los Presupuestos Teológicos de la Filosofía de la Historia, Buenos Aires: Katz editores, 2007, p. 226.
5. Culbert G. Rutenber. 1973. El Evangelio de la Reconciliación, El Paso, Texas, USA: Casa Bautista de Publicaciones. p. 95
6. Jürgen Moltmann. 1969. Teología de la Esperanza, Salamanca: Sígueme. p. 20
7. Wolfhart Pannenberg says that prolepsis is a Stoic category, that applied to faith, “is defined as an intelligent anticipation prior to secure comprehension.” Systematic Theology, vol. 3, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Eerdmans, 1998, p. 145.
8. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 646