The Church exists in order to evangelize. The signs of the Fourth Gospel were written to evangelize. This study is mainly about finding common ground between the Catholic understanding of evangelization and the Fourth Gospel. It starts with the central question: “Does the Fourth Gospel provide sufficient theological and biblical grounding in the pursuit of a practical theology on evangelization?”. It employs two steps to answer this: (1) the investigation of Papal and conciliar documents pertaining to evangelization, and (2) the use of the hermeneutical triad of history-literature-theology and an integral exegetical approach to investigate the Fourth Gospel’s evangelistic strategy.
In terms of the “what” of evangelization, it may be derived from Catholic documents that “Evangelization is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through word and witness, to help bring about conversion and transformation”. Using the Fourth Gospel’s signs-faith-life link in its 20:31 purpose statement, “Evangelization means being a sign that leads to growing faith in Jesus Christ, resulting in fullness of life”. The definitions are parallel based on the action, content and desired results of evangelization.
In terms of the “who” of evangelization, Catholic documents reveal a categorization based on faith: (1) ad gentes, or people who do not know Christ, (2) pastoral care, or the Church’s faithful, and (3) new evangelization, or entire groups of the baptized who have lost the faith in varying degrees. Via character response analysis, the Fourth Gospel shows characters with varying faith responses to Jesus, displaying the full spectrum of belief. The parallel lies in the language of faith, such that it may be drawn that evangelization is to be directed towards non-believers, believers, and people at every faith-level between them.
In terms of the “where” of evangelization, Catholic documents point to many areas as targets for evangelization, but with no strategic or progressive patterns offered to reach these targets. In the analysis of the seven Johannine signs, the evangelistic narrative settings reveal a progressive pattern: (1) family and friends; (2) God-fearers, or people of goodwill; (3) the marginalized; (4) the multitudes; (5) the culture of evil, chaos and darkness; (6) the sphere of religion and religious activity; and (7) death-bound humanity. This strategic and expanding coverage could be the Fourth Gospel’s valuable contribution to the Catholic approach to evangelization.
Encapsulating all these findings, a template for evangelization is put forward, merging the Catholic understanding of evangelization with the Fourth Gospel’s genius of strategically and progressively revealing Jesus Christ.