Last week Krista wrote to me and then I began last week’s post with this: Your question is a good one, and it is one that has haunted my own academic career for more than twenty years. Here’s your question: “how one should react to those preaching the traditional Romans road– especially at Bible Camps or other distinct Christian functions? Moreover, should that teaching be discouraged?” Put abstractly, is the summons to salvation distinct from the summons to discipleship?
And last week I also said I’d detail a little more on why it is that the Romans Road approach to evangelism is both so favored by evangelical Christians and so “effective” in evangelism. Before I say one word further, this must be said: Many have come to faith in Christ when hearing the Romans Road. Anyone who disparages the Romans Road must reckon with its effectiveness and must offer an alternative that is just as biblical.
The Romans Road maps the path from sin to salvation by moving through six verses in Romans. Here it is:
Romans 3:10: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Warning and Promise/The Options:
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Appeal and Promises:
Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-10: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
Now, why is this is the preferred method?
First, it is simple. Problem, solution, appeal. Problem is simple: sin. Solution is simple: Christ. Appeal is simple: believe.
Second, it has been effective in evangelical circles for a long, long time.
Third, it is easy to teach lay Christians that this is the gospel and if you are given the opportunity to witness, this is what you need to have in your deep memory bank.
Fourth, the Romans Road is “objective” and the results of an evangelistic encounter are “certain.” Either the person prays the prayer of believing in Jesus Christ to resolve the sin problem or the person doesn’t.
Fifth, it is highly emotive. If you can get non-Christians to realize a sin need, then telling that person that they have a choice — heaven (eternal life) or hell (death) — puts that person at a crossroads in life with a highly emotional and potent alternative. Either go to heaven or go to hell.
Sixth, the Romans Road is particularly “effective” with children. If the “evangelist” says: “Your parents are going to heaven. Don’t you want to go with them?”, then rare will be the child who doesn’t say, “Yes, I want to go to heaven.” Then the question comes: “How can I do this?”
Seventh, the Romans Road is also effective in “encapsulation” settings. On encapsulation, see here and here.
What are the problems? I’d like to know what you see as the problems, but I’m asking for civility in conversation and not some heated reaction.
First, it is only one “language game” for the gospel. The Romans Road is not “the” gospel but “a way” of expressing the gospel. It tells the truth about the gospel, but not the whole truth.
Second, because it is a language game of the gospel, it tells only that language game. So, it uses these as the primary terms:
“sin” (hamartia, which is only one term for the category of failure in the Bible);
“death” is the consequence of “sin”;
Jesus’ death is the sole solution, though resurrection will eventually come up in the Romans Road;
“Eternal life” and “salvation” are the only benefits of the Romans Road;
“Believing” and “confessing” are the conditions for salvation.
I believe all of these are true and tell the truth of the gospel. I don’t think these are the whole story.
Second, Jesus did not evangelize by using the Romans Road, and the series I am now doing called “”Missional Jesus” will work through Jesus’ evangelistic “method” (which isn’t really a “method”).
Third, what else could be added? A more comprehensive statement of the gospel will include, among other things, that God is a Trinity (the Holy Spirit is inherent to the gospel), that humans are made in God’s image (what I call Eikons), that Jesus’ life and teachings are inherent to the gospel — that means kingdom language and kingdom vision, that God’s intent is to draw humans into loving God and loving others, that life on this earth matters, that “sin” can be defined in any number of ways (one can make a page-long list of the terms for “sin” in the Bible), and one could go on.
Fourth, and I’ll leave this point with a brief comment, the Romans Road is not nearly as “simple” as it seems and it is not nearly as “effective” as numbers indicate and it is not nearly as “objective” and “certain” as it seems. Whether or not a person becomes a Christian is not that simple.
Well, I’ve said enough for today. Any thoughts or further questions?