The Roman Road

*This is not a definitive answer on the topic but I hope it is useful food for thought.

The Roman Road

The full question:

Critically evaluate the Roman Road as a personal evangelistic method from Reformed biblical, theological and cultural perspectives.

Abstract

The Roman Road has faithfully presented the gospel since its beginnings around 1948. It is a message that seeks to explain the gospel in a nut-shell by pointing out a selection of verses in Romans. Beginning with humanity’s sinfulness and the judgment because of sin, it goes on to explain the solution and assurance of faith in Jesus Christ. While there are a number of elements to be aware of with such a biblical and theological understanding, it does seem to present a basic outline of the gospel. While there seems to be some positives to presenting the gospel using the Roman Road in a Western culture such as Australia, it is important to consider the changing climate of the culture. With a lack of knowledge also comes a greater burden of responsibility in laying a strong foundation. The Roman Road may need to be adapted into a more culturally relevant format to be used effectively today.

Introduction

There are a number of contemporary personal evangelistic methods used in various circles. Each of these tools can be used by God to effectively reveal the need of a Saviour. This does not negate a sensible assessment on popular evangelistic techniques. It is important to consider the theological and biblical legitimacy of every evangelistic method, regardless of the results. Along with this, the changing culture must be continuously brought into account in such an assessment as there is always a cultural context within an evangelistic explanation. One method may be effective for a time and place, yet could legitimately be put aside in another instance. This essay will seek to consider the contemporary personal evangelistic method known as the Roman Road.

What is it?

The Roman Road apparently has its origins through a man named Jack Hyles. He claimed in a sermon on June 8th 1970 that he ‘came up with a little plan of presenting the plan of salvation called “The Roman Road” whereby you take Verses contained in Romans and show people how to be saved’.[1] He claims that he thought of the Roman Road about 1948. Since then it has become a widespread evangelistic tool used by many to present God’s plan of salvation. It has even been created into a tract that appears to be based roughly on Jack Hyle’s original idea.[2] The claim by some is that the Roman Road ‘is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.’ [3] The Roman Road to salvation works by presenting a list of verses taken from the book of Romans. These passages are used to present God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a stranger or a friend.[4] Here is a brief description of the passages used and the steps that lead to an understanding of salvation.

Why we Need Salvation

Often the Roman Road begins with asking an individual about life after death. Next it progresses to the concept of whether they should be allowed into Heaven. Assuming the response is one that conveys personal achievement grants them access, the Roman Road then begins. The first reference is Romans 3:10 that explains there is no one who is perfect. Then Romans 3:23 supports this statement by stating that all have sinned. The next Scripture reference on the Roman Road is Romans 5:12. With this passage it is clear that not only have all sinned but all deserve judgement because of that sin. Romans 6:23 is also used to support this concept. Romans 5:12 and 6:23 make it clear that our just punishment is death and there is a price that humanity must pay for their sin. Yet Romans 6:23b also provides a hint of hope which is the next step on the path.

How God Provides Salvation

Romans 5:8 demonstrates that Jesus paid the price that humanity deserves. It explicitly states that Christ died for us so that he could take the punishment for humanity. This step along the path is used to explain there is still hope for every sinner.

How We Can Receive Salvation

The next stop is found in Romans 10:9. Here it is explained that because of Jesus all we have to do is believe in him, trusting what he did as payment for our sins. By doing this, one can then have salvation. To solidify this truth Romans 10:13 also backs this up with the fact that anyone who trusts in Jesus can be forgiven. After clearly explaining each of these passages and how they relate to humanity’s need for God the question is then asked if the listener desires to believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life.

What is the Result of Salvation

Finally the Roman Road to salvation explains what happens once we believe in Jesus. Romans 8:1 declares that there is now no condemnation for everyone who puts their faith in Christ. The relationship is restored. There is certainty and security through faith in Christ.

It is through following this path in the book of Romans that an unbeliever is told how to find salvation in Jesus Christ.

Biblical and Theological Assessment

The first critical evaluation on this contemporary evangelistic method will be a biblical and theological assessment. This will be achieved by briefly considering each verse in its context and application to discover if the Roman Road is appropriate in the references it chooses to employ for this technique. After that some conclusions will be drawn from a biblical and theological perspective.

Romans 3:10

Romans 3:10 ‘as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one;’

The wider context of Romans appears to support the emphasis the Roman Road places upon this verse. Verse 9 begins the argument by stating ‘For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’. Murray supports the wider context by noting, ‘this indictment must be that comprised in 1:18-2:24’[5]. Because it is placed within the wider context and Paul’s argument is referring to everyone, both Jew and Gentile, it seems this text is used appropriately.

Romans 3:23

Romans 3:23 ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’

Once again this verse seems to hold the message that the Roman Road assigns it. It is clear that no matter what “good” people may do it all ‘makes no essential difference to one’s standing before the righteous and holy God.’[6] Perhaps due to the wider context it may be helpful to include 22b, ‘For there is no distinction’. This may assist in driving the point home even further. Although this reference is placed within an explanation of the righteousness of God through faith, it is still used by Paul as a summary of 1:18-3:20, which is the point asserted within the Roman Road.[7]

Romans 5:12

Romans 5:12 ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned –‘

Within the wider context this verse appears to explain why death has come to all. There is some contention amongst scholars as to the precise understanding of the corporate and individual sinning. Keller and Moo consider this passage to be referring to a link between all people and Adam’s sin of a ‘corporate’ nature, referring to original sin.[8] Although the argument of ‘where we explain this solidarity in terms of sinning in and with Adam or because of a corrupt nature inherited from him does not matter at this point’[9]. To some extent it also does not matter as to the use of this reference for the Roman Road, due to the understanding that this verse is tasked to help people see the judgment for sin rather than the reason for sinning. Taking this into account, perhaps this verse may complicate the message further and may be best to simply use the next verse to make this point.

Romans 6:23

Romans 6:23 ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

This verse is the antithesis of what has come before. Comparing the ‘alternative slave-masters’ God or sin[10] which carries along nicely from the previous verse that introduces the section, ‘those who are in Adam serve sin, while those who are in Christ serve God.’[11] It seems this verse also has an appropriate context and application that the initial text originally meant to imply.

Romans 5:8

Romans 5:8 ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

This verse is the first instance in which the Roman Road requires a ‘backtracking’ in the book of Romans to choose an appropriate verse. It seems unfortunate that the Roman Road does not feel it can follow Paul’s presentation of the gospel the same way he orders his logic, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Yet this verse still appears to be presenting what the Roman Road claims. This verse is directed to believers as the book of Romans was written to Christians in Rome.[12] Although it is true that the reference to God showing his love ‘for us’ refers to Christians, the point of the passage still aligns with the Roman Road. Namely, Christ died for sinners. Even though this verse is out of order it does present another important step in a gospel presentation. All are sinners deserving of judgment but God provides another way by his son Jesus Christ.

Romans 10:9, 13

Romans 10:9, 13 ‘because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”’

These two references demonstrate the need for trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to be saved. It is not two actions of confessing with the mouth and believing in your heart but one ‘parallelism’ that pushes the reader to realise that ‘anyone who does believe expresses this belief’.[13] Plus, these verses solidify the truth that it does not matter who you are (v. 12). The necessity and availability is for everyone. This too accords with the use of this passage on the Roman Road.

Romans 8:1

Romans 8:1 ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

This verse seems to be a powerful choice for assuring a new believer of their position before God. Within the context of 6:1-7:24 and the verses following it, this verse, not only assures freedom from the guilt of sin ‘but also freedom from the enslaving power of sin’[14]. With this assurance the Roman Road is complete and the individual could attain a basic understanding of the gospel.

Some Conclusions

After briefly considering each verse within its context and the original meaning given by Paul, it seems clear that the Roman Road explains these verses with some accuracy. Yet there is some peculiarity as to the reason of jumping back and forth instead of following Paul’s argument in order. Creating a road that digs up a few paving stones from Paul’s argument out of sequence and then attempts to line them up may insinuate a lack of understanding of the book of Romans. Yet each verse does still hold water when considering its original intention. An important biblical and theological consideration is what the Roman Road misses along its path. It is important to note that the book of Romans does not begin with Romans 3:10. It begins by explaining ‘the character of God and the devastation of human rebellion’[15] in the very first chapter. This lack of explanation will be further considered in the cultural assessment below. N.T. Wright also makes a number of critiques of such a method as the Roman Road. Wright’s point is that it assumes Paul is making only one point in 1:18-3:20. This belittles it all to a mere ‘works contract’ where humanity are moral failures in need of getting ‘right with God’ to get to heaven. He claims is merely one-third of the picture saying,

‘But something vital has been left out, like a cocktail without the all-important shot of bourbon. You can still drink it. Some important flavors are really there. But the intended meaning, the real “kick” to Paul’s argument, is missing…”Sin,” then, is not simply breaking of God’s rules. It is the outflowing of idolatry.’[16]

There does seem to be some truth to Wright’s claim that the Roman Road does not present the entire picture and leaves some of Paul’s important argumentation off the path. Yet due to its claim of merely being the gospel in a nutshell, there will inevitably be some theological elements missing. Much more could be said assessing the Roman Road on a biblical and theological level yet another important element to consider is its cultural application today.

Cultural Assessment

Although it is true that the Bible is just as relevant today as when it was written, the culture continuously changes. It is important with any evangelistic method to carefully consider the culture it is attempting to reach with the gospel. Some of the positive and negative elements of the Roman Road will be considered.

Positive

A number of positive cultural elements can be seen within the Roman Road method of personal evangelism. The first significant cultural factor that may be surprising was discovered by a recent report on Australians. It was discovered their sense of a ‘reliability and validity of the Bible’ was an engaging topic for just under half (46%) of the participants.[17] This would suggest that opening a Bible to display exactly what it says could be seen as an engaging way to tell someone of the gospel. Furthermore, the report went on to find that ‘1 in 10 (10%) Australians indicated that this engaged them completely.’[18] From my own personal experience when engaged in a friendly conversation about Christianity with someone who appears interested, reading a verse in the Bible has not been received negatively.

Another positive element for this approach is its intent on engaging the culture with a short, simple message found easily in one book of the Bible. The culture today seems to suggest that many individuals enjoy short sharp information bites. This can be seen in social media such as Twitter and Facebook. It can also be observed in most Western countries that seek to ‘save’ time by creating opportunities that take less time such as ‘fast-food’ restaurants. This could suggest that flicking a few times quickly to explain something may be appealing in today’s culture. Moreover, being able to flick within chapter distance of another reference would inevitably speed up the process.

Negative

Now we turn to some of the negative cultural factors involved in the method known as the Roman Road. Firstly, it seems as though using this tool could display a lack of understanding toward today’s culture. With a recent study suggesting that 29% of Australians who come from religious roots are ‘no longer religious’ and 54% stating they were not at all practicing religion, it seems certain that Australian culture is moving further away from its Christian heritage. This causes a number of factors but the one most significant for this essay is an enlargement of the void that is biblical knowledge. To take an evangelistic tool created in approximately 1948 and still consider it just as relevant today surely denies the progression that Western culture has taken in Australia away from a basic understanding of Christianity. As Trevin Wax insightfully states, ‘traditional evangelistic strategies are not necessarily deficient in what they say, but in what they assume.’[19] Daniel Darling also notes that, ‘in a secularized society, though, core Christian beliefs can’t be assumed.’[20] The Roman Road assumes the concept of Creation and an afterlife as foundational elements already laid. It may be due to this understanding that the first verse begins with the sinfulness of humanity instead of beginning earlier in Romans with the concept of God as Creator (Rom 1:20, 25). The other assumption this method makes is that people have a common idea that they are good enough for Heaven. This may be so for some, yet others are first wondering if Heaven is real before they have even considered the possibility of them being there. Perhaps a clearer picture of where the culture begins needs to be considered with a method such as the Roman Road.

Following on from the above point, a general cultural illiteracy in biblical knowledge also translates itself into a lack of understanding of biblical language. Some verses such as Romans 5:12 may detract attention from the point that is trying to be made due to the potentially confusing language and concepts within the verse. It may be that the person presenting the Roman Road must be aware for the need of clarity and able to summarise exactly what the verse is intending in their own words. Perhaps this would avoid confusion, yet it also has the potential to aggravate a misunderstanding of the basic gospel message that the Roman Road attempts.

The final critique with the Roman Road that should be considered is its memorability for a Western culture. It seems as though visual aids are important to memory and various other strategies are important to engage and teach many individuals. Merely by communicating a concept through reading and not being able to ‘visualise’ the concept or take something away to read over, may inhibit the impact of the message. Illustrations also seem to be lacking which could prevent further engagement and personal significance. Perhaps some visual cues and modern illustrations may more powerfully bring the point home in today’s culture.

Conclusion

The Roman Road is a legitimate biblical and theological method of communicating the gospel message. This must be qualified by stating that it does depend on the explanations given by the individual sharing the Roman Road. Although there may be some benefits to employing the Roman Road in personal evangelism, there are a number of elements about today’s culture that seem to be disregarded. Perhaps an adaptation of this method is needed if someone would desire to effectively share the gospel.

  1. Jack Hyles, ‘There Remaineth Yet Very Much Land to Be Possessed – The Jack Hyles Home Page’, in There Remaineth Yet Very Much Land to Be Possessed, June 28, 1970, http://www.jackhyles.com/muchland.htm, (accessed October 20, 2016), 3.

  2. Moments with the Book, ‘The Romans Road’, in Moments With The Book, n.d., https://mwtb.org/products/the-romans-road, (accessed October 20, 2016).

  3. ‘What Is the Romans Road to Salvation?’, in GotQuestions.org, August 3, 2004, https://www.gotquestions.org/Romans-road-salvation.html, (accessed October 20, 2016), 1.

  4. There is some variety to the specific verses used. Jack Hyles who began the Roman Road mentions the verses 3:10, 3:23, 5:12, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9-13. Some modern versions of the Roman Road leave out 3:10 and 5:12 as well as adding verses such as 5:1, 8:1 and 8:38-39. For the purposes of this assignment Jack Hyles’ original passages will be considered along with the common assurance passage 8:1. Other versions also have verses such as Romans 4:5 and 11:6 but due to the length of this essay it is necessary to draw some parameters on which passages to evaluate. The selection provided here sums up the progression that ‘The Roman Road’ presents to unbelievers.

  5. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 102.

  6. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 226.

  7. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans.

  8. Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2014); Moo, The Epistle to the Romans.

  9. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 329.

  10. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 186.

  11. Stott, The Message of Romans, 186.

  12. Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 6; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1998).

  13. Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2015), 80.

  14. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 275.

  15. Trevin Wax, ‘Assuming Too Much in Personal Evangelism’, The Gospel Coalition, May 18, 2010, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2010/05/18/assuming-too-much-in-personal-evangelism/, (accessed October 21, 2016), 7.

  16. N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 307–308.

  17. McCrindle Research, Australian Communities Report: A Demographic & Social Analysis of Religion & the Church in Australia (n.p.: Olive Tree Media, October 2011), 16.

  18. McCrindle Research, Australian Communities Report: A Demographic & Social Analysis of Religion & the Church in Australia, 16.

  19. Wax, “Assuming Too Much in Personal Evangelism,” 4.

  20. Daniel Darling, ‘3 Ways Rising Secularism Affect Evangelism’, in TGC – The Gospel Coalition, May 21, 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-ways-rising-secularism-affects-evangelism, (accessed October 21, 2016), 4.

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