I have personally benefited from the ministry and scholarship of D.A. Carson for many years. Carson’s commentary on the Gospel of John in the Pillar series was vital for my personal exposition of the gospel of John which took me several years to work through. So I have great gratitude and respect for Carson’s work. I am always happy to endorse and encourage folks to read Carson’s works. However in the latest edition of Themelios, Vol. 39, D.A. Carson interacts with 2 Timothy 4.5, and takes on the imperatival phrase, “do the work of an evangelist” (ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ). Carson is convinced this does not have to do with spreading the gospel to unbelievers necessarily and even seems to suggest that it not likely that Paul was trying to restrict this meaning of the phrase here. I would like to challenge that premise a bit and retain the more traditional historical interpretation of that passage for the sake of evangelism everywhere and because I think this is such a unique text in the Pastoral corpus; this is Paul directly exhorting pastor Timothy not to neglect evangelism— that’s huge. I simply want to point out four exegetical premises while interacting with Carson’s article in the Themelios journal.
1. We know that evangelism is not like other pastoral work, even teaching Eph. 4.11. In fact, if Paul’s call to do evangelistic work was simply a call to counsel or even preach within the church, the text would suffer redundancy. The reality is, that Carson’s view seems to empty the word, “evangelist” (εὐαγγελιστής) and the phrase “do the work of an evangelist” (ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ) of any distinct meaning by saying that (εὐαγγελιστής) only includes preaching to the lost.
2. We know what Philip’s evangelistic ministry consists of and it does not seem to line up with Carson’s broad definition of the term. Philip was an itinerant preaching of the gospel. That is to say, Philip was someone who preached the gospel from place to place and to those who did not know the gospel e.g. the Samaritans (Acts 8.5, 26). It seems from Philip’s description as an evangelist, that his ministry had a very specific role to play in the early church. Philip’s life seems to fit the description of the normative lexical understanding of the term “evangelist” as someone who goes from place to place preaching the gospel. For example Louw-Nida says:
“Though the term εὐαγγελιστής indicates only an individual who ‘announces the gospel,’ early usage would suggest that this was often a person who went from place to place announcing the good news.” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 541.)
Carson does not seem to think that Paul’s use of (εὐαγγελιστής) is mainly to be understood as preaching the gospel to unbelievers as is traditionally thought but wonders if it includes that point but mainly encompasses other types of gospel ministry:
“I suspect that most of us read 2 Tim 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist,” along some such lines as the following. Paul tells Timothy, in effect, that even when he is rightly involved in preaching, teaching, instructing, correcting, even when he is known for keeping his head in all situations and learning to endure hardship, he must not forget to do the work of an evangelist. Certainly it is easy for pastors in busy ministries to be so caught up in church-related service that they have few or no non-Christian friends. They may never share their faith and unpack the gospel to unbelievers from one month to the next. Seeing the danger, Paul commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist—that is, preach the gospel to outsiders, share the gospel to outsiders, aiming to win converts. Make a priority of evangelism. Herald the gospel to outsiders, whether one-on-one, in small groups, or in larger contexts—this is what evangelism is, and this is what an evangelist does. In the midst of diverse and demanding ministry, do not forget to engage in evangelism. Doubtless that is excellent counsel—but is this exactly what Paul is saying?”(D. A. Carson, “Editorial: Do the Work of an Evangelist,” Themelios 39, no. 1, Themelios (2014): 2.)
“Do the work of an evangelist” may well be an exhortation to engage in evangel ministry, in gospel ministry, which includes what we today mean by evangelism but should not be restricted to it.”(D. A. Carson, “Editorial: Do the Work of an Evangelist,” Themelios 39, no. 1, Themelios (2014): 4.)
Yet, this is not what we have from the lexical usage of the word and more so with Scripture’s living example of the term in Philip’s life. Preaching to unbelievers is, I would argue, the heart of evangelism— this is at the heart of (εὐαγγελιστής). Given Carson’s insistence that 2 Tim. 4.5 refers to more than strict evangelism, we have to wonder if everyone in the church qualifies as an evangelist since at some basic level all biblical ministry seems to fit into the definition assigned to this passage by Carson. With Philip, we see that not only is he called an evangelist, but his life exemplifies what that means. We see Philip caught up in the proclamation of the good news to unbelievers, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them” (Acts 8.5). It was this “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8.b) that Philip was “preaching” (εὐαγγελιζομένῳ) and consequently, brought them to faith so that they “believed Philip” (Acts 8.12a). The use of the present middle participle “preaching” refers to Philip’s ongoing personal proclamation of the gospel to the unbelieving Samarians. Furthermore it was from Scripture that Philip preaching Jesus (Acts 8.35). Men and women alike were being saved and baptized under Philip’s evangelistic activity and it is this same activity that Paul is calling Timothy to. Acts 8 ends with Philip ending up at Caesarea but not until preaching the gospel to “all the cities” along the way (8.40).
3. We know that Paul points out that Timothy did the work of an evangelist with Paul in previous years. Although the term does not indicate missionary work, it should not exclude it. Evangelistic work can be done in the context of missions. One noted Greek Dictionary says:
“…the εὐαγγελισταί are placed after the apostles and are not primarily missionaries, but instead serve the Church through the proclamation of the gospel.”(Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 70.)
The most important part of any evangelist’s work is indeed the preaching of Christ. The exhortation of 2 Tim. 4.5 is really nothing new for Timothy. He was after all accustomed to assisting Paul, following him on his missionary journeys and laboring with him in the gospel (Phil. 2.19-22). He saw, the work of an evangelist modeled before him.
4. Finally, we should recognize the wisdom of Paul’s injunction to Timothy in this pastoral letter. Whereas, Carson sees that this may be our thinking today, but not really Paul’s intent; I see this rather as just that, Paul’s exhortation to a young pastor that he not forget the lost while ministering in the context of the local church i.e. among other gospel-centered ministries.
5. The normative interpretation of top exegetes of the Pastoral Epistles (PE) also take a rather customary approach to both the lexical range of the term “evangelist” and the meaning of the text of 2 Tim. 4.5. George Knight comments correctly:
“This description of Philip’s work together with the inherent significance of the term εὐαγγελιστής shows what the evangelist’s task was. Paul wants Timothy to continue to evangelize even though he is working in a more settled situation and is not in a new and unevangelized territory as Philip was. This use of εὐαγγελιστής may indicate that Timothy is the “evangelist” or “missionary” for Ephesus and that Paul is encouraging him to continue that work. Or it may indicate that in whatever capacity Timothy serves he must continue doing the work of an evangelist. Cf. Paul’s comments about Timothy’s work in the gospel in Phil. 2:22 and 1 Thes. 3:2.”
Finally, since Paul is addressing Timothy, now the Ephesian pastor, to concern himself with evangelism we should also note what Paul is not calling him to do i.e. make evangelism the priority over his pastoral duties within the church. Although many pastors use this latter point and concern as an excuse not to evangelize outside the walls of their local church; a note of caution should be struck nonetheless. Paul is not calling Timothy to unbridled evangelistic zeal, he is not suggesting Timothy neglect families, neglect prayer, neglect studying etc. he is simply calling Timothy (contra Carson) not to forget the lost as he immerses himself in his work as a (ποιμήν)- a shepherd. Suggesting further, that an “evangelist” referred to something distinct from other forms of general gospel work. Even Philip, perhaps the most well known evangelist in the early church resided in his own house suggesting that not even he was thinking of going beyond a certain locale for the sake of evangelism; at least not beyond a solid connection to his local church (cf. Acts 21.8). The need for evangelistic pastors is great, and I would hate to generalize this text (2 Tim. 4.5) away and produce less evangelism in our churches. The fact remains that, v.1, “preach the word” is not the same as v.5, “do the work of an evangelist”; they are different and so is everything else in these verses. Expository preaching is not that “work”, counseling is not that “work”, discipleship is not that “work”— that work consists chiefly of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and damned world that so desperately needs for more pastor/evangelists to go into the highway and byways of the world and herald Christ to the glory of God.
Sola Deo Gloria
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