Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a quick, concise overview of evangelism and how it relates to the gospel (hint: the two cannot be separated). It is not exhaustive in its approach, but tailored to answer specific questions on how one should share the good news of Jesus Christ, and why some of us aren’t sharing it. It is meant to quickly equip Christians in this area, so they can go out and start doing it.
I picked up this book because I have been very curious about evangelism, and I want practical advice on how to grow in it. And that is really Dever’s purpose in writing it-that Christians would be more faithful to share the gospel, and that there would be a “culture of evangelism” (p. 17) within the church. If you want a practical guide to basic evangelism, read this book. It is well worth it.
The book is divided into chapters addressing specific questions: Why don’t we evangelize? What is the gospel? Who should evangelize? How should we evangelize? What isn’t evangelism? What should we do after we evangelize? Why should we evangelize? He articulates and answers common questions about evangelism, dispelling some of the misconceptions that Christians have. He brings truth to some of the lies that Christians believe and the excuses that they make.
I’m reminded of a passage from a book about the life of missionary Gladys Aylward. A Chinese general, newly converted, asks her if he must now tell his men about Jesus Christ. She replies, “If you want to be a real Christian, yes.” Dever’s book tells you how, but you must first make the connection.
If you are saved by Jesus Christ, you have been given a very precious thing. Why wouldn’t you want to share this with others? Dever writes, “If you desire to love God with perfect affection, you will desire that for your neighbor, too. But 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” (p. 49).
So why don’t we evangelize? This book exposes many of the common excuses that Christians use, some of which may even be legit: I don’t know the language, evangelism is illegal, evangelism could cause problems at work, other things seem more urgent, I don’t know any non-Christians. He then lists 12 steps on how to stop not evangelizing. There are more excuses that he could have added to the list, but the steps he gives are helpful for anyone. The steps may challenge your comfort level, but you’re probably not reading this book because you think evangelism is easy.
One of the most helpful insights from this book was defining what evangelism is in order to know what it is not. Evangelism comes from the Greek word evangel which literally means “good news” (p. 32). We cannot do evangelism unless we are sharing this good news-evangelism always involves proclamation of the gospel. So that means inviting people to church is not evangelism, your personal testimony is not evangelism, and neither is social justice. Those things are helpful and good, and can be the means by which people become acquainted with the gospel, but it is not the gospel message itself.
In order for it to be evangelism, the whole gospel must be proclaimed: people are sinners, cut off from a holy God, but through Jesus Christ took the punishment we deserved, bringing us back into relationship with God (in a nutshell).
What this means for me is that I’ve very rarely evangelized in its truest sense, which is sobering to say the least.
This book also makes a distinction between the results of evangelism and evangelism itself (p.78-82), and it warns about the implications and problems that arise when we see them as one and the same. People need not be saved for you to be faithful and obedient in this. We pray that they do, and it is our great joy to see people embrace Jesus Christ (and be embraced by him), but conversions should not be the standard by which we measure whether or not evangelism is happening. Sometimes we cannot see the results of our efforts in a short period of time, and maybe never. On page 79 Dever says, “Making this error distorts well-meaning churches into pragmatic, results-oriented businesses. It also cripples individual Christians with a sense of failure, aversion, and guilt.” As another book puts it (p. 80),
“Evangelism is not persuading people to make a decision, it is not proving that God exists, or making out a good case for the truth of Christianity; it is not inviting someone to a meeting; it is not exposing the contemporary dilemma, or arousing interest in Christianity; it is not wearing a badge saying ‘Jesus Saves’! Some of these things may be right and good in their place, but none of them should be confused with evangelism. To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what he has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent, and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It really takes the pressure off, huh? It is not our job to save people, nor has it ever been anyone’s job. It is God alone who saves. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Praise God for that. My job is to simply tell people what God has done through Jesus Christ, and to walk with those who are working through it. As Dever puts it, “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” (p. 82).
Let’s be faithful in this, Christians. The world needs good news.
Resources on Evangelism: