What exactly is the Gospel? What exactly is evangelism? Whose job is evangelism? How should we evangelize? Why should we evangelize? Why don't we evangelize?
According to Mark Dever, the Gospel is such good news that Christians actually ought to share it. Of course, this idea is found in the Bible itself. This should be no surprise to us. Yet, it seems we find many excuses and reasons to neglect evangelism. At the seminary I'm taking courses through, we are required to take a course on personal evangelism. Doesn't it seem a bit odd that we are required to witness to people? Could that be because evangelism is done so little by many of us and that we also have difficulty knowing what kind of approach to take? Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., and founder of 9Marks Ministries. His book is a welcome help to those of us who struggle with personal evangelism and who would like to make it a regular lifestyle. In seven short chapters, he labors to present an accurate understanding of the Gospel, to press upon us the obligation of Christians to evangelize, and to equip us with practical ideas to help us obey faithfully with joy.
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a short book filled with Biblical foundations for and vivid illustrations of personal evangelism. Dever often writes from his own experience. Early in the book, he disarms us of some anti-evangelistic weapons we might be tempted to employ: excuses, many of which stem from selfishness, apathy, and fear of man. Dever does not neglect the relevant and controversial matter of the doctrine of God's sovereignty for evangelism. He is straightforward and to the point: "It was Paul who wrote one of the clearest biblical passages about God's sovereignty (Romans 9) and then went on to write one of the most pointed biblical passages about man's responsibility" (p. 28). God's sovereignty is actually an encouragement to evangelize and should never be used as an excuse to neglect this duty. Dever clarifies what the Gospel is and isn't. While the Gospel is not simply the idea that God is love, that Jesus wants to be our friend, nor the idea that we’re all okay, it is:
[T]he good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ's sacrifice and that God's wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.(p. 43)
All Christians are called to share the Gospel. The local church should be viewed as having an important role in evangelism. Principles and methods of evangelism are shared in chapter four, while chapter five details what evangelism isn't, reminding us that personal testimony, social and political activism, apologetics, and the results of evangelism should never be confused with evangelism. Nor should imposition be confused with evangelism, as declaring the objective truth of God and the repentance and faith that He requires of all people is not the same as imposing our own ideas and opinions on someone else.
Dever discusses the types of responses to the Gospel (negative and positive), how we should view them, and how we should handle them. The book gives us reasons and encouragements to evangelize, including obedience to God and love for Him and others. The conclusion deals with the issue of "closing the sale," pointing out bad evangelistic assumptions that tend toward making false converts and encouraging us that if we have shared the Gospel clearly, we have faithfully evangelized, regardless of the person's response.
A brief annotated bibliography and a word to pastors rounds out the book, giving suggestions for further resources and practices to be faithful evangelists.
This book is short, simple, convicting, encouraging, and useful. It can be read in one sitting of a couple of hours. Dever communicates clearly with simple language and helpful illustrations, making for an easy and interesting read. The book should shock us out of our apathy, selfishness, and lack of love, but it should also provide encouragement in the joyful obedience of spreading the Gospel.
This book is useful for any Christian, but busy pastors and seminarians should especially take it to heart. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism would be an excellent resource to make available in a local church, and would be a helpful book for a study in a church setting or in personal discipleship. The practical suggestions, such as frequenting businesses to build relationships and intentionally provoking people to think about spiritual things, are quite clear and helpful.
Mark Dever leaves us with no excuse for neglecting evangelism, while encouraging us to be proactive, honest, urgent, and joyful in the spreading of this good news of Christ, the Gospel. Thank you, C. J. Mahaney, for encouraging Mark to write this book, and thank you Mark for writing it. May it bear much fruit for the sake of the Gospel.
This review first appeared at Said at Southern. A couple of other opinions to check out are Jesse Johnson’s review on the Pulpit Magazine blog and Jason Button's preliminary thoughts (I will post a link to his full review when it appears). I have posted a list of related resources here.