I remember the first time I traveled to Japan to speak. As I sat down with my translator, he explained that Japan never had a Christian foundation (as has most of our Western world). So I could not assume that people understood Christian terminology.
”I need to present the gospel to these people the way God does it in His Word! Who would have ever thought of that?”
For instance, he explained that the Shinto religion dominated Japan; so when I used the word God, most people would assume I was talking about another “god” just like their thousands of other gods. The translator explained that he would need to define the Bible’s God so that they could understand this was different from the many gods of their pagan religion.
I began to understand that most people in Japan, who had no church background, wouldn’t understand about Jesus dying on the Cross, or the essence of the gospel, because they had no understanding of the account of Adam and Eve and the Fall. They needed this historical background to understand the entrance of sin and our need for a Savior.
As my translator said, “To explain the gospel, you will actually need to start at the beginning.”
I thought to myself, “Wow, what a radical idea! I need to present the gospel to these people the way God does it in His Word, the Bible! Who would have ever thought of that?”
When I explain this to audiences in America today, people usually laugh. They especially chuckle when I say it this way, “Here is a radical approach to presenting the gospel: let’s do it the way God does it for us in His Word.”
Think about it. Why is Genesis (which means “beginning” or “origin”) the first book in the Bible, God’s written revelation to man? It is because the first eleven chapters of this book outline a history that is foundational to the rest of the Bible.
Genesis gives an account of the origin of all the basic entities of life and the universe: the origin of space, matter, time, earth, light, water, atmosphere, dry land, plants, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, flying creatures, land creatures, the first humans (Adam and Eve), clothing, sin, death, marriage, nations, languages, and much more.
Without this historical revelation, how would we understand the reason for Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection?
Imagine teaching a group of Christians that they need to go out and witness to non-Christians, with one stipulation: they are not allowed to refer to the first eleven chapters of Genesis. They are to present the gospel but not refer to Genesis in any way. Imagine a possible conversation:
“You need to trust in Jesus for salvation,” the Christian says.
“Why do I need salvation?” the non-Christian responds.
“Well, you do because you are a sinner.”
“Why am I a sinner?”
“Well, just accept that you are.”
“Where did sin come from?”
“Don’t worry about that—just accept it. Jesus died for your sin.”
“Why did He die?”
“Because death is the penalty for sin.”
“Where did that originate?”
“Don’t worry about that—just accept it.”
I could go on and on—but I trust you understand the point.
How can a Christian explain the gospel to someone who has no background understanding of God’s truth revealed in Genesis? It is impossible.
Genesis’s account of history explains that all humans are descendants of one man, Adam, who rebelled against God, thus bringing sin and death into this once-perfect creation. As a result, Adam and his descendants were separated from their Creator. However, the Creator God had a plan from eternity for man’s salvation.
As Paul deals with the gospel in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, he goes back to Genesis to lay the foundational information so that all who read these crucial passages will understand the gospel.
The missionary organization New Tribes Mission has led the way in what it describes as a “chronological approach” to teaching the Bible to pagan cultures that have no understanding of God’s Word. This approach starts at the beginning in Genesis and works through the true history of the world. When the missionaries eventually present the message of Christ on the Cross, they find that the people to whom they are ministering understand the essence of the gospel!
Sadly, many Bible colleges, seminaries, and other Christian institutions now train missionaries to present the gospel beginning in the book of John or somewhere else in the New Testament. However, even in our Western world, we are now seeing generations of unchurched young people come through a secular education system that is devoid of the teaching of God’s Word.
Increasingly, people even in our once-very-Christianized West don’t understand the foundational history that is necessary to understand the gospel.
Regardless of what background someone has in regard to Christianity, I suggest that we should always present the gospel the way God does it for us in His Word—starting at the beginning. That way our hearers will grasp the foundational history that enables us to understand what the message of salvation is all about.
Sound radical? Actually it shouldn’t. But it does sound radical in today’s church environment, where so many churches have avoided Genesis (or consider it unimportant or even reject it as symbolic poetry or myth). The secularists have made incredible inroads in infiltrating Christian minds with false ideas about evolution and earth history over millions of years.
Because so many Christians (including many Christian leaders) have disregarded Genesis, even many church people do not truly understand the gospel. Also, the coming generations increasingly have little understanding of God’s Word from the beginning. Many just “shrug their shoulders” at the message of salvation and end up walking away from the church.
So for today’s world, we do need a radical approach to evangelism. That radical approach is to present the gospel the way God Himself does for us in His Word—starting in Genesis!
The Gospel’s Foundation in History
The gospel of Jesus Christ is truly amazing. But in our increasingly secular society, people don’t recognize the good news until you first explain the bad news. That requires going back to the very beginning and telling the whole true story, as God Himself tells it.
Jesus Christ, the God-man, set the example. We read in Luke 24:27 how He approached the subject when He was walking with two men on the road to Emmaus, “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Actually, it’s not radical to present the gospel beginning in Genesis— it is vital!