The Romans Road in “Post-Christian” North America?
On a Sunday morning in March, years ago, I attended a little country church where I heard a gospel message. At the end of the sermon, the pastor invited people to come forward if they wanted to have their sins forgiven in order to spend eternity with God. I responded. As I knelt at the altar, a lady with an open Bible knelt beside me and began to show me these Bible verses:
Roman 3:23 - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 10:13 - For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The gospel seed fell on my “good soil” and I trusted Jesus as my Savior that morning, a life-changing faith response that I will never regret.
I learned later that I had just been walked through the “Romans Road,” a very common approach to explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. And it worked for me.
Countless thousands, especially in North America, have come to faith in Jesus through an evangelistic presentation using the Roman’s Road. But most of these North Americans have been exposed multiple times, maybe even many times, to Bible teachings and gospel concepts. A lot of them (as I was) were probably at some high level on the Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship Scale.
Thus, they were probably “ripe for reaping” and did not need in-depth Biblical instruction in order to clearly understand the gospel.
How well does the Romans Road address gospel knowledge deficiencies of unbelievers at the “Tilling” level of evangelism?
But, what about unbelievers who are at a lower level on the scale, let’s say the “Tilling Level” of evangelism, -11 up through -8. How effectively does the Romans Road explain the gospel to people who know very little about the God, sin, Jesus Christ, and other vital gospel truths?
The Romans Road was generally an effective gospel presentation in the North America of decades gone by. And in cases today where non-Christians have had a lot of exposure to the Bible and other Christian influences, it is still adequate.
But Biblical knowledge in North America is definitely on the wane. In most communities, the influx of immigrants from Hindu, Buddhist, Spiritist, Islamic, and other non-Christian religious cultures is noticeably on the rise. And even in many longstanding North American families that would call themselves “Christian,” clear and true knowledge of the meaning of the Bible’s Christian gospel is absent. Consequently, Christ-followers today need to be equipped to present the gospel to people who would not understand it clearly through the few verses of the Romans Road. We need to present the message of God’s plan of redemption at a depth that addresses the gospel knowledge deficiencies the Roman’s Road does not address.
What essential gospel-related knowledge is assumed in the Romans Road presentation?
The weakness of the Romans Road, as a gospel presentation for unbelievers who are low on the Good Soil scale, is that it assumes that the recipient already knows the basic Biblical concepts that frame the gospel of salvation by grace-through-faith in Jesus Christ.
Previously, in North America that was not a problem in many situations. Many key Bible teachings were so interwoven into our culture that even the unchurched were generally acquainted with the foundational underpinnings of the Christian faith, even though they might not have embraced them. Such concepts as:
- There is one true and living eternal God, the Creator.
- Jesus Christ, in some way, was born and lived as a real historical person with some kind of unique relationship to God.
- Jesus Christ was a unique man who had power to perform amazing miracles.
- Jesus Christ was a good and innocent man who was killed by angry, bad people.
- Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.
- People (human beings) are special creatures made by God.
- But people have some kind of deep-seated problem that causes them to do bad things that the Bible calls “sin.”
- There is life after death—some people go to Heaven and some people go to Hell.
- God is a judge and people will be judged by Him.
- Christianity offers a hope of “going to heaven” (even though unbelievers generally were and are confused or misinformed about how to attain that hope).
- The Bible is a special book (even though unbelievers generally did not and do not know why or how it is special).
If an unbeliever has this much gospel knowledge, the four (or so) verses of the Romans Road may adequately help him or her grasp the essence of the gospel clearly enough for a genuine faith response.
But, what if the unbeliever...
- Does not know that there is only one true God—an eternal, holy, and loving Spirit-Being to whom he/she can personally relate and is personally accountable?
- Does not know anything about Jesus Christ?
- Does not know anything about the Bible?
- Does not know how the world, including humans, came into being?
- Does not know about sin—what it is and how it has affected him/her?
What will “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and the other Romans Road verses mean to this kind of person?
Where did Paul begin his version of the Romans Road?
Did Paul’s Romans Road begin in Romans 3:23 or Romans 1:1? The answer is obvious—Romans 1:1.
Religiously, the Roman people of Paul’s day were very much like 21st “Post-Christian” North Americans. There was a lot of religious confusion, minglings of polytheism, pluralism, and atheistic humanism. Other than the Jews, who were largely despised in Roman culture, there was no understanding of Biblical monotheism when Christianity introduced itself in the Roman Empire. So, Paul began the book of Romans, his “Romans Road,” with clear and specific instructions about God, the true God.
Read Romans 1:1--3:22 and look for all of the God-truths that Paul presented before he wrote Romans 3:23. Here are some of them:
- God has a son, Jesus Christ, who also has a human nature.
- It is by God’s will that things happen.
- He has the power to save anyone, Jew or Gentile.
- His righteousness has been revealed.
- His wrath against man’s disobedience has also been revealed.
- He is plainly knowable.
- His invisible qualities—eternal power and divine nature—can clearly be seen and understood.
- He is immortal.
- He is the Creator and is to be praised.
- Sometimes He retracts his grace from rebellious people.
- He makes righteous decrees.
- He judges based on truth.
- His judgment is inescapable.
- He is richly kind, tolerant, patient and works with us to change our false views of Him.
- His wrath is righteous punishment.
- He does not show favoritism.
- He is all-knowing and will judge our secrets.
- He communicates with words.
- The whole world is accountable to Him.
In addition, as you read, look for the many truths that God revealed about human beings prior to Romans 3:23—realities of mankind’s unique dignity as well as his depravity.
Obviously, Paul knew that, with Biblically illiterate people, the gospel must begin prior to Romans 3:23—it must address foundational concepts such as who is God and what is He like, what is the essential nature of human beings, what is this thing called “sin” that Romans 3:23 says we have all committed.
If the Romans Road is not a Biblically adequate presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in what is often called “Post-Christian” North America, what kind of gospel presentation can we use to address the common gospel deficiencies in our culture?
Stay tuned for an article-to-follow that will address this question.
Previous articles in this series:
- Three Greek Verbs Define Good Soil
- Assessing Unbeliever’s Gospel Understanding
- Assessing Gospel Receptivity
- Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism—or Both?
- The Problem of Gospel Static
- One Gospel - Three Worldviews
- Worldview “Noisy” Neighborhoods
- How To Understand Worldviews: I’m an Onion – You’re an Onion
- How To Witness to A Non Believer: 3 Step Guide To Using Verbal & Non Verbal Communication
- Gospel Knowledge Deficiencies
For a summary of this entire blog series in a narrative form, read Gaining Ground with Good Soil.
Gaining Ground with Good Soil | Visually Enhanced Edition - An evangelism and discipleship training narrative that is a scaled-down version of the Good Soil E&D seminar in a narrative format. It follows hard-working, dedicated missionaries who are contemplating leaving the field because of a lack of solid fruit. A last-gasp Bible study reveals a theology of evangelism and discipleship that inspires and equips them to continue to pursue their calling. The principles gained from this theology are applicable to anyone wishing to serve God through biblical evangelism and discipleship. Free resources for individual and group study are also available for download.