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.)

Independent Author Spotlight: Jason E. Royle’s The Rapture Misunderstood

Jason E. Royle is pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. In The Rapture Misunderstood, Royle addresses the subject of the Rapture. For readers not familiar with the term and theological debates, the Rapture refers to a moment toward the end of time when Jesus will appear in the heavens, and those who believe in Him who have died will be raised followed by those who are alive and believe in Him. They will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. From there, and even before there, exists lots of disagreement among Christians. Royle’s book deals with themes of eschatology that go far beyond just the Rapture.

Summary

In his introduction, Royle states that he will not definitively answer all the questions. He keeps his promise, and that is a good thing. He divides the book into two parts. The first part is a short story illustrating misunderstandings regarding the rapture. (It seemed that there were a lot of other misunderstandings at work as well.) The second part is a brief summary of different views of the Eschatology. Royle does not argue for any one position over another.

The short story is a puzzling journey that follows Pastor Bell (I assume that he is no relation to Rob) as he leads his small group of disciples to bring about the end of time. Pastor Bell has good intentions but has a salad of theological beliefs and a buffoonish manner of taking himself too seriously. For some reason, a great deal of fictionalized Catholic mysticism shows up in the story, probably a take-off on Dan Brown and the like. In the end, the point of the story is that the timing of the Rapture is entirely in the Father’s hands. We can’t rush it or make it happen.

The second part of the book summarizes the major eschatological views—Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism, including their beliefs regarding Israel, the Rapture, and the timing of Christ’ return.

Analysis

As I wrote earlier, the short story portion though interesting and page turning is strange in some ways. It is hard to know just what pieces of Pastor Bell’s theology the author would agree and which portions he would not, though I suspect with most, that he would not. The Roman Catholic figures that appear are equally confusing. A monk tries to point Pastor Bell and his followers toward grace, but in the end, leads him toward the Vatican and ritual. While his conclusion is well-said, the getting there was hard to understand, because the story seemed to posit that Pastor Bell’s efforts almost worked.

The summary of the different eschatological positions was excellent. I believe that Royle stated each in a way that proponents of the views would find acceptable. For someone looking for a concise and understandable explanation of each, this book is very useful.

(Full discosure: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Understanding the Temple: A Review of The Temple and the Tabernacle

IMG_0771The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation is an excellent resource for pastors and Bible teachers. J. Daniel Hayes, a dean of the School of Christian Studies at Ouachita Baptist University, is the author. I will not make my usual list of strengths and weaknesses simply because there were no weaknesses evident. Instead, I will share what I liked about the book and why I think it is important to read.
What I Liked
Despite having dealt with such a magisterial topic, Hayes is surprisingly brief. If you have read my other reviews, you know that I am not a fan of long books. Brevity is a sign of excellent organization and clarity of language. Hayes’ writing is a model for those who, like me, are trying to master the craft. The book is easily assessable to most readers who are familiar with the Bible beyond a cursory understanding.IMG_0772
The structure of the book follows a chronological narrative of the temple as representing God’s presence with His people. While some may object to seeing the Scripture as a story because they think it is a capitulation to post-modernism, the fact of it is clearly evident. Many themes and images serve to unite the narrative of the Bible—the temple being one. Like all of those, the consummation of the imagery is found in Jesus who is God’s presence with His people and will be for eternity. The book includes photographs and diagrams that are helpful for picturing the physical elements of the tabernacle. The final chapter with implications of the truth discussed in the book is worth the price but read the rest of it so you can see how the author got there.
Who Can Use This Book
Though accessible and readable, the book is not for everyone. Some familiarity with the Bible, particularly the connections between the Old and New Testament would be helpful. This book is an excellent reference for Bible teachers, Sunday-School teachers, and pastors.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

 

 

Review of Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History

IntroductionbyCooperRecently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.

Strengths

The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.

The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.

Weaknesses

If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.

Conclusion

For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.

Strengths

I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).

Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.

Weaknesses

If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.

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

When My Heart And His Word Disagree

This morning I studied Psalm 57. Psalm 57:7 in the English Standard Version reads:

My heart is steadfast, O God,
My heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Those words struck hard. My heart is not steadfast. I doubt. I worry. I despair. Like the words of the hymn, “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

How can a heart be steadfast? David had every reason to feel as I did this morning when he wrote this Psalm. In fact, he had more reason. He, the man anointed to become king, was hiding in a cave from jealous King Saul. David likely wrote this Psalm around the events of either 1 Samuel 22:1 or 1 Samuel 24. God anointed David for kingship, but instead, David was hiding like a criminal. The quickest way out was to compromise his beliefs and to kill God’s anointed King. He would not do so. Despite his circumstances, his heart was steadfast. How could that be? A few other verses point us toward understanding.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness. (vv. 2-3)

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (v. 10)

David’s heart was steadfast because of his faith in the steadfastness of God. God would be faithful to fulfill His promise, His purpose for David’s life. David trusted in God’s constant love and perfect, unchanging nature. David had faith because even hiding in a dark cave he could see the light of God’s faithfulness. When I was younger, I used to have a poster hanging above my bed. It was a picture of a tall mountain with words written above, “Our faith does not rest in our feelings: it rests in the unshakeable character of God.”

Steadfast hearts do not come from willpower or training. They come from resting in God and His unchanging love.

 

 

Are Voters Ready to Ask the Question?

Ask The Question by Stephen Mansfield challenges voters and the media to take the religion of presidential candidates seriously. He encourages citizens to dare ask how the religious beliefs of candidates shape them as individuals and how those spiritual ideas shape their policy position. Mansfield is the author of other books dealing with politics and presidents: The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. In this book, Mansfield deals with the faith of past presidents, past candidates, and a potential president. He gives examples of how faith shapes each person.

Mansfield deals with a variety of religious positions ranging from conservative evangelical to progressive mainstream. Mansfield treats each one with respect and objectivity. He assumes religious sincerity on the part of each candidate. Thus, he models the point that he is trying to make. Reporters and voters tend to believe statements of faith by candidates are political posturing. Such assumptions particularly happen when the candidate holds views that the reporter or voter finds distasteful. Some conservatives carry the assumption that all liberals are godless and discount the sincerity of their faith. Some liberals still assume that evangelicals are uneducated and easily manipulated leading them to believe that conservative candidates use religious rhetoric for purely political purposes.

Another key point that Mansfield is our postmodern era makes the question of religion more important rather than less important. He points to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as past examples of “nones.” Mansfield both would have been considered as such because they were not members of an organized religious group. Both had strong religious and spiritual understandings. Postmodernism makes labels meaningless today. One must not just know a candidate is Baptist or Roman Catholic. One must understand the full spiritual foundation of the candidate and how it influences their policy decisions.

This book is an important one to read. Hopefully, more voters and reporters will take the book’s advice and ask the question.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)