The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
"For most of us, personal evangelism is the reverse of easy, and so it becomes a task we evade. Mark Dever writes to shake us up about this, clearing our heads as to just what evangelizing involves and motivating our hearts to go to it realistically and responsibly. This is a word in season that will surely do a great deal of good."
-- Recommendation by J.I. Packer
With the plethora of church-growth material being published today -- which usually focuses on big programs, propaganda, and statistics -- it is refreshing to have a book that speaks to the biblical importance of, and heart behind, personal evangelism.
In his typically clear-headed and yet passionate style, Mark Dever meets most Western Christians where we are -- shaking in our boots to talk to anyone about the Jesus we love -- and even candidly admits his own struggles to share the gospel many times:
"Sometimes I'm a reluctant evangelist. In fact, not only am I sometimes a reluctant evangelist, sometimes I'm no evangelist at all. There have been times of wrestling, 'Should I talk to him?' Normally a very forward person, even by American standards, I can get quiet, respectful of the other people's space... It may be a family member I've known for years, or a person I've never met before; but, whoever it is, the person becomes for me, at that moment, a witness-stopping, excuse-inspiring spiritual challenge. If there is a time in the future when God reviews all of our missed evangelistic opportunities, I fear that I could cause more than a minor delay in eternity."
For many of us, Dever points out, it is not merely an issue of shyness or insecurity about talking to others, it is the more basic problem that we ourselves are not as acquainted with the gospel basics as we ought to be. So he introduces us to them!
Rather than the infamous Thomas Harris message that I'm Okay, You're Okay, Dever insists that the heart of the gospel is the accomplishment of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is simply no way to share the gospel, then, without speaking of the triumph of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection over sin, death, and Satan.
As much as we might like to tell ourselves that just being a nice neighbor, or a caring relative, or a faithful employee is a good gospel witness, the reality is that there is no gospel witness without the gospel message. While, yes, it is crucial that the message be accompanied by a personal life that compliments rather than casts doubt upon its truth, the cross of Christ is still the heart of the gospel.
While many of us may justify a more soft-peddling approach to evangelism, that never actually get around to proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, Dever reminds us that "you are not loving your neighbor as yourself if you're not trying to persuade him toward the greatest and best aspect of your own life--your reconciled relationship with God."
In the midst of speaking to others of the reconciling death of Christ, of course, there is also the crucial and daunting reality that those who are dead in sin will not respond favorably. This realization should not only impact why we evangelize, but how we evangelize. Dever points out:
"Clarity with the claims of Christ certainly will include the translation of the gospel into words that our hearer understands, but it doesn't necessarily mean translating it into words that our hearer will like. Too often, advocates of relevant evangelism verge over into being advocates of irrelevant non-evangelism. . . . According to the Bible, converting people is not in our power. And evangelism may not be defined in terms of results but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached."
In the end, the one motivation that will successfully and continually grip us as believers is the glory and pleasure of God. If we are only seeking to do our duty, or fulfill some command, or even save our neighbor, then this lesser motivation will cause us to be more easily discouraged and too easily distracted. However, if the glory of God is kept uppermost in our minds, then a zeal -- even a joy -- for evangelism will take root deep in our souls. Thus, Dever concludes:
"This is to be our evangelism: a God-given commission and method, a God-centered message, and a God-centered motive."