Usage of the “Roman Road”
April 8, 2008
bible / theology
In evangelical Christianity, there is a concept that was fairly common during the 20th century called the “Roman Road.” Essentially, a Christian who is speaking to someone (who may be) far from God will present several single verses from the book of Romans, in an attempt to show the hearer several points about God, and about him or herself. It attempts to show:
- God’s creation as evidence
- universal human sin
- the death of Christ to address human sin
- the need to believe in one’s heart, and confess with one’s mouth, the person of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead
If the hearer assents to these things, typically the speaker will lead in “the Sinner’s Prayer,” in which the hearer will tell God about his or her new belief in the above points, and ask for forgiveness of sin.
This technique has been very common in certain denominations, and in certain methods of evangelism by those denominations, including youth ministry, door-to-door ministry, and public “street ministry.” Its effectiveness over the last century (roughly) is debatable.
There are a number of issues with trying to reach people this way, both theological and methodological. In method, obviously the main issue is that it doesn’t work very well. It depends entirely on a conversation that occurs without nuance. It depends on the hearer accepting every point in succession.
And, of course, it typically depends on a lack of relationship. Not necessarily a lack of caring, because many people who have used this method do actually care about people. But having a relationship with someone makes an actual conversation about spiritual things move in a different way. They just don’t follow that kind of process.
Theologically, it devalues the context of what is going on in Romans. Romans is an amazing book. In various times in church history when the established church has entirely lost its way, revolutionaries (Martin Luther, Karl Barth, etc.) have re-discovered Romans and the message of the immanent grace of God.
But Romans is not written to people that don’t know God. It’s not written to people that are not interested in whether he is there, or what he has to say. It’s written to people that are already following Jesus. It’s written to teach them about the nature of the God they have met.
Consider the issue that that raises. For example, if someone tries to lead me through a succession of the platforms of the Republican Party, but I’m a liberal Australian, is that going to have any relevance to me? More unfamiliar still, what if a conservative Australian wanted to explain their platforms to me? Like most Americans, I don’t even know the names of Australia’s political parties (now that I mention it, I’ll have to go look it up). People who get the Roman Road treatment probably don’t agree with our theology. They won’t care about our platforms.
I’ve been reading unChristian, which of course does look at the methods we use to communicate God to people. It recounts the effects that our methods have on people through large amounts of data. These methods include the Roman Road, as well as any number of other things, and they include the way we interact with people on a normal basis as well. These things don’t work. They come across as judgmental, shallow, and irrelevant, or worse. They make people feel that Christianity does not care about them, and that it just wants them to agree with it.
We are not known by our love, and because we are not known by our love we are missing the point.