Contemporary approaches to evangelism almost always begin with God’s love. People are told, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” or simply, “God loves you.”
In most churches, it's taken for granted that this is the place to begin when sharing the gospel. In fact, if you challenge this approach, many Christians will look at you as if you had a second head!
Well, the more I have studied the Bible, theology, and church history, the more I have become convinced that it's generally unwise to begin our evangelism with God’s love. Please don’t misunderstand me. I certainly believe we must proclaim God’s love, but I don’t think it’s the biblical starting point. Here are some of the considerations that have led me to this conclusion.
1. There is not one example of anyone taking this approach in the New Testament. Neither Jesus nor his Apostles began evangelistic encounters with “God loves you.” If this were the right approach, why can’t we find one example of it? Read through the four Gospels and the Book of Acts and you’ll find a variety of starting points. You won’t find one example that begins with “God loves you.” Surely there is wisdom in this.
2. Sinners will not embrace God’s love unless they are first convinced of their sin. Although saying, “God loves you,” may be used by the Holy Spirit to convince a sinner of his guilt, it doesn’t ordinarily have that impact. Instead, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). How will sinners be able to comprehend God’s love for them in Christ’s death unless they are first made aware of their sin?
3. This approach gives sinners the false impression that God doesn’t have a holy hatred for sinners. Most people are unaware that God has a holy hatred for the wicked, which is astounding. Christians have been fed so much cheap grace that they are shocked when you show them the very clear verses speaking of God’s hatred. For example, see Psalm 5:5; 11:5 (Read those verses carefully. Notice that they teach a hatred for the sinner, not just the sin.)
4. This approach fails to distinguish the different aspects of God’s love. We affirm God’s love for mankind in general. According to Jesus, God shows this love in the rising and setting of the sun and the sending of the rain upon the earth (Matt. 5:45). We also affirm that God has a loving posture toward all mankind and invites all to believe the gospel (John 3:16). But we also need to recognize that God has a special, unique love for his elect, and, in most cases, when the Bible speaks of God’s love, it speaks of his love for his Church. Believers are those who are loved by God (Romans 1:7). We are the “beloved.” If you simply consult a concordance, you’ll find that most references to God’s love are in the epistles, which are addressing believers.
5. This approach is relatively new in church history. As far as I can tell, this emphasis goes back to D.L. Moody. If you consider the Protestants who preceded him, they simply didn’t preach this “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” gospel. Instead, they spent a great deal of time talking about God’s holiness, his law, and man’s sin and guilt. The older preachers certainly spoke about God’s love in Jesus, but they did so only after they had explained God’s holiness and righteousness. If you look at the track record of the new approach, I don’t think it can be disputed that it has produced many false conversions. If you want a good study of the older approach, which is far more biblical in my opinion, consult Iain Murray’s The OldEvangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening.