Mark Dever, pastor of the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism has provided a fresh reminder of the fundamental and crucial realities that come with evangelism. While no evangelical will (or should) deny the necessity, importance, and priority of evangelism, most of these same Christians lack honesty and/or knowledge when it comes to sharing their faith. Many Christians struggle to admit their failure to evangelize and there are not nearly enough conversations about how to begin evangelizing and what that evangelism should look like.
In a very brief and highly readable book where Dever dives into the most crucial elements of personal evangelism, there were a few themes that really spoke to and affected me. Dever addresses a plethora of concerns in evangelism by asking seven crucial 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?
Dever soundly and soberly answers each of these questions by keeping the gospel central and the mission of God over the methods of man as the most important concern. I was most directly impacted by two of these discussions: “Why Don’t We Evangelize?” and “What Isn’t Evangelism?”
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
In chapter one, Dever is representatively transparent and honest for all Christians by offering up five basic excuses Christians give for not evangelizing. I can personally identify with the fourth excuse—“Other things seem more urgent” (21). Admittedly, I am hesitant and embarrassed to even confess this, but I was highly convicted by Dever’s words. I find that there are many other things in my life that take priority over evangelism. I can’t go outside and ask my neighbor who comes home for lunch every single day if he would like to eat with me because I am usually working on a paper or project for my blog. I excuse myself from evangelistic opportunities with him because I “don’t have time.” The truth is, I don’t manage time well enough. Evangelism has not been a high enough priority to sacrifice time in other ventures. For example, do I really have to mow our lawn at exactly the same time that I could have gospel conversations with my neighbor? Do I have to bury my face in a book when someone sits close to me at Starbucks?
This thought from Dever especially convicted me: “But do our other commitments sometimes become so numerous—or do we interpret them so—as to leave no time for evangelism? If we are too busy for that, what things are we managing to make time for?” After reading this section, I have begun to actively pray that God remove this kind of thinking from my mind and break my heart for the lost around me, so much so that I will not have time for other things because of evangelism.
Is a Personal Testimony Evangelism?
A second theme that specifically spoke to me came from Dever’s chapter on those things that often are credited as evangelism, but in reality are not. I felt this was Dever’s most important chapter as many church leaders and Christians in general are confused as to what evangelism actually is. A good way to begin defining evangelism is understanding those things we do that are right and good in and of themselves, but are by no means evangelism. Dever mentions five things that he considers to not be evangelism. Among these, he discusses a Christian’s personal testimony. Many people in my local church consider their personal testimony to be evangelism. They teach one another and especially the children and youth that to share the gospel is to share “your story.” This is a common phrase around my church that even my pastor uses from time to time. If you want to share the gospel, the thing to do is to simply share your story.
The testimony of where you were before repentance and faith and where you are now because of the grace of God in Christ is a wonderful thing, but it inherently only describes the results of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. Dever puts it this way, “An account of a changed life is wonderful and inspiring thing, but it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that explains what it’s all about and how it happened. And it’s the gospel that turns sharing a testimony into evangelism.” This has not only affected the way I share my own testimony, but it has affected the way I encourage others to do the same. The actual content of the gospel, not the result, should ooze from our testimonies. When this is done, we take an encouraging story about us and turn it into the proclamation about the greatest story of them all—the story of God’s redemption of sinners through Jesus.
Gospel-Centrality in Evangelism
The strongest aspect of The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is its gospel-centrality. In approaching a spiritual discipline like evangelism, there can be a tendency to provide pragmatic lists or programs to help introverts speak boldly and extroverts speak wisely with their non-Christian friends. But where many of us seek methods, Dever provides us with the biblical mission. The point is made throughout the book; without the gospel, evangelism is impossible. The infamous quote, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary” is totally debunked in this work. Dever is adamant: words are always necessary in evangelism and our words must be coated with the gospel and we must explicitly make the good news known.
If you are lackadaisical in your evangelism or confused about how to evangelize, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is the perfect book for you. Mark Dever tactfully and honestly walks readers through the personal challenges we face in evangelism, the gospel that grounds evangelism, and many tangible ways that we can actually do the one thing we all claim to do, but hardly ever actually do. Whether you are a Christian who has a desire to begin evangelizing or if you are very comfortable and even gifted in evangelism, you will benefit from Dever’s logic and biblical confidence he employs in his exploration of Christian evangelism. No matter what aspect of evangelism you are unsure or confused about, Dever has provided a useful aid as you seek to reach the lost around you with gospel of Jesus.