There is an epidemic within many evangelical churches. We have relegated evangelism to the level of programs. Many church members look at their local body and think, “we are doing evangelism-we have a children’s ministry, VBS, special events, and even may go door-to-door.” This is a terrible confusion of terms and focus. Evangelism is not a program, it is a process. It is the means whereby our local bodies engage the lost with the gospel. Programs may serve as a portal to gospel encounters, but they must never take the place of personal witness and individual gospel proclamation. The explanation of this is the task taken up by J. Mack Stiles in his book Evangelism (2014, Crossway).
The first thing I noticed about this book was the list of endorsers in the front. When D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, Kevin Deyoung, J.D. Greear, Mark Dever and a host of others are willing to write glowing endorsements of your book, you have written something worth reading. The second thing I noticed was the length. The book is 126 pages total (that includes notes and indexes). So, it is a well-endorsed book that is also short and readable, and is part of the generally solid 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series of books.
The book itself is divided into five chapters. It opens with a personal forward by David Platt, who knows the author and his heart for the lost. The Introduction gives a very short overview of the main concepts of the book. Chapter one is entitled “Of Altar Calls and Laser Lights.” Stiles lays great groundwork by sharing his own conversion experience, along with some of the “rabbit trails” evangelistic efforts have taken over the years. He gives a basic definition of evangelism, “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (26). He spends the rest of the chapter fleshing out that definition. Evangelism involves verbal communication, it involves actually having a grasp of the gospel and it involves having the specific aim of persuading people of their need for the gospel.
Chapter two delves into “A Culture of Evangelism.” He clearly shows the difference between putting on an evangelistic program and actually creating a culture of evangelism within the church. This chapter is hugely helpful for the modern church and the author’s emphasis on evangelism as a group project helps the reader understand that within a healthy community of faith, evangelism is never a solo endeavor. Chapter three deals with the church itself and a culture of evangelism. If churches are going to be evangelistic, they need to be healthy. Chapter four hits another nail on the head by addressing the idea of being intentional in evangelism. The fate of souls does not call for a passive mission. There must be active steps taken by people within the body to actually go reach the lost. Finally, Stiles gives some practical advice on actually sharing your faith.
Overall, this is a great book. The author is an evangelist (in the biblical sense) himself, and his passion bleeds from the pages. The book was challenging to my own heart, but was simple enough that I bought copies for every member of our church. This book is NOT a “how-to” plan for evangelism, but if you are looking for a great little book on how the church should view and participate in the Great Commission, you cannot go wrong with this volume.