Often, we find our approach to evangelism emphasizing a “Bottom Up” methodology. What I mean is this, we commonly emphasize particulars such as the Five Steps or the identity of the church and, I suppose, assume our study will progress toward the overarching principles that give these subjects their more complete biblical meaning. I want to offer an alternative approach, a “Top Down” method.
Please allow me share with you why I wish to propose a Top Down approach. First of all, this proposal creates an initial “Big Picture” model. This larger view takes us to the beginning of a thing to look at it from the standpoint of what God intended to accomplish. This can help us find common ground that is both helpful and inviting. To the contrary, however, if we begin with a method designed to gain someone’s affirmation of certain specific steps or identifying marks, we could quickly enter into controversy.
Some engaging conception-based openings to our study discussions might include: When Jesus announced He was going to build His church, what do you suppose He had in mind? How would the church He purposed to build come to know His expectations for worship? What would Jesus give as prerequisites for church membership? How would people come to know what these entrance requirements were?
The preceding questions center on Jesus and His wishes as well as providing a clear path to Scripture as the only place we could discover what He wants. This makes the project less of a math problem and more of a discovery inquiry into the mind of Christ.
Second, principles or concepts embrace a host of interrelated specifics. Discovering connections among Scriptures allow for strong, memorable, self-supporting, richer understandings. Accepting a given principle or concept leads to some level of buy in to the particulars clearly attached to them. When we begin with Jesus and His intentions, it is more difficult to dismiss a particular point of specific teaching. Isolated commands are more easily dismissed as “prejudiced opinions” than are commands linked to Jesus and His intentions for the church.
Let me demonstrate how this Top Down thinking can also be usefully applied to a specific subject such as baptism. If we were to use as the Top Down point of reasoning to investigate baptism, we might begin with this premise “baptism is not for the remission of sins.” Starting with this premise at the top of our inquiry would make it very difficult to explain almost everything the Bible says about baptism. The specifics do not fit the proposed overarching concept. Conversely, starting from the Top Down point of “baptism is for the remission of sins” makes biblical statements appear to be very straightforward and unambiguous.
Another way of looking at this style of reasoning is to consider that there is no one particular verse of Scripture that contains hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized as representing the process of one’s salvation. I believe this process is fully supported by the Bible, yet to arrive at it as a formula requires connecting verses together. We would better serve how God chose to present this process if we allowed for a Top Down discovery.
Beginning with the overarching truth that God wants men and women to find salvation “in Christ,” we can begin to find the things associated with salvation, being “in Christ,” and the transition from darkness to light, etc. Rather than “doing the math” for someone we allow those we study with to discover the very rich, interconnected appropriate response to the cross.
Another way to illustrate this Top Down idea can be found in Matthew 22:40 and related Scriptures such as Matthew 7:12 and Galatians 5:14. These verses let us know that the two Greatest Commands give rise to all other commands involving our relationship to both God and man. Therefore, when we radiate out from these principles to the myriad of specifics that flow from them we insure the particulars will be infused with a robust dose of love and not simply be seen as a check list of things to do.
The next time you find yourself engaged in a religious conversation, think about starting at a conceptual high point and then following with biblical connections from that overarching principle, concept, or intention. Then work your way down to the related specific responses. This is how God reveals often such things; we would be less than wise should we choose to commonly rely on another approach.
Edwin has been active in a wide variety of ministries for almost fifty years. Currently he serves the Lehman Avenue congregation in Bowling Green, KY, and is director of the Commonwealth Bible Academy (CBAKY.com).