Matthew 28 provides a strong underpinning for a joining of forces rather than continued antagonism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That passage is straightforward, says Duke Divinity School’s Dean L. Gregory Jones: Make disciples and teach them. It’s not a question of one or the other. “Teaching is integral to making disciples,” Jones says. “The aim of wise teaching is faithful living in the world. Overall, it’s about shaping wise Christian character.”
Jack Ewing, executive director of the North Carolina-based Foundation for Evangelism, said his organization has worked for more than 50 years to bring together the academy and the evangelists. The vision statement of the foundation—which began its work in 1949—neatly articulates this goal:
“Our vision is to raise up generations of leaders who have an evangelistic passion by partnering with boards, seminaries, local churches, campus ministries and emerging populations to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Among other efforts, the foundation now funds a dozen professorships in evangelism at seminaries around the United States (including Warner’s position at Duke), and three abroad.
Ewing says some tension may always persist between scholars and practitioners. Still, all should be able to work toward the goal of making disciples.
A key to success in the last few years has come through what Ewing calls a reclaiming of the words “evangelism” and “evangelical.”
For too long, both words have been burdened with heavy political subtexts, often conjuring images of arrogant, elaborately coiffed televangelists who operated in the realm of far-right politics more than the church. Now, Ewing says, many preachers across denominations, as well as the political spectrum, are faithfully claiming the label.
“What’s happening now is that there’s this awareness and openness by people who are not on the fringes to use the word,” he says. “There’s more of a willingness to say evangelism is at the core of the mission and work of the church.”
In a sermon this spring, Sam Wells, dean of Duke Chapel and a research professor of Christian ethics at the divinity school, spoke at length about the discomfort many in the academy have felt when talking about evangelism, “the 10-letter word” he called it, and how that might change.