Soil-Speculative or Soul-Driven Evangelism?

Accompanying your father on a fishing trip brings fond memories to mind; that is, as long as he isn’t always catching more fish than you. I have the “blessing,” as Dad calls it, or the “curse,” as I refer to it, of having a father who always catches more fish than I. During the first weekend of almost every June, my father wastes no time demonstrating this fact when he and I go trout fishing on the Tuckaseegee River in Jackson County, North Carolina. Every year it’s the same routine: I find a particular place in the river I’m convinced is teeming with fish, so I spend the entire morning there and catch very few fish, if any at all. On the other hand, Dad wastes no time at any one particular place. He casts the bait on his pole in one place no more than three or four times and continues that process until his bait locates a place in the river where fish are swarming. Each year dad knows he’ll find me in the place where he saw me last. And inevitably he catches more fish than I, continually offering me the same advice, “Son, cast your bait all along the river and let it, not your hunches about the holes, bring in the catch.” After years of “speculative” fishing, I’m convinced now to use my bait to test the reliability of my hunches.

Son, cast your bait all along the river and let it, not your hunches about the holes, bring in the catch.

Jesus likens, or refers to, evangelism as “fishing for men” (Matt 4:19, 13:47–50; Mark 1:17). Evangelism seems to be in mind also when He delivers His parable of a sower sowing seed (Matt 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 14–20; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15). Using these two metaphors can help Christians evaluate our methods of evangelism as well as our expectations of the result.

In the parable, Jesus likens the Gospel, or the “word of the kingdom,” to the sower’s seed. Broadcast by the sower, the seed falls either along the pathway, upon rocky ground, among thorns, or on good soil. Some disagreement exists among commentators about the kinds of responses these four soil types represent. However, Jesus’ explanation of the parable seems to suggest that the three former types of soil indicate people’s eventual failure to respond to the Gospel’s invitation, while the latter soil denotes those who understand and gladly receive the Gospel.

When preaching Matthew 13:3–23 a few years ago, Dr. Steven Smith, dean of the College at Southwestern, keenly remarked, “It is only when someone is exposed to the seed do they [or you] know what type of soil they are, and if we’re not preaching the Gospel to people, they [or you] don’t have any way to judge who they are.” Believing that Gospel seed manifests the type of response each person makes upon a particular time he hears the Gospel, a personal evangelist should base the frequency of his evangelism upon his complete confidence in the “seed” of the Gospel rather than personal conjecture about the “soil” of someone’s anticipated response.

At some time or another, a personal evangelist will doubtless be tempted to base his decision to evangelize someone on his own impressions and/or speculation of that person’s likelihood to profess or reject Christ at a given moment. He must resist this temptation for at least two reasons. First, Matt 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 14–20; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15 does not substantiate soil-speculative evangelism. The sower-evangelist of these texts scatters the Gospel seed indiscriminately and generously, not theoretically or hypothetically. Second, yielding to the temptation of evangelizing only those who appear ready to respond is ultimately an attempt to access omniscience only available to God. One of the many ways Scripture attests to Jesus’ divinity can be found in His ability to perceive the hearts and minds of others (cf., Matthew 9:3–4; Mark 2:6–8; Luke 5:21–22, 24:38; John 1:45–50, 2:24–25, 5:42, 6:61, 64). Only God, not a perceptive personal evangelist, possesses the omniscient and intimate knowledge of how anyone, at any time, will respond to a Gospel appeal.

Only God, not a perceptive personal evangelist, possesses the omniscient and intimate knowledge of how anyone, at any time, will respond to a Gospel appeal.

Matt 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 14–20; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15 reminds personal evangelists that sowers scatter seed; they do not inspect soils. Therefore, when “fishing for men” they must spend more time proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom than they do evaluating the likelihood of others’ responses to the Gospel. So instead of basing when and where you’ll “fish for men” upon a personal assumption of “fishing holes” that appear to be teeming with bountiful catches, consider taking a wise father’s advice: “Trust the constantly casted bait [of the Gospel], not your hunches about the holes, to bring in the catch.”