Question:  How important is reason in evangelism?

Tyler S. Ramey

First, understand that effective evangelism will employ emotion as well as reason.  However, people do respond best to different approaches; some respond better to more emotional appeals while others need more reasoned argumentation.  Some need a strategic combination of both.  That being said, let’s take a look at the importance of reason in evangelism.

Reason is a vital component to being an effective witness for Christ. Furthermore, Christians have a responsibility to nurture a rational mind for the sake of preserving their faith and sharing the Gospel.  It’s interesting to note that those who are primarily motivated by emotion or reason often fail to recognize the connection between the two; it’s quite impossible to have an exclusive commitment to either one.

Fortunately, we don’t need to dig too deep in God’s Word before discovering the premium he has placed upon reason.  In a culture where an imbalance toward the affections seems to be the norm, it’s unfortunate that many Christians neglect the value God has placed upon the rational.  It’s from God’s emphasis upon reason that its role in evangelism captures our attention.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together” (emphasis added) and Jesus commanded us to “Love the Lord with all our minds,” or “thinking” (Matt. 22:37).  But perhaps the most compelling evidence of the value God has placed upon reason is that he has provided his Word in written form, a collection of propositions and conclusions which form the “nuts and bolts” of, you guessed it, logic, which is nothing more or less than reason.  We couldn’t understand God’s revelation to us without it.

Now, how does this relate to evangelism?  Well, keeping in mind God’s emphasis upon reason, the relationship between it and evangelism is seen in the way that the apostles often engaged their hearers.  Naturally, the apostles appealed to the emotions; communicating the Gospel would otherwise be impossible.  But they also understood and confirmed the importance of reason in evangelism and we would do well to learn from their approach.  Consider John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

John seemed to have had the Greek thinker in mind who, according to many scholars, virtually deified reason.  The Logos to a Greek thinker was “out there in the cosmos,” but it wasn’t alive or personal.  Imagine the surprise when such an individual arrived to verse 14 and discovered that his concept of pure rationality (the logos), “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  What a shock it must have been to learn that this “out there in the cosmos” Logos, was eternal and personal.  Notice that John appealed to the Greek passion for the rational in his evangelistic approach, showing a clear connection between emotion and reason.  John knew that the mind was capable of recognizing Ultimate Rationality and he informed the Greek thinker that his “deified reason” had manifested in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

Today, some popular Christian thought tries to abandon reason in evangelistic efforts and simply appeal to the emotions.  While some people respond well to such approaches, there are those unbelievers who demand more; they require patient and reasoned argumentation.  As we discover in Scripture, reason is often imperative to effective evangelism and winning those who are less impressed by predominantly emotional appeals.  A reading of Acts 17 where we find Paul reasoning in the synagogue and marketplace (v. 17) as well as debating those who held opposing philosophies (v. 18) assists in proving the point.  Paul’s engagement on Mars' Hill wouldn’t have been possible if he were incapable of dissecting arguments or offering reasoned challenges in his evangelistic efforts.  

Following Paul in “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10:5), or Peter’s encouragement to “give a reason for the hope that we have” (I Pet. 3:15), or Paul’s command to “think about what is true” (Phil. 4:8), or Jude’s admonition to “contend for the faith” (v. 3), we are obligated as thinking creations to employ God-given reason in order to engage a world where bad philosophies and irrational thoughts call for lucid responses.

So, in answering the question regarding the importance of reason in sharing the Gospel, it's very important.  In fact, it is indispensable.