Subscribe in a reader

Monday, May 05, 2008

Book Review: The Gospel & Personal Evangelism

Book Review: Dever, Mark. The Gospel & Personal Evangelism. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007. 124 pp, $9.99.

Mark Dever’s plan for biblical evangelism is summarized as “A God-given commission and method, a God-centered message, and a God-centered motive. We should all evangelize. Evangelism isn’t all those other things we considered; it is telling the good news about Jesus, and doing it with honesty, urgency, and joy, using the Bible, living a life that backs it up, and praying, and doing it all for the glory of God (p 107).

In seven chapters, Dever asks and answers seven crucial issues concerning the issue of evangelism:

Chapter 1 Why Don’t We Evangelize?
Chapter 2 What Is the Gospel?
Chapter 3 Who Should Evangelize?
Chapter 4 How Should We Evangelize?
Chapter 5 What Isn’t Evangelism?
Chapter 6 What Should We Do After We Evangelize?
Chapter 7 Why Should We Evangelize?

The most important chapter in the book is “What is the Gospel?” No issue rises above getting the gospel right for the Christian because the gospel is what makes us Christian. It is the message that God uses to forgive, reconcile, and redeem sinners. If the Gospel message itself is confused, evangelism will not take place and God will not be honored.

Dever tackles common modern misconceptions about the gospel. The gospel is not God saying we are okay (pp 32-35). The gospel is not a message that “God is love (pp 36-37).” The Gospel is not simply “Jesus wants to be our friend (pp 37-39).” The Gospel is not a message about right living (40-43). Dever writes, “One of the early stages of becoming a Christian is, I think, realizing that our problems aren’t fundamentally that we have messed up our own lives, or have simply failed to reach our full potential, but that we have sinned against God (p 35).”

Dever closes the chapter by presenting the gospel. “The good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.”

Chapter 5, “What Isn’t Evangelism” complements nicely with chapter 2 because here Dever gives examples of how well-intentioned Christians fall short of evangelism. One of the most common ways I have seen this personally is in the giving of personal testimonies. Personal testimonies are often full with ways God has blessed, but far too often the gospel itself is never spoken. Jesus is often completely left out.

An additional confusion when it comes to evangelism is the lumping in of decisions made or not made after the presentation to a sinner. Many believe evangelism occurs when someone hears the gospel and embraces it. However, evangelism is simply sharing the gospel. Dever writes, “We don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don’t faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn’t converting people; it’s telling them that they need to be converted and telling them how they can be.”

A great strength of this book is its practicality. Chapters 1 and 4 are filled with helpful suggestions for how a Christian can evangelize more frequently and more faithfully. Particularly helpful was the author’s teaching on balancing honesty, urgency, and joy in presenting the gospel (pp 55-60). First, be honest about the cost of following Jesus Christ. Those who follow Jesus will live a cross-bearing life. Sins will need to be repented of and forsaken. Second, be urgent in your presentation of the gospel. No one knows the day or hour when Christ shall return therefore we should not harden our hearts to God’s gospel. We do not become coercive in our urgency, but we should plead with men for Christ’s sake. Third, we should infuse the joy of salvation into our gospel presentations. Talk much of the love of God. Talk about the joys of eternal life. Talk about the joys of being reconciled to our Creator God.

The book alone is worth the price for the great stories concerning evangelism. The opener about John Harper is truly remarkable. But perhaps the most encouraging is found on page 81 in the context of trusting in God for conversion.

“It took a long time for the conversion of Mr. Short. He was a New England farmer who lived to be one hundred years old. Sometime in the middle of the 1700’s he was sitting in his fields reflecting on his long life. As he did, “he recalled a sermon he had heard in Darmouth [England] as a boy before he sailed to America. The horror of dying under the curse of God was impressed upon him as he meditated on the words he had heard so long ago and he was converted to Christ—eighty five years after hearing John Flavel preach.”

We thank Mark Dever for this helpful contribution concerning the oft neglected duty and privilege to evangelize sinners. Let us glorify God by being more faithful and diligent to tell others the greatest news ever.

No comments: