Jesus the Evangelist – Richard Phillips

21 01 2009

I’ve been exposed to many different church environments and views on evangelism in my time. Those who claimed to be reformed Christians are often accused of being fatalists and lax on evangelism. So I was interested to see a reformed take on the subject. If there was one area of my Christian walk I would like to develop more, Evangelism would be it. Personally I see a great need out there, but lack the confidence of how to go about it effectively. I hoped this book would go someway to helping me.

The book is based on a series of expository sermons on three chapters of the Gospel of John (1, 3, and 4). Part one covers Biblical principles of evangelism. Part two the Theology of the Gospel and Part three covers Jesus’ practice of evangelism. At the end of each chapter there are questions for discussion which would suit a small group environment. What I found immediately appealing about the book was its tireless focus on scripture over and above techniques of persuasion.

We are always glorifying people, the world is full of it, and the Christian is meant to be praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ” (page 13)” John was a witness to the saviour, not a saviour himself” (page 23) How often do we forget that we are not the ones who have to save people. That is God’s responsibility. We are the ones who proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ to the world. Through that the Spirit moves and convicts the hearts of people. Further echoed here “When you meet someone whose life needs to be straightened out, who needs to find hope, meaning, or peace, do youremember that you cannot ultimately provide these things?” (page 24) We must point people to the person who will ultimately fufill humanities greatest need.

I liked what he said here “…it is less important that we debate the issues than that we tell them about Jesus. Teachings that are outrageous to the worldly mind are made clear and lovely in the light of who Jesus is and what He has done.“(page 25) But then he followed it up with “For example, secular people today are incensed at the idea that Jesus is the only Savior. But that attitude changes when they realize that the one true and holy God sent His own Son to make a way for our salvation at the cost of His blood!” (page 25) He’s got it right that people are asking those questions today but his answer is not apologetically satisfying. It would have been helpful to have a good answer to these questions or what to probe for to understand what the real objection is. He consistenly reminds us that the point is to turn people to Jesus “…our witness must always have this aim: not to win arguments, not to present an interesting philosophy or a helpful lifestyle, but to bring people to Jesus.” (page 54)

Chapter 4 opens with a story of a not so well educated monk who converted a priest in the confession booth. I thought that was a brilliant and very spirit inspired tactic. It reminded me to be on my guard for opportunities and to listen to the Spirit’s promptings. The chapter then goes on to give some practical advice for sharing our faith from scriptures. Every church needs a Peter to preach the Gospel message faithfully, but we need leigons of “Andrews” who within 24hrs of becoming a disciple of Jesus had made another (page 50).  People need both the power of the Gospel proclaimed and personal testimonies.

Chapters 5 – 8 helped me understand Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in its historical context. Nicodemus’ opening lines were patronizing and he showed how he relied on his position as a Pharisee for his security. But with one sentence Jesus abolished all he stood for and demanded he be remade by the power of God. (page 61) Nicodemus answer shows us that he tried to invisage ways man can remake himself without relying on the spirit, in effect Jesus said to him “Being born again is not a decision you make. Whoever you are, however you came to Christ, you have been the object of God’s supernatural work on your heart.” (page 65)

But by far the most profound quote is this one:  “Being Christian makes us not less human but more human, and we can connect with people by living authentically in all our weakness, displaying Christ’s power through our faith” (page 115) WOW ! If we could sum up one major area where Christians have got it wrong in the past this would be it. We have thought that evangelism meant hiding our humanity. Sometimes people reject Christ because they do not want to be like us. Thank you John Burke for pointing that out to me.  I am so glad Christians are waking up to the fact that once a human always a human or always a human never a superhuman.

The book is filled with great practical and biblical advice on evangelism. Possibly the best one Reformation trust has published so far. However, What I did find annoying was the false divide between taking action or  preaching the word. We need not separate these two. Of course man’s ultimate need is to be reconciled to God, taken from his rebellion against the creator and lovingly restored by Grace through Faith. But then what? The one who is saved still needs help if he is poor, hungry, or lonely. Separating these two ideas does violence to our witness. Many people reject Christianity for a lack of evidence of change in believers lives. We need to proclaim the word but also need to show that it works in practice. But apart from a few theological niggles here and there this is a great book and one well worth reading. It will set you on a course to tell someone about Jesus.




2 responses

21 01 2009

Sounds like an interesting one.
I’ve always really stuggled with “evangelism” I guess. I mean I’m more than happy to talk about my faith with people. But I’ve been exposed to a number of studies or classes on evangelism, and the way that evangelism is usually described is not something that I’m comfortable with, and I’m often not even sure it’s a good idea.
The idea that we ought to walk up to total strangers and confront their beliefs, hoping to defeat their pagan ways with our superior propositional statements… It all seems far too in your face, far too likely to repel rather than attract, and (though I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time) far too modernist.
It sounds like this book avoids that to a point though, which is refreshing. I especially liked this quote,
“it is less important that we debate the issues than that we tell them about Jesus.”

I don’t know if your familiar with Way of the Master, but if someone used those tactics on me, and I wasn’t a Christian, I can guarantee I wouldn’t be afterwords, and would probably think I better never become one if that is what it looks like.

You know me and social action, and I really resonate with your statement that separating actions and preaching does violence to our witness. I think that we ought to engage in a real dialogue with people (especially people we already know) and treat them as images of God, not targets to get on the converted list, and that we need to live in such a way that people will want to hear about this Jesus person who makes us different (as opposed to the sad reality that all too often people feel like Gandhi who said “I like your Christ but not your Christians”).

22 01 2009

Yeah this was a really good book. Possibly the best one that Reformation Trust have published so far. I share a similar concern with you about the way evangelism has been done in the past. I guess a lot of people are scared off by evangelism because of the negative stereotype you just described. I’m horrified that there are people out there who even attempt or advocate attempting the stereotype. I’ve been a part of a street evangelism team – we did it through service to the community, pumping people’s gas at gas stations for free. We would give people candy and a tract. We even prayed for someone in the middle of the forecourt once. We had limited success, and the group disbanded after the leader had a nervous breakdown and subsequently renounced his Christianity. I’ve also been involved in music groups and summer beach missions. Both were quite successfull, and each time we went out with the intention of serving the community.

Street evangelism is neccessary and good but its not the only way. Relational evangelism is possibly a better way for most Christians. Its how the early Church grew so rapidly. Regular down to earth Christians shared their faith with those in their social circles. Either way I’m happy as Christ is preached regardless. While I may prefer a different method, I’m glad the content has always been centred on Jesus Christ.

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