Divinity and Death Row

I came to real faith in Jesus through two seventeen year old pupils. They were members of my Latin class at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown. It was a Damascus road conversion.

St Andrew’s is an Anglican independent school and at that time was blessed by a wonderful chaplain, Hylton Knowles. Each class in the school had two periods a week of Divinity – what some schools would call Religious Education. The chaplain immediately gave me a class of fourteen year-olds to teach.

I was clueless. I can remember in one lesson crying out to God for help – the best thing I could have done….

A boy arrived at my desk. He gave me a book called Miracle on Death Row.(1)

“Here,” he said. “I think you should read this.”

“Thank you,” I said.

He didn’t go away.

“Do you mean now, to the class?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

So I did.It was an answer to my cry for help. It was a story of two men, one a man accused of a crime he hadn’t committed, the other, a lawyer, who became convinced of his innocence. The lawyer fought passionately for his client, who was facing the death penalty.

Neither man believed in Jesus, but by the end of the trial the accused had been acquitted and both men had become Christians.

The bell for the end of the first lesson rang at a climactic moment of the story. The class groaned. They begged me to go on. The same thing happened at the end of the second lesson. And at the end of the third, fourth and fifth. I couldn’t have planned it better. God truly is a master dramatist….

As the years passed I began to ask myself, “What exactly is it that fourteen year-olds need to hear to help them come to faith in Jesus?”

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll tell them how I came to faith. Then, I’ll show them some DVDs of people they can identify with, who have also become Christians. Then we’ll look at the objective evidence for the Christian Faith, such as the reliability of the New Testament documents, the evidence for Jesus outside of the New Testament, the evidence for the Resurrection and the Messianic Prophecies.”

The result was staggering. Many came to a real and living faith in Jesus, surrendering their lives to Him, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

I had thought of all this as pre-evangelism, but Mark Stibbe in his book Prophetic Evangelism (2) has called it “persuasion evangelism”. This was what Paul was doing in the synagogues as he reasoned and persuaded and tried to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

He immediately started to preach about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This is the Son of God.” But Saul grew more and more persuasive, and continued to confound the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this man was the Messiah. (Acts 9:20, 22 ISV)  

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17 ESV)

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 ESV)

And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19 ESV)

He did this right up to the very end of his life:

So they set a day to meet with Paul and came out in large numbers to see him where he was staying. From morning until evening he continued to explain the kingdom of God to them, trying to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and the Prophets. (Acts 28:23 ISV)    

Another name for “persuasion evangelism” is “apologetics”. The word comes from the Greek “apologia” which means a “defence”.

So we are not to apologise for our faith.

We are called upon to defend it.





(1) Kermit C. Bradford Miracle on Death Row Word Books/Chosen Books 1977 ISBN-10: 0912376171
ISBN-13: 978-0912376172

(2) Mark Stibbe Prophetic Evangelism Authentic Media 2004 ISBN 1860244572