By Maddie Cash | Features Editor
Dr. Jerry Root first discovered his love for Christ and passion for evangelism at a Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) gathering when he was a freshman in college. Immediately, he began to share his newfound faith with others, because he “thought everybody would want to know about this.” Three days after his own transformation, he shared the gospel with three boys in his dormitory. “I didn’t know anything,” Root told the Record, chuckling. “I shared everything I knew in about two minutes.” However, as he was praying for the college students to come to know the Lord, three Cru ministers knocked on the door to visit Root. Surprised by encountering a new believer passionately pointing others to Christ, they stepped in and led two of the three men to Jesus. Root now shares his faith with individuals “at least two to three times a week,” joking that, almost half a decade later, he now has had practice in sharing his faith.
“I’ve never stopped being grateful. I’m still deeply moved by all that Jesus has done for me. I love him,” Root said, his sincere brown eyes shining behind his thick glasses. To Root, who conducted a seminar on Thursday night, Dec. 6 about “Sharing Your Faith at Christmas,” evangelism has become a spiritual routine, that he views as vital to faith.
Yet he denies that evangelism is his spiritual gift. “I get upset if people try to say that I do [have the gift of evangelism], because they often will say that as if to suggest that unless you have the gift, you don’t have to do this,” he told the Record. According to Root, evangelism should be integrated into one’s specific gifting. Using his gift of encouragement is his specific method of getting to know an individual and sharing God’s love with him or her. “A person who [never shows respect for a person] never gets to see somebody come to faith,” Root said solemnly. “Nobody should ever … be a target for evangelism — or a project. Because the sharing of the message will seem as disingenuous as we treat these people.” Root is a firm believer in asking questions and listening. By taking time with an individual and realizing their intrinsic worth, Root emphasized that the listener will discover “where God’s already moving in his or her life and then begin to make explicit what’s going on implicitly.”
Root’s awareness of the power of evangelism is, in part, due to his lifelong study of C.S. Lewis. Lewis was passionate about evangelism, and, like Root, began sharing his faith immediately after his conversion. Root is not only inspired by Lewis’s example in discussing and developing the faith, but also his integration of literature with faith. “If you immerse in Lewis,” Root told the Record, “he opens more than wardrobe doors. He takes you to other books.” According to Root, the literature and philosophy that Lewis read and wrote about gives you “a wide understanding of human history, human thought, the aspirations of the human soul … Every time you meet a person, you bring that to the table, that, ‘wow, there’s a million places where that person’s pistons may be firing, but I think I’m familiar with a lot of them.’ And so you can connect the gospel to a million places.”
A wistful look crept into Root’s eyes as he connected Lewis’ integration of faith and learning, a cornerstone of Wheaton’s academic and evangelical mission, to the current state of evangelism endeavors at Wheaton. As part of a Wheaton evangelism group, he reports to President Ryken about the evangelism efforts taking place at the college. The group’s goal is to “cultivate an ethos where students would pick up, by intention and contagion, an interest in evangelism.” Root’s talk about sharing faith during the Christmas season was inspired by his involvement in the group. It also came about due to his conviction that Wheaton College cannot “rest on our laurels and assume that [effective evangelism training] is going to happen naturally.” In order to encourage the permeation of evangelism throughout Wheaton’s atmosphere, the group encourages faculty to share their faith, their witnessing experiences, their stories and their hearts with students.
Root compared Wheaton’s passion for sharing the gospel as an undercurrent of daily student life, similar to the train that runs by campus. At first, the only thing new students can hear is the raucous train outside their windows. However, after a week or so, students don’t even hear the chugging and whistling that so bothered them initially. “If the drumbeat to build a passion for evangelism was coming from one quarter of the campus,” Root told the Record, “it wouldn’t be long before you wouldn’t hear it anymore, just like that train.” Thus, Root hopes to encourage the Wheaton student body to be winsome purveyors of Christ’s love and entranced followers of his beauty. He concluded that ultimately, “Jesus is at work everywhere. If the students incline themselves to lean into the work he’s doing, they’ll see him a lot. If they follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit and they see somebody respond to the gospel, they get excited about it.”