The Art of Personal Evangelism–sharing Christ in a new cultural dynamic

theartof-evangelism Published in 2003, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Christ in a Changing Culture by William McRaney Jr. examines the need to change approaches to evangelism in light of a culture shaped by postmodernism. McRaney has served in various positions in state Baptist conventions related to evangelism. He is the founder of the Ministry Enhancement Group and holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Structure

McRaney divides the book into three sections. The first deals with elements of personal evangelism such as God’s involvement and the personal participation of the witness. The second section deals with communicating the gospel. The third section includes aids, suggestions, and tips for evangelism. The book concludes with appendices regarding one’s testimony, objections to the gospel, and illustrations for witnessing.

What I Appreciated

I made a lot of marks and notes in this book. I appreciated the explanation of the cultural shifts in this book. McRaney did not pine for a return to modernism nor did he spend time lambasting postmodernism. He recognizes that both have good and bad and encourages Christians to pursue a biblical view of the world. However, he explains clearly how our approach to evangelism must change to communicate the gospel to those with a postmodernist worldview. The lists comparing what verses relate best to those with a modern worldview and those with a postmodern worldview are very helpful.
Though an academic treatment of personal evangelism, the book is very practical. I hope to go back and work to memorize the scriptures mentioned as useful. The bibliography cites many books that would make excellent additions to any Christian’s library, particularly those with a ministry to equip others to do evangelism.

What I Wished Had Been or Not Have Been

At times, the lists overwhelmed me causing me to have traumatic flashbacks to some of my seminary courses. Occasionally, I did not understand why certain lists fell where they did in the book or what their purpose was. Of course, that confusion could be as much the fault of the reader as of the author. Also, after thirteen years, the book is a bit dated. I would be interested to read an updated edition that considers post-postmodernism and the increasing fracturing of our society between different identities.

Conclusion

I am very glad that read this book. I would recommend it to anyone trying to figure out why the way we did evangelism in the past isn’t working and what we need to do to be more effective. Ministers will want to find ways to present these ideas to their congregations and either discover or develop methods of evangelism training that take them into account.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free from B&H Academic. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

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Guardrails–a book about chaos and order in discipleship

guardrails-book

Those familiar with church planting and missions probably have several books on their shelves about movements in church planting (CPM) and making disciples (DMM). However, I had not read a book that I felt capable of successfully communicating the principles of multiplication to the broader evangelical community. Alan Briggs’s Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church may become the first to do so. Briggs is director of Frontline Church Planting and multiplying pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs.

Movements are somewhat controversial. Many assume that movements are out-of-control incubators of heresy where leaders are left ignorant of the Bible and its doctrines. I have another book about this subject on my shelf that I bought used. The previous owner filled it with the notes revealing that he approached the subject with skepticism at best and antagonism at worst. Through Guardrails, Briggs challenges those negative assumptions and shows that in reality, a movement benefits from a structure that keeps it on the right path of expanding God’s kingdom.

Briggs begins with the concept of chaordic: the idea that a movement is a combination of chaos and order. Providing order to the disciple making movements are six principles if what discipleship must be. It must be simple, holistic, adaptable, regular, reproducible, and positive. Missionaries and church planters will be familiar with many of these.What I Appreciated

What I Appreciated

Briggs focuses on principles and not methodology. Too many church planting and discipleship books focus on methods that work well only in certain contexts. Another debate common among those who make disciples is the balance between obedience based discipleship and information based discipleship. Briggs achieves balance by not emphasizing one and discounting the value of the other. Briggs sees discipleship with emphasis on both but is clear that formal discipleship that occurs in a classroom type setting must translate into practice. I also appreciated Briggs repeated statements that one must follow the Spirit in their context.

What I Wished Had Been

I wish Briggs had fleshed out the principles more, particularly by showing how they work in practice. Briggs avoided this for the sake of preventing the book becoming about methodology. However, I think he could have avoided it by giving a variety of examples from different settings showing that people apply them in diverse ways.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book to church planters and church leaders. We are in need of Disciple Making Movement in our world today. This book provides guardrails guiding our path toward it.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale Blog Network. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism is a beautifully written narrative history of autism—charting its history of discovery, diagnosis, misunderstandings, advocacy, and improvements in treatment and care. Written by journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker, it is a valuable resource to increase our understanding of autism.

Strengths

The book is comprehensive and obviously well researched. The authors did an excellent job capturing the emotional struggle and frustration of parents in the early years as they struggled with the false idea that somehow mothers were to blame. It was these very personal stories and struggles that kept me reading as I became personally involved with each person’s story.

I did not expect the book to flow from chapter to chapter as well as it did. One of the most beautiful aspects of the book was the story of Donald, the first child to ever be diagnosed with autism. Donald’s story appears in the first chapters. His story reappears in the final chapter entitled “A Happy Man.” The ending is a nice final touch.

Weaknesses

For some the comprehensive nature of the book is a plus. Others may find the amount of information imposing. It takes a motivated reader to work their way entirely through it.

Final Analysis

This book is a gift to those families touched by these very special people who are on the autism spectrum. For those suffering it as a heavy burden, this book is a reminder that there are those who have gone before. It is a reminder of the progress that society has made and the need to continue research for further development. Pastors, ministers, counselors, and teachers may also gain valuable insights into the lives of those with autism and their families.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

False Dichotomy: Evangelism or Discipleship

biblestudydiscipleshipWhen I became serious about being in church and made my first baby steps in the Christian walk, I learned about evangelism. If I cared about people and loved Jesus, my teachers told me that I must also tell others about Jesus and how He made the way for them to go to heaven. Honestly, I can’t argue with that. It was basic then. It is basic now.

However, I didn’t hear a lot about discipleship until I went to seminary. As I have talked with others through the years, I’ve seen that my experience is not unique. It seems that many churches, church leaders, and others hold evangelism and discipleship in an unnecessary tension. Some almost seem to think if you do one, you have to diminish the other. In fact, I have heard that expressed verbally. However, Jesus never had such a conflict in mind.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gave one command: Make disciples. The other verb forms in those verses–going, baptizing, teaching to obey whatever Jesus commanded–are all participles. Because they explain an imperative form, they also carry an imperative or command form meaning. As we use the phrase today, most people relate making disciples to what happens after people become followers of Jesus. We baptize them* and teach them. We usually associate baptizing and teaching with discipleship. Evangelism is going to unbelievers and sharing the gospel with them.

However, based upon the structure of the Great Commission, I believe that we should think of making disciples as one process with parts–parts that today we often refer to as evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship should not compete with one another for a church’s attention but should both be part of any church’s ministry. The reasons are very practical.

  1. We won’t have believers to disciple without evangelism since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. People have to listen to the gospel before they can profess faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
  2. Discipleship does not slow down the witness. Rather, it multiplies it. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encouraged Timothy to pass on what Timothy learned from him to faithful men who would teach others. Let’s apply that teaching to sharing the gospel. The town where I attend church has a little less than 9,000 people. For the sake of argument, let’s assume I am the only believer in the city. By the end of this year, I share Christ with two people who I teach to witness to others. Next, each of us teaches two others, and this pattern is consistent for several years. Assuming that this trend continues, between year 7 and 8, everyone in the town would hear and respond to the gospel. Evangelism alone adds believers. Evangelism with discipleship multiplies believers.
  3. Evangelism and discipleship together use the entire spiritual gifting of a church. One-on-one discipleship (or mentoring) is important and helps especially with accountability. I highly recommend it. But no one person has all the spiritual gifts necessary to help a believer reach maturity in Christ. While all should share the gospel, some are more gifted at it than others. My experience has been that most people with evangelistic gifts are not as gifted with the gifts needed to teach these new believers to obey Jesus’ commands. It takes the entire body of Christ working together to help one another grow into the likeness of Christ. So, no church should ever ask, should we emphasize evangelism or discipleship. Both are equally important parts of the process of making disciples.

*I am a Baptist, and I believe biblical baptism is a baptism of believers only by immersion in water. The Great Commission implies this understanding.

Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Perry Noble’s The Most Excellent Way to Lead

themostexcellentway

The Most Excellent Way To Lead by mega-church pastor Perry Noble is  a short book asserting that 1 Corinthians 12, the Love Chapter, guides leaders to find the best way to lead others—through loving them.

Strengths

The premise is what drew me to this book. Many leadership books, including Christian books on the subject, focus on the leader or give “how-to” steps to getting people to follow or be on board. Noble asserts correctly that it all begins with love. People are more likely to support someone who sincerely loves them. Therefore, the first goal of every leader should be to love his people. This assertion is the greatest strength of the book.

Noble and the publisher recognize that the book’s target audience (mainly other pastors) is composed of very busy people. The book is a quick read. Perry and the editors balance the length of chapters. The print is large. Chapter summaries are succinct and easily referenced. The language and content are accessible to the average church leaders.

Weaknesses

Noble writes in much the same style as one of his mentor’s John Maxwell, which means that the book has many quotable statements and personal illustrations. By personal, I mean that Perry Noble is the main figure in most of those illustrations. To his credit, he does not always present himself as a good example. For many this pattern will make the book more personal and compelling. However, for me, it makes the book choppy in language and more dependent on the stories of the author than the story of Scripture.

Conclusion

Though the style is not what I prefer, the book is worthwhile to read. For task minded and goal oriented people such as myself, the reminder to love and to value people above other things is important to hear and even more important, to put into practice. I can see myself referring to the lessons found in this book often in the future.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Review of Unchanging Witness by Fortson and Grams

unchangingwitness

Unchanging Witness by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams desires to answer the recent challenges to traditional evangelical views regarding homosexuality. The authors seek to respond to the challenge not only by examining pertinent biblical passages but also by looking to the traditional teachings of the church. They hope their book will be a resource book for those who hold the traditional view.

Strengths

If the intent was to become a resource book, the authors are successful. A 380-page book is remarkably brief to reach the desired goal of the authors. The structure of the book is easy to follow. Pastors and Bible teachers looking for resources to help shape their response to attacks on the church’s views of sexuality will find this book to be a valuable resource. The structure of the book, which begins with the historic church views moving to modern views and then concluding with sections regarding the Bible’s teaching, is easily followed and can be quickly referenced.

Weaknesses

The book is high on doctrinal truth. It is weak on pastoral care for those who are dealing with homosexual desires. It was not the intent of the authors to write a manual on pastoral care; so, I recognize that my criticism is not entirely fair. I bring it up to say that ministers will want other tools on their bookshelf to go along with this one. Also, this book is not accessible to just anyone. The language is technical and theological. Pastors and teachers will need carefully and respectfully to convey this material to their congregation or class. The book is ideal for a seminary class or college level class on the subject of Christian ethics.

Analysis

This book contains nothing new, and that is precisely the point that the authors want to make. Through the centuries, the church has had one authoritative voice on the issue of homosexuality. I am most qualified to analyze this book from a missiological perspective. New teachings regarding the acceptability of homosexual behavior are what missiologists call local theologies. They are developed to answer questions that arise in a particular culture. In this case, the culture is our own, and the theology is that homosexual behavior in a committed relationship is biblically acceptable. Fortson and Grams say “no” to that conclusion.

Fortson and Grams bring the local theology that homosexual behavior is acceptable into dialogue with the rest of the church’s teaching. Many proponents of accepting same-sex marriage argue that evangelicals no longer have a universal view on the subject, and therefore, freedom exists for evangelical churches to sanction same-sex marriage. However, Fortson and Grams demonstrate that they assume too much.

The fact that disagreement exists does not make all views equal and warranted. Missiologists and theologians have devised various dialogical methods for analyzing local theologies for the purpose of determining if a local theology is worthy of either universal acceptance or, at the very least, toleration. Part of that dialogue includes not only the witness of Scripture but also the historical teaching of the church. Fortson and Gram initiate the conversation using both history and the Bible. They find the case for same-sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality to be wanting. This book is one of the most important recent books on this subject.

(I received a free copy of this book from B&H Academic in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)