Book Review - Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles
Few words give rise to more fear and trepidation among Christian as the word evangelism. Fear of sharing one’s faith, or fear of making an unattractive gospel presentation, is common in churches. The irony of a word associated with “good news” eliciting so much angst makes one wonder if we have veered off the track somewhere. Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus addresses the topic of evangelism and its author, J. Mack Stiles, clearly understands the problematic nature of this topic and the need for clear, biblical teaching on it.
The overarching purpose of this book is hinted at when one consider the series it is a part of: the Crossway Books published 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series. Evangelism is a book that addresses the need for biblical evangelism as an integral component of a healthy church.
More specifically, Stiles writes about “biblical evangelism” (17), and “more than that, [the book is] also about developing a culture of evangelism” (18). The author is concerned about teaching the reader what biblical evangelism is and he believes that it includes implementing and encouraging a culture of evangelism within the church. Stiles further expounds on this issue with teaching on healthy evangelistic platforms as well as “basic principles that shape the actual practice of sharing our faith” (19).
Chapter one concerns itself with important definitions of evangelism, the gospel, and biblical conversion. These definitions provide the foundation for the rest of the author’s discussion of this topic. Evangelism, “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (26), is thoroughly explained. Teaching the gospel–“the joyful message from God that leads to salvation” (33)–is the means of evangelism. And, the goal is biblical conversion which occurs when we “repent, place genuine faith in Jesus, and walk with him” (38).
Chapter two’s content is made obvious with its title: A Culture of Evangelism. Stiles initiates this discussion with a polemic against both programmatic evangelism and pragmatic evangelism. The antidote for these unbiblical methods of sharing the faith is an approach that the author sees as “communal and personal: a culture of evangelism” (47). In the chapter we read that a culture of evangelism, though hard to succinctly and exhaustively define, is a culture that: is motivated by love for Jesus and his gospel (48), is confident in the gospel (49), understands the danger of entertainment (50), sees people clearly (51), pulls together as one (53), has people teaching one another (53), models evangelism (55), celebrates when people share their faith (56), knows how to affirm and celebrate new life (57), does ministry even when it is risky and dangerous (58), and understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism (60).
The importance of the church as God’s plan for evangelism is the sole concern of chapter three. Stiles seeks clarity for the reader by defining the church and arguing that the church is “God’s great plan for evangelism” (100) and the way we can best implement God’s great plan is by developing and nurturing a culture of evangelism in Christ’s body. In fact, Stiles argues that all churches have a culture of evangelism and that the difference from church to church is in the health of that culture. This chapter deals with evangelism at the corporate level.
Chapter four considers the individual Christian within a healthy culture of evangelism. Stiles indicates that believers must be “intentional evangelists” (79) with the context of a church’s evangelistic culture. Stiles elucidates how individual Christians become intentional evangelists: by preparing our hearts, mind, and feet (84); by understanding a gospel-shaped way of life (88); by slaying our assumptions (90); by perceiving evangelism as a discipline (94); by praying (96); by giving leadership in evangelism (97).
Finally, in chapter five Stiles addresses the actual sharing of our faith. The author purports the best instructions we receive on sharing our faith come through the New Testaments illustration of Christians as ambassadors. Stiles indicates the significance of conversations and displays what these might look like. He instructs that an ambassador must be bold, clear, and deliver the message while trusting Christ for the response. Stiles finishes with a call for ambassadors to not lose heart.
On a practical level, I found Stiles’ book edifying, enriching, and encouraging with both myself and the church in mind. His faith-filled optimism and clear biblical teaching is both informative at the head level and motivating at the heart level. His practical wisdom won from real-life experiences was also helpful.
I have noticed a greater awareness in my life for opportunities to share the gospel and find myself less apprehensive than I once was. For those two reasons alone I am thankful for this book. This book is an easy-to-read and hard-to-put-down volume on evangelism that will benefit both leaders and members of churches.