Informational and Incarnational Witnessing by Dr. Alfonse Javed

Informational Gospel: This is the massage of the Gospel, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the verbal communication of the Gospel.

Incarnational Gospel: This is the action and implementation of the Gospel. It is the living out of the Gospel and being an embodiment of the Gospel. In lay terms, it is to help someone, feed someone, or treat someone. It is all of our social justice ministries; homeless and compassion ministries fall under incarnational witnessing.

Now the danger of not seeking and following the delicate balance of the two principles leads to absolutely unbiblical results. The Informational Gospel without the Incarnational Gospel’s validation will often lead to hypocrisy.[1] Our world is full of such men and women who know everything that a man of God needs to know under the sun about God, Christ, and the Cross. They can answer any question you may have about the Word of God. Now the problem with such men and women is this, their spirituality is limited to only a cerebral knowledge pertaining to theology and philosophy with no visible effects of such knowledge in their lives. Whereas biblically, “It is impossible to divorce the message of Jesus from the man He represented.”[1]

At the same time, the Incarnational Gospel without the Informational Gospel’s foundation of biblical truth will often lead to heresy.[1] Again we find many churches and Christian organizations that are doing a phenomenal job in fighting hunger, providing education, medicine, clean water, and setting up programs to bring people out of poverty and provide justice, however, they scarcely mention Christ or the message of Salvation. They do not find it necessary to proclaim and verbally communicate the Gospel. According to Jonathan Falwell, the son of Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty, University:

Over the years one of the raging battles in conservative evangelical circles has been the constant tension in evangelism between building relationships (incarnational) and simply sharing the message (informational). The perception has been that liberals served people’s needs without ever sharing the message. On the contrary, in many cases the conservatives would aggressively share the message without ever considering the needs of the recipients.[1]

Which precedes which: Informational or Incarnational Witnessing?

The answer is very simple information, the proclamation and verbal communication precedes every other method of evangelization and missions. The Bible teaches, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17, ESV). Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (ESV). Without the preaching and teaching of the word, no one would know why you do what you do. It means your work, though it is done in a Christian spirit, will be labeled as humanitarian work and will be put in line with other humanitarian work among which the atheists are doing a great job.

Which is better, Informational or Incarnational Witnessing?

The Bible never presents one separated from the other, therefore both are intended to compliment and complete each other. However, since the Informational Gospel precedes any other method of sharing the good news, it might be wrongfully thought that informational witnessing is better than incarnational witnessing. Similarly, the proponents of the Incarnational Gospel may argue that since “faith without works is dead” and “actions speaks louder than words” therefore naturally the Incarnational Gospel is better than the Informational witnessing. Nevertheless, James’ account in James 2:14-17 is evidence of the Informational Gospel and the Incarnational Gospel working together to present the full picture of Christian love, care and hope that Christ demonstrated in His earthly ministry by proclaiming the message of salvation and meeting the physical needs of individuals. James’s account does not negate the absolute necessity of verbally communicating the gospel, unless they hear the gospel as is noted above in Romans 10, they will not have faith. The prerequisites for faith is the hearing of the gospel.

Which is essential to which and at what extend?

First, from a traditional perspective, the witnessing and sharing of the Gospel, which is the informational truth of the Gospel, has been studied to internalize and perfect informational “approaches and arguments to defend the absolute truths of the Bible especially in light of consistent attacks from a pluralistic culture. Considering the fact that one’s Christian faith is totally dependent upon the validity of these truths relating to the biblical claims of Christ as Savior (i.e. Death and Physical Resurrection of Christ, Forgiveness of Sin, the Deity of Christ, etc.), this is obviously an essential issue to protect the integrity of historical Christianity. ”[1]

Second, while the Informational Gospel represents the teachings and biblical truths and tenants necessary for Christian beliefs and faith, the Incarnational Gospel actualizes “those same biblical belief systems into the authentic expressions of a believer’s life.  It is, in a sense, wrapping one’s faith in the flesh of daily living.”[1]

Third, one’s spiritual status can only be determined by his or her behavioral status. Here again we see James’ argument that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:16) an appeal to believers that we must actualize what we believe: The Informational Gospel, which brought us into the fellowship of believers and the Triune God into the Incarnational Gospel which should be the authentic expressions of our lives as believers. If informational witnessing is the reflection of our knowledge and the truths of the Christian faith, then incarnational witnessing is the reflection of our behavior towards our knowledge and the truths of the Christians faith.

David Wheeler, a professor of evangelism at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary presents the following example. He writes:

Consider the apologetic claims related to biblical inerrancy. Conservative Evangelicals consider this, rightfully so, imperative to a clear understanding of truth as it relates to all areas of one’s Christian faith.  After all, if the Bible is not shown to be trustworthy in every way as it relates to faith and life, how can one know for sure if what they believe is genuine?

The same is true when considering “incarnational” apologetics as it relates to the issue of biblical inerrancy and other equally important foundational beliefs.  If one claims to believe the Bible to be inerrant but exemplifies it in the expressions of their life as a contradictory code of ethics and behavior, what should the non-Christian world conclude about this same faith that supposedly came from the Bible?   Not that anyone is perfect, but shouldn’t an inerrant Bible that is espoused as the final authority for the Christian faith result in something close to an inerrant lifestyle from it’s proponents?

At some point the real issue of biblical inerrancy boils down to the question of authority.  For the Christian, the Bible is authoritative because of its author, the Holy Spirit who spoke the word into being.  On the other hand, for the non-Christian the issue of accepting biblical authority as an essential precursor to salvation is in part verified by the consistent “incarnational” expressions of Christians who claim to have experienced a “born again” conversion.  Since real authority is never assumed but earned when dealing with the unsaved world, it is imperative that one’s approach to biblical apologetics is validated by a life that exemplifies the person of Christ as found in the Bible.[1]

The majority of the Muslim Background Believers have reported that it was not the arguments of Christians that convinced them to accept Christ, but their unbelievable life style that made them wonder about Christians. Nevertheless, they reported that they heard the Gospel message first. Our incarnational witness can bring someone to Christ and it can stop someone from coming to Christ. The same can be said about our informational witnessing. Therefore, it can be more beneficial when they are used together.

My challenge to you is to learn the delicate balance of the Informational Gospel and the Incarnational Gospel to become effective fearless witnesses of Christ in this dark world. It will help you to avoid the temptation of becoming a hypocrite or a heretic.

 

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Dr. A. R. Javed

Dr. A. R. Javed is on faculty of New York School of the Bible, offering and heading the department of Missions and Understanding Islam. He is a lecturer at Davis College's NYC site and regularly gives lectures on Islam, Missions, Christian Theology nationally and internationally.

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