Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Ever feel that you could or should be doing more in the area of evangelism? For most Christians, the 'e' word is probably a scary prospect, as well as a guilt-inducing word. As Mark Dever says early on, 'why is it, when we have the best news in the world, that we are slow to tell it to others?'

Mark Dever's book is a great introduction (or re-introduction) to the Gospel, and as our hearts are warmed by the good news, being stirred to personal evangelism. In a friendly, readable way, Dever explores some of the reasons or excuses why we flunk at evangelism. Perhaps we don't think we can speak to anyone, or that our friends won't want to hear or respond. A popular excuse seems to be that we don't know any non-Christians! It may well be that we're so caught up in church activities that we don't have a night for an 'outside interest' or time spent with non-Christian friends building relationships (not seeing them as gospel projects or conquests to be won).

His advice is first-class - to close our eyes to pray for opportunities, then to open our eyes to see them!

Another challenging section questioned who should be doing evangelism. Is it just for the professionals, or maybe for those with a particular gift of evangelism? We can't get out of it that easy, as Dever (quoting John Stott) points us to the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 'Every Christian is called to be a witness to Christ in the particular environment in which God has placed him (or her!).' He also asks whether we have reduced our evangelism to just inviting people to meetings rather than inviting them directly to Christ. A challenging thought, particularly as our local church is big on issuing invitations (e.g. our new Open House programme begins on Sunday night - Where is God when I need him?) Is inviting people to meetings and events the safe way?

A helpful observation for every-member evangelism is when he discusses the Church's call to love one another - again, quoting John Stott: 'The invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another. It is a breathtaking claim. The local church cannot evangelise, proclaiming the gospel of love, if it is not itself a community of love.' (Emphasis in original, speaking about 1 John 4:12)

So how then do we evangelise? 'Evangelism is a balance of honesty, urgency, and joy.' Honesty, because we don't want to lessen or blank out the importance of judgement and the penalty for our sins; Urgency, because we do not know the hour or the day - both of the Lord's return and of our friend's death; joy, because it is good news that we are sharing, and there are immense benefits and blessings in the gospel.

Dever takes some time discussing both negative and positive responses, and how we deal with them. The important thing is not to be so pushy as to completely drive someone away, but to maintain a respectful friendship - valuing the relationship we have with the person, not just seeing them as a failed project to be shunned and ignored. Who knows what may happen as they continue to think and see Christians in action?

When someone does make a positive response, as they become a Christian, then it's time for discipleship to kick in. 'The good news is not merely about the commuting of an eternal sentence but about the commencing of an eternal relationship.' It's not about getting your golden ticket and now you're ok to live how you want, but about growing in love and knowledge and service for the Lord.

All in all, this was a very helpful book for me, as we think through a bigger Christmas evangelism project in our church, and make plans for more evangelism next year. The challenge is to move from a culture of events to a culture of evangelism, where it is normal for all our Christians to speak for the Lord to the people they come into contact with. Several copies are now poised on the Church bookstall, and more can be ordered if we run out!

Highly relevant and recommended book, not just for pastors (even with the special pastors appendix), but for all Christians. Turn a duty into a delight!

This book is currently retailing for £5 from The Good Book Company.

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