5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)The thought that struck me upon reading this was the contrast between what it teaches and the notion of a pre-packaged presentation of the Gospel that is often assumed to be the best means of reaching people with the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul writes here that we are to "walk in wisdom" towards those who are not in Christ - we are also to have gracious speech that is to be characterized by that rather mysterious phrase "seasoned with salt", and most importantly to the point I am making, we are to carry ourselves such that we know how we "ought to answer each person".
When a pre-packaged approach is used - the same planned phrases and bullet points being made to each individual to whom Christ is being presented - how can it be said to be a "wise" carriage? I'm reminded as I think of these methods of evangelism of the classic illustration of the vacuum cleaner salesman who sticks his foot in the unsuspecting housewife's door and dumps a load of dirt on her carpet, and then plans to sell her a vacuum cleaner by showing her how easy it is to get that dirt clean. His pre-packaged approach assumes that 1) she won't kick his rear end out of the house, that 2) she'll be so pleased to have the dirt cleaned up that she's willing to listen to his spiel, and that 3) she will be impressed with the speed and effectiveness of his presentation that she'll want to buy the thing. I'm not sure how different the pre-packaged Gospel presentation is than this.
Rather, we are to be wise - and to carry out our discussion of Christ on an individual basis, knowing something about them, and chiefly being able to discern from them what they know, rightly or wrongly, about Christ and their own standing before God. Our training as witnesses for Christ truly needs to be a focus in the generals, and not so much in the specifics... and we must wisely recognize that a pre-packaged approach will simply not work. Everyone is different, everyone's understanding of the world and of their standing before God is different - and people are attracted to different things. The last thing we want to do is shove the contract before them with its multiple bullet points and small print that we don't mention (such as "count the cost!") and expect them to sign up in 5 minutes.
In order to be wise, to be able to "answer each person" in a manner seasoned with salt and full of grace, we need to understand well what the Gospel is exactly. We must understand the human condition before God in light of the covenant headship of Adam and our standing condemned apart from any sin in ourselves - we must understand that we, too, have sinned grievously before God and therefore have compounded our awful standing in condemnation - we must understand that the blood of Christ alone given for His people washes from sin and redeems - we must understand that faith itself is a gift and that however nicely we might package the gospel, some will simply not hear because their ears are plugged tight because of sin - we must understand that our duty is to faithfully proclaim these things, and no more. Success in the effort does NOT hinge upon us, but is determined by whether we've faithfully borne witness to God's truth. Evangelism is a conversation, brought about between a believer and an unbeliever; it takes time; it takes discernment; it will not fit into a pre-packaged mold.
How do we develop skills in discernment and bearing faithful witness? Training programs might be helpful, if they teach the witnesser to eschew the bullet-point gospel and to know the truth and know it well. Developing the means to understand just what it is a person misunderstands about Christ or his state before God is a good first step. When bank tellers are taught to be able to detect counterfeit currency, they are NOT shown examples of counterfeits - but rather, they are given ample opportunity to handle, feel, smell, observe visually THE REAL THING. By knowing the real deal as well as they are capable of, they are able thereby to discern ANY flaw in ANY counterfeit. The same is true for us in bearing witness to Christ and discussing (yes, discussing! Again, real and effective evangelism does not lend itself to "the gospel" being transported on the back of a 3x5 card) His person and work with an unbeliever. We have to be ready to handle any objection, and to truly "give reason for the hope that lies within us". We have to be wise and discerning and be prepared to take the long journey of conversation that a careful witness-bearing requires. If we know the truth well - we shall be prepared to "know how to answer every person" and thus faithfully obey Paul's words to us in Colossians 4.