This is part 2 of 4 in a series that I’m writing on Evangelism. Mark Dever is the pastor at Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and also serves as the executive director of 9Marks.
Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007), 124 pages
If you were clinging to a piece of wood in the freezing waters of the Atlantic shortly after the cruise liner you were on (the Titanic) just sank, would you have been shouting into the darkness, “Man, are you saved?” at someone floating close by? So were the final moments of John Harper’s life, remembered and retold by the man whom he was shouting to. He finishes, “Then losing his hold on the wood, [Harper] sank. And there, alone in the night with two miles of water under me, I trusted Christ as my savior. I am John Harper’s last convert.”
Why don’t we evangelize? Dever asks the probing question then turns to address barriers that stand in the way of our evangelism. Generally it’s because we’ve come up with too many excuses. We have even made up excuses on behalf of the non-believer. We tell ourselves “They probably already know the gospel”, “It probably won’t work, I doubt they’ll believe.” Isn’t it a good thing it isn’t up to us to save people! Dever then lays out a few suggestions for us as a way to be intentional about removing these excuses. The better prepared we are through planning, prayer, loving people, and a few others the more faithful we will be to evangelize. “Out of the overflow of the heart our mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). All our excuses will be forgotten in light of our love for God.
Once the barriers are removed, Dever turns his focus to the foundation of evangelism. What exactly is this good news that we want to share? He defines the evangel (the good news) by dispelling a few ideas prevalent in today’s culture. Ultimately these ideas in themselves aren’t bad, but as Dever warns, problems arise when these ideas are used as sole explanations of the gospel. They distort the true message. They become one-sided and do not teach the whole character of God.
We then look at the “Who’s” and “How’s” of evangelism. This section should be challenging for any Christian who doesn’t think they need to be involved in evangelism, or for those who don’t think they are “gifted” in that area. Dever also gives some practical suggestions in this part of the book that will encourage you while you are actually sharing with someone.
Continuing to define the message, we’re told about the confusion in our culture regarding evangelism. There are certain activities that have become synonymous with evangelism, when in fact they aren’t. Dever takes a look at a few of these and talks about why they can’t be considered evangelism, and how this has hurt sharing the gospel.
Evangelism evokes many responses and here again Dever takes a good practical look at typical responses, what they mean, and how we can handle them.
In closing, Why Should We Evangelize? The final question, which is really asking what is the ultimate goal in evangelism and what is our motivation? We can have wrong motivations for evangelizing. The Bible is filled with good news, and Jesus commands us to share this good news. This pleases God when we speak of his glory to others. Dever ends with a few practical encouragements for us, then this challenge:
“We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not subsequently converted; we fail only if we do not faithfully tell the gospel at all.”
This book is a good read. I think one of its strength is clearly defining what the gospel is (and isn’t) against many false claims and practices that are rampant in today’s culture. As always Dever’s arguments are grounded in the Scriptures. We first see the example in the Word of God, and then how it applies to the specific point. I recommend this book as an encouragement to those who want to grow in evangelism, and for those who are just beginning to ask questions about what exactly evangelism is.
I also hope this book raises that question for those who have yet to ask it.