Karl Barth’s theology of reconciliation implies that evangelization and missions are unnecessary to convert people because all religions have equal access to God through Christ.
Since the dawn of Christianity, the proponents of religious pluralism have confronted and persecuted Christians for their exclusive claims about Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel. In the first century, the Roman Empire was as diverse as the world is today, with many gods, goddesses and religions, including Christianity. However, unlike any other religious group, Christianity was practiced then and is practiced today with an exclusive claim that Christ is the only way to God (John 14:6). The Bible explains that sin came into the world through Adam, the first man who brought death through sin, and consequently all men became sinners and death became the result of their sins (Rom 5:12). Because sin separated them from God, all people became enemies of God (Isa 59:2) and according to the Bible “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23, ESV). Furthermore, Christians are to proclaim the Gospel of God breaking into humanity to save it from His own wrath (Rom 5:10) and they are to proclaim that God reconciled the world to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1; 2 Cor 5:19). The purpose of this research paper is to explore Karl Barth’s theology on reconciliation and its relation to evangelization and missions in the context of biblical teachings.
Motivation for the Study
One may ask if such a study is even needed, or more importantly why one should care to study Barth’s theology of reconciliation. First, in the name of relativism and religious pluralism, Christianity is under attack by Christians and non-Christians, liberals and non-liberals alike, regarding the exclusiveness of Christ as the only way to God (John 14:6). Therefore, many of them consider the work of evangelization and missions to be inappropriate. Whereas in the Christian faith, God appears as the initiator of reconciliation between humanity and Himself through Christ alone because Jesus said, “for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, ESV). In this way He gave Christians the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 3:3-5; 4:1).
Second, those who believe in religious pluralism use Barth’s theology of reconciliation to support their view. He is regarded as one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th century who wrote intensively on the subject of reconciliation and the role of the church pertaining to evangelization and missions. Paul S. Chung states, “In an inter-religious context, Karl Barth has long been regarded as a staunch evangelical-conservative theologian in his attitude toward non-Christian religions.” Therefore, it is appropriate to study his theology of reconciliation in relation to world evangelization and Christian missions.
Views on Barth’s Theology of Reconciliation
Due to the nature of the subject voluminous views can be deliberated, however considering the limited space of this paper only five views are examined here succinctly. According to John Webster, “Barth is the most important Protestant theologian since Schleiermacher, and the extraordinary descriptive depth of his depiction of the Christian faith puts him in the company of a handful of thinkers in the classical Christian tradition.” Wessel Bentley notices that Barth’s view of the church, mission and its relationship with other religions is by far “the most relevant concerning the questions that are asked of the church today.” Some believe that his theology implies that all religions are equally important and have access to God through Christ whether they are Christian or not. Malcolm Brownlee affirms Barth’s theology as evangelical and categorizes it as open particularism. He argues that when Barth wrote, “The statement that Jesus Christ is the one Word of God has nothing to do with the arbitrary exaltation and glorification of the Christian in relation to other people, of the church in relation to other institutions, or of Christianity in relation to other conceptions” he made a distinction between “the work of Christ and the Christian religion.” Nevertheless, it is not the church that saves lost souls but Christ.
Chung maintains Barth’s “Trinitarian concept of God’s mission,” is very influential and is “often regarded as outmoded and inappropriate with respect to the reality of religious pluralism.” He views Barth’s theology as appropriate for modern times because it is universalistic in essence, and argues “For Barth, there would be a salvation without Christianity.” Like many other theologians and scholars, Chung does not use strong words to claim that Barth’s theology is certainly a universalistic one, but he relies on a weaker verb and writes, “Barth’s position implies an inclusive-universalist tone with a radical openness to forms of secularism or pluralistic truth claims, even in spite of their sinful origin.”
Barth’s View of Reconciliation
To understand Barth’s theology of reconciliation, one must understand how it developed, and the circumstances that influenced him that he decided, “theology itself was part of the problem.” He was trained as a liberal theologian, but became a neoorthodox theologian. Stephen H. Webb discusses Barth’s theological development in these words:
Whereas it is true that Barth’s earliest theological work was conducted in the liberal paradigm then dominant, even at an early stage he showed signs of tension with and dissent from liberalism. Indeed, his break from liberalism was made possible by an inside acquaintance with the strengths and weaknesses of this position; he was, then, a product of the world he would later discredit.
Barth did not reject Christ’s accomplished work on the cross or the necessity of reconciliation by God through Christ’s death and resurrection in the context of human depravity, sin, the role of the church and the doctrine of reconciliation. Mack Dennis argues, “Jesus is the key to understanding the whole of the Dogmatics, and especially the doctrine of reconciliation”  and emphasizes that to Barth, “in every aspect and part of this doctrine, Jesus Christ is ‘the beginning and the middle and the end.’” Barth defines reconciliation as, “the fulfillment of the covenant between God and man.” The original fellowship that once existed between God and man and was disrupted is now through Christ, and the purpose of that fellowship is restored. He saw the whole process of reconciliation from the beginning to the end as part of an effort on behalf of God to maintain, restore, and uphold “the fellowship in face of an element which disturbs and disrupts and breaks.” To him, the covenant of reconciliation is the fulfillment of the covenant that God made with Israel; therefore, “Jesus Christ is the Word and work of the eternal covenant.” He also recognizes Jesus as the Judge, the Judged, and that Judgment, whereby He alone completed the work of reconciliation between man and God, and became atonement for the broken covenant. Barth argues:
He becomes and is man in Jesus Christ, and as such He acts and speaks to reconcile the world to Himself, because He has bound Himself to man by the creation of heaven and earth and all things, because He cannot tolerate that this covenant should be broken, because He wills to uphold and fulfill it even though it is broken. The work of atonement in Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the communion of Himself with man and of man with Himself which He willed and created at the very first.
It is notable that having a very high view of Christ, Barth never rejected the power and the ability of the Holy Spirit to save and restore humanity to God. Barth maintains that this truth of Christ “must light up the doctrine of reconciliation as Christology.” This is true because Christ has “done that which is sufficient to take away sin, to restore order between Himself as the Creator and His creation, to bring in the new man reconciled and therefore at peace with Him, to redeem man from death.”
However, he rejected the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and sided with a liberal view of the Bible. He also rejected general revelation. He writes, “Is the Church’s preaching also God’s Word, and to what extent is God’s Word also the preaching of the Church, and, if so, is it valid?” He argues, “The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent that He speaks through it.” Mats Wahlberg agrees with Barth, “Scripture and proclamation can sometimes become God’s Word,” and he explains, “This happens whenever God wants it to happen, and in such events revelation takes place.” It seems that Barth and his proponents and followers read the Bible in certain ways. Each side uses the Bible to argue the doctrine of reconciliation and the proclamation of the Gospel.
The very basis of the Christian faith in Christ is the Bible. From the beginning, Christians believed that the Bible is the revealed, inspired and breathed word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). The early Church fathers affirmed that belief. To Clement of Alexandria believed “those fall from this eminence who follow not God whither He leads. And He leads us in the inspired Scriptures.” To Martin Luther, “The Scriptures are God’s testimony of himself” and to John Calvin, “The first step in1 true knowledge is taken when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased [in the Scriptures] to give of himself.” Therefore, it is crucial to examine the biblical view on reconciliation.
The Biblical View of Reconciliation
In order to comprehensively study the exclusive claim of Christ (John 6:44, 65) and the Christian doctrine of reconciliation in its biblical context, it is essential to examine sin in its original context and God’s desire to restore fallen humanity. It is clear from Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:2-3, and numerous other references in the Bible that when sin entered into the world, death as the consequence of sin (both physical and eternal) entered too, and “spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12, ESV). The just wrath of God against His enemies (Rom 5:9-10 awaits, however His love desires that no one may parish but “that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV). Eternal life is the gift of God through Christ (John 17:3) for those who willingly accept it in the midst of total human depravity (Rom 8:7, Eph 2:3). The solution to human depravity is salvation by grace, which became available to all humans through the death of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:15; 1 John 2:2). The nature of “the free gift” which is “not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5:16, ESV) ought to be studied and considered to form a theological opinion about reconciliation.
Primarily, one must hold Christ as the focal point of the doctrine of reconciliation in order to establish a biblical view of sin, salvation and the need of the savior Jesus Christ. Barth sees “reconciliation as Christology” and insists, “Christology and soteriology belong together.” In essence, he complements the biblical understanding of Christ being the focal point of the doctrine of reconciliation that without the shedding of the blood, there is no remission of sin (Heb 9:22) no ordinary blood can provide the remission of sin, and more importantly, no blood can satisfy the wrath of God except that which is perfect. Since there is no one who is perfect except God Himself, therefore it is written, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, ESV).
In short, without Christ there is no reconciliation between man and God (1 Tim 2:5). This means that the ransom is paid in full (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; Rom 4:4) and the free gift of eternal life (Rom 3:24) has been made available to every human being who will ever born. However, everyone must repent and believe in Him. It is Christ in whom human beings receive (present tense) not received pardon from the sin, and redemption from the eternal condemnation as each person individually decides to follow Christ (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 Cor 1:30).
God through Christ has reconciled humanity to Himself, and Christ’s blood has been offered to God as a perfect sacrifice (Rom 3:25) as atonement for the sins of the whole world (Heb 2:17; 1 John 3:5) because God made His Son “to be the Savior of the World” (1 John 4:14, ESV). If this is true, then logically it would not make any sense that God would go through so much to save the world, but then fail to appoint someone to take His message to the world. The logical conclusion is that without someone going and proclaiming the Gospel, it will not be accessible to every nation, every tongue, and people group on this earth (Rom 10:14). This means that even though Christ died for the sins of the whole world and the message of Salvation, the Gospel is available to be preached and shared to the world, and it will not be done without the appointment of the Church and the believers as His ambassadors in this world (2 Cor 5:20). Therefore, the church which is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Rom 12:5) and to whom Christ commissioned to proclaim the Gospel to the end of the earth, and which is called to evangelize and make disciplines (Matt 19:16-20) becomes a logical as well as a biblical choice to proclaim the Gospel.
Proclamation of the Gospel
- I. Packer writes, “Always and everywhere the servants of Christ are under orders to evangelize” The proclamation of the Gospel means declaring and announcing the Gospel, the good new of Jesus Christ. Every faithful believer has a clear biblical mandate to proclaim the truth of Scriptures and to live that out by practicing what they preach (Acts 13:47). Even though the focus of the proclamation is the good news of Christ, how Christ came into the world to rescue the lost world, and reconcile them back to His father, the proclamation is more critical because without the one who can proclaim it, the message of the Gospel will not be known (Rom 10:14-15). Therefore, God makes it known to the world through the Church, so that whoever may hear the Gospel may have a chance to respond to it.
Barth’s View of Proclamation
Barth does not see the proclamation of the Gospel as an activity of the church to enhance the Kingdom of God. He calls it a “human activity.” He argues:
If the social work of the Church as such were to try to be proclamation, it could only become propaganda, and not very worth propaganda at that. Genuine Christian love must always start back [i.e., recoil] at the thought of pretending to be a proclamation of the love of Christ with its only too human action.
He describes mission as “proclamation,” and says that the proclamation of the Church is imperfect because it is merely an interpretation of revelation by imperfect people. He identifies errors in human efforts to preach the Word of God. First, Christian preaching is nothing more than “self-proclamation of the Word of God,” which is the same as any other human activity. Second, it is impossible to speak about God by using imperfect human language, symbols and reasoning. Third, Christian proclamation is interested in teaching doctrine. Fourth, it is an attempt to speak about God so that people may hear Him, and in that case God should communicate directly to everyone. He presents this view in a rhetorical form, it is almost as if he is contradicting himself. On one hand, he acknowledges that the Church is called to proclamation, but on the other hand he insists that the Church cannot do proclamation of the Gospel because the preachers cannot share the truth of the Gospel because no one is perfect. John Webster indicates, “Barth’s stress that God is primarily objective to himself (and not just objective in so far as he is an object of human cognition) is an attempt to shift the epistemological center of gravity away from the projective activities of human and on to divine action.” Barth explains that only through prayers the preacher and the hearer will understand the Gospel.
The Biblical View of Proclamation
The Bible agrees that the proclamation is not the work of human hearts or minds, but that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This means that Christians do not possess any power within themselves to proclaim the Gospel, but they simply rely on the power of the Holy Spirit who gives them the words and the wisdom to share the Gospel (Matt 10:9). However, it is solely born out of love and adoration for Christ (John 13:35) and pain for the lost world. It begins with God choosing believers (Col 1:27) only when they make themselves humble (Matt 5:13) and are available to do whatever God wants them to do without being ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1:16). This is why it is written, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Primarily, the proclamation of the Gospel can be divided into two categories, evangelism and missions.
The word evangelism comes from two Greek words that are translated as ‘good’ and ‘messenger.’ Will McRaney Jr. states, “Evangelism involves bringing good news.” Kent Hunter explains, “When Christians witness, they tell how Jesus Christ has changed their own lives. The change in their own lives gives them the desire to share the Good News with others. But the Good News isn’t about themselves. It is about the Lord who changes them.” According to Early and Wheeler, “Evangelism, helping people get saved, is deeply rewarding because it fulfills the reason for our existence. Evangelism is why you are here. To them “missions is a transcultural enterprise in which the gospel message is taken into another culture at home or overseas (Acts 1:8).
Barth’s theology of reconciliation appears to be universalistic which leaves room for interpretation. In a way, salvation is exclusive and inclusive at the same time. It is exclusive because it is for those who are in the family of God, that is the Church, the body of Christ. It is inclusive because it is available to all regardless of their background, because Christ’s blood “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 8:9). God completed His work by providing all people of the earth a way to escape His wrath (1 John 2:2, ESV). However, no one can be reconciled unless they enter into the new covenant of God through Christ (Eph 2:8, ESV) which is Barth’s point that Christ alone fit to proclaim this message, which is true revelation and free from human imperfection, interpretation, and doctrine.
Consequently, Barth’s weak view of the church implies that the church is neither fit nor called for mission, since mission is a divine activity, and the church is not divine. Regarding Barth’s theology, John G. Flett observed that, “The link the ecumenical position forms between the kingdom and history results from an emphasis on the objective completion of reconciliation.” Nevertheless, Barth certainly differs with the ecumenical position that “the world is already a redeemed world so that, whether men discern their true condition or not, and even if they deny it, they are still the heirs of God’s redemption.” Barth’s theology of reconciliation certainly implies that without the Church’s proclamation, redemption and reconciliation is possible, but without Christ, it is impossible.
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Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
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Webster, John. Karl Barth: Outstanding Christian Thinkers, 2nd ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004.
World Council of Churches Department on Studies in Evangelism, “A Theological Reflection on the Work of Evangelism” (Geneva: WCC, 1963): 7. Quoted in John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community. Grand Rapid: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010.
 Paul S. Chung, “Karl Barth’s Theology of Reconciliation in Dialogue with a Theology of Religions,” Mission Studies 25, no. 2 (January 2008): 211, accessed November 11, 2014, http://content.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=ATLA0001694303&S& Orf4H3w6vdT69fnhrnb5ofx6gAA.
 John Webster, Karl Barth: Outstanding Christian Thinkers, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004), 1.
 Wessel Bentley, The Notion of Mission in Karl Barth’s Ecclesiology (Newcastle, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), xiv.
 Philosopher Kings, “Karl Barth,” accessed December 7, 2014, http://www.philosopherkings.co.uk/Barthexclusivism.html.
 Malcolm Brownlee, “Is there saving grace for those who do not profess faith in Jesus Christ?” accessed December 2, 2014. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/theologyandworship/issues-grace/.
 Chung, “Karl Barth’s Theology,” 213.
 Ibid., 220.
 Chung, 212.
 Stephen H. Webb, Re-Figuring Theology: The Rhetoric of Karl Barth (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991), 54.
 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 603.
 Webb, Re-Figuring Theology, 54.
 Mack Dennis, “Toward a Homiletics of Reconciliation: How Karl Barth’s Use of Enemy Language in Church Dogmatics Models a More Faithful Grammar for Preaching” (paper presented at the 2010-The Life of the Church and the Baptist Academy annual seminar by Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 2010), 5, accessed December 2, 20114, http://www.georgetowncollege.edu/cdal/files/2014/05/Mack-Dennis-YSBA.pdf.
 Dennis, “Toward a Homiletics of Reconciliation,” 5.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. vol. 4, The Doctrine of Reconciliation. vol. 4.1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958), 22.
 Ibid., 54.
 Ibid., 222.
 Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, 36.
 Ibid., 128.
 Ibid., 255.
 Enns, 607.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. vol. 1, The Doctrine of the Word of God. Part 2. ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. trans. G. W. Bromiley, G. T. Thomson, and Harold Knight (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 1.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. vol. 1, The Doctrine of the Word of God. Part 1. ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. trans. G. W. Bromiley, G. T. Thomson, and Harold Knight (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 107.
 Mats Wahlberg, Revelation As Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Study (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2014), 82.
 Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies: Book VII,” The Gnostic a True Worshipper of God, and Unjustly Calumniated by Unbelievers as an Atheist. Early Christian Writings, accessed December 2, 2014 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-stromata-book7.html.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Career of the Reformer IV. vol. 34, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and Lewis W. Spitz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 277.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 66.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatic: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. vol. 4.1, 128.
 Robert D. Preus, “ The Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation in the Theology of Karl Barth” Concordia Theological Monthly XXX1, no. 4 (April 1960): 239, accessed December 3, 2014, http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/PreusJustificationReconciliationTheologyBarth.pdf.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.
 Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. vol. 1.2,16.
 Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. vol. 1.1, 47.
 Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. vol. 1.2, 26.
 Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. vol. 1.1, 47.
 Ibid., 1.2, 7.
 Ibid., 1.2, 20.
 Ibid., 1.2, 7.
 John Webster, Karl Barth: Outstanding Christian, 77.
 Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. vol. 1.2, 13.
 Will McRaney Jr., The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 1.
 Kent R. Hunter, Foundations for Church Growth: Biblical Basics for the Local Church (Corunna, IN: Church Growth Center, 1994), 100.
 Dave Early and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is…How To Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 31.
 Early and Wheeler, Evangelism Is, viii.
 John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapid: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 57.
 World Council of Churches Department on Studies in Evangelism, “A Theological Reflection on the Work of Evangelism” (Geneva: WCC, 1963): 7, quoted in John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapid: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 57.
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