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by Peter May
Persuasion is a pivotal word in understanding evangelism, but it has for a long time been overlooked. I have been to countless ‘training sessions’ and read numerous books on evangelism, where neither the word nor even the idea have been mentioned at all. Even a Dictionary of Apologetics and an Encyclopaedia of Apologetics on my shelves do not have entries under the ‘P’ word. Yet, if you take persuasion out of evangelism, you are left with unpersuasive evangelism.
My concordance tells me that the English word (used as a noun, verb or adjective) occurs fifteen times in the New Testament (the relevant Greek words are peitho / peithos / peismone). Here are the main examples:
“The chief priests and the scribes persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” (Matthew 27:20)
“(the people) were persuaded that John (the Baptist) was a prophet.” (Luke 20:6)
“(Gamaliel’s) speech persuaded them.” (Acts 5:40)
“Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas.” (Acts 17:4)
“Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4)
“This man is persuading the people to worship God.” (Acts 18:13)
“(Paul was) arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)
“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)
“Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
So often in contemporary evangelism the emphasis is given to proclaiming and explaining the gospel to the complete neglect of trying to persuade people that it is true.
Why Has Persuasion Been Ignored?
Some thirty years ago, I heard a famous and influential English evangelist put it like this: “A man won by an argument is at the mercy of a better argument. Instead, we must bring people into an experience of Christ.”
I wasn’t quick witted enough to point out that a person won by an experience is at the mercy of a better experience! However, his viewpoint was widely shared and highlighted a subjective and relative approach to truth…
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