You suck at Evangelism. (A book review)

Our Last Great Hope I have a confession to make. I am as bad at evangelism as you are. I simply don’t share my faith as much as I should. There are reasons (maybe excuses?). I was raised in a Christian culture that put a high premium on proseltyzing, but often this happened in ways which were formulaic and insensitive. The fact that I don’t share my faith is maybe even worse than the fact that you don’t share yours because I am a trained minister of the gospel. So when I read books about evangelism I do so with trepidation and feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt (there is more going on me beside the conviction of the Holy Ghost!).

Author and mega church pastor Ronnie Floyd is sold out on the importance of Evangelism. As someone who has dedicated himself to the study and practice of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)and chair of the Southern Baptist Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce he is passionate about getting other Christians to actively engage in sharing their faith. He wants to see churches and individual Christians activate their resources toward this end. This isn’t a book which coaches you to get over your feelings of anxiety about Evangelism; instead Floyd wants you to feel the urgency and do it.

Ultimately I didn’t love this book and actually can think of much better books on this topic. But Floyd makes some important points. In his first chapter he gives you ‘three tough questions’ to ask yourself about why you are not evangelizing: (1)Do I know Jesus intimately? (2) Do I love Jesus passionately? (3) Do I share him constantly? These three questions diagnose our spiritual condition and help us name our connection to Jesus. The point is that if we are going to engage effectively in Great Commission work, it will be out of the outflow of our relationship with Jesus and not merely out of a sense of obligation.

But Floyd also wants you to feel the urgency of fulfilling the great commission. Taking a position of Christocentric exclusivism, that is only those who have explicitly made Jesus savior and Lord will be saved, he argues that only 11% are truly Christian, 38% of the world population have heard the gospel and rejected it and the rest haven’t heard. Whether or not you completely buy Floyd’s stats(I have my doubts) or theology it is clear that the church is not doing a stupendous job of making disciples of all nations.

Floyd also makes wide ranging suggestions about how to evangelize in both personal and programmatic ways. He urges parents to evangelize and make disciples out of their children, Christians to build significant relationships with non-Christians, churches to invest in world missions, use of technology in evangelism, increased financial commitment through Christians (actually) tithing and church planting to reach different ‘people groups,’ ‘cultural clusters’ and ‘community distinctives.’ Personally I disagree with some of his strategies. For example, he suggests adoption from the third world as a way to evangelize the nations, but seems in-cognizant of the complex justice issues wrapped up in world adoptions. Also his model of church planting seems a little too ‘homogeneous unit principle’ for me (if you want to reach people from the Marshall islands, plant a Marshallese church; Plant churches to reach cowboys, etc). But Floyd seems more passionate about evangelism than his particular suggestions, he just wants Christians to be actively engaged in making disciples of all nations.

What I found most problematic about Floyd’s approach is that he continually seems to make evangelism and discipleship about people’s eternal destiny and has little to say here about the in-breaking of the Kingdom now. Jesus came to save you not just your soul and salvation needs to be understood in broader terms than just the realm of heaven and hell. The gospel is good news to people because in Christ we are reconciled to God and one another and we get to experience that STARTING NOW. Why would a book on the Great Commission only focus on conversions and eternal destiny? The Great Commission is also about a lifestyle of following Jesus in discipleship, obeying all he commands, and experiencing his presence all through this age until the age to come. In other words the Great Commission involves inviting people in to a whole new way of existence. I think an exploration of the Great Commission should be much more compelling than what Floyd does here! It is Greater!

Also the title of this book bugs me. What is the last great hope that Floyd speaks of? His answer comes in the last paragraph of his book:

Awakening the Great Commission is our last great hope. Positive and personal response is garaunteed from every tribe and language and people and nation. May we seize this special moment, tune our voice to sing His praise, advance into feilds which are ready for the harvest, and expand God’s glory globally with the song of victory on our toungues.

As inspiring as this paragraph is, our last great hope is not our evangelistic efforts. Our last great hope is Jesus. When we make the ‘Great Commission’ our hope and not the Commissioner, we emphasize our own actions and participation and not who Jesus is and all that he has done and does on our behalf. It makes our last great hope, us. So while I agree that Christians should evangelize and that personally I need to evangelize more than I do I live in the hope of Christ who calls all people unto himself.

While I started this review with words expressing my feelings of guilt about how I fail at Evangelism, I want to close this post on a different note. Recently in my personal prayer time, the Holy Spirit impressed on me Paul’s words from Romans 1, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Normally when I think of this scripture and others like it I think, “I don’t evangelize enough. I am ashamed of the gospel.” In my prayer time and reflection on this verse I felt led to ‘own’ this verse in a new way. This wasn’t simply Paul saying to the Roman Christians he was not ashamed, as prayed the Spirit led me to declare these words for myself: I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation… And you know what? I am not ashamed! I have staked my life on the gospel and am grateful for all Christ has accomplished on my behalf. My job is to live into this confidence and share it with others. Can I do it better and more faithfully? Yep, and I walk this journey confident in the God who saved me. May you go and do likewise!

I received a review copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for this review.

4 thoughts on “You suck at Evangelism. (A book review)

  1. Nice honest review. I can see how average people could be intimidated by the efforts of those who follow through on their commitment to evangelism. It’s pretty easy to think about the basics of life as opposed to eternity on a daily basis.

    My heart goes out for those who desire to evangelize and feel guilty for not doing what they think they need to be doing. Not all of us are bold to the point of sharing our faith everywhere we go.

    I honestly think churches should start offering classes on how to use social media to evangelize. That would at least level the playing field for those who are not as bold sharing their faith.

    Thanks for the review. You seem to be in touch with congregants who want to evangelize but somehow feel bewildered and baffled by the guilt seemingly heaped upon them.

    Ced Reynolds, Entrepreneurial Pastor
    http://twitter.com/CedReynolds

    • Pastor Ced,

      I agree up to a point. I use social media to promote and share the things I care about or am interested in and so it is only natural for me to talk about Jesus and his importance in my life as I seek to live and serve him. I think if Christians who use social media do this, they are sharing good news with their friends (and beyond). However, I hope as you probably do, that this is also what we do with our lives as friends and neighbors see us and the choices we make, we are able to give reason to the hope that is within us. Obviously we don’t all have to have the ‘gift of evangelism’ or be ‘super-evangelists’ but I think evangelism comes from the overflow of our relationship with Christ.

      I am concerned about evangelistic ‘techniques’ that don’t flow out of our relationship with God. If we use social media as a tool, but are not actively engaged in and living a transformed life in Christ our efforts come across as inauthentic. I believe in Jesus and trust him with my life, and some evangelistic presentations turn me off because while I affirm the truth claims, they don’t ring true to me. I want Christians to evangelize more but techniques, methods and mediums seem secondary considerations for me. If you have Life, you can’t help but share it!

  2. Great points, James. You might also enjoy John Dickson’s book, “The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission” (http://amzn.com/B003JMF3IK), which talks about a wholistic approach to evangelism. It’s previous title was “Promoting the Gospel”, emphasising that we as a Christian community can promote it, and leave the specific aspect of evangelism to those in the Body best equipped for it. He then gives practical ways we can do that promotion. I’ve found it a very Church-as-Body-of-Christ approach to the whole thing. Oh, and Dickson himself is actually an evangelist, so it’s refreshing to hear one of them that isn’t trying to make us ALL evangelists too! 🙂

    • Thanks for the recommendation Matt! As you know, I am all about the missional, communal Church-as-Body-of-Christ approach. Although I also am concerned that people use the ‘I’m not an evangelist’ excuse (which I don’t think you are doing). I believe that if the gospel is good news for you and me, that it has to come out somewhere! As I have grown in my life-with-Christ and have come to deeper theological understanding I can’t help sharing that. I guess I would say, I am not an Evangelist in the revivalist tradition (like our beloved Billy) but I still want to be an evangelist in the relational sense of something has changed my life and I want it to change yours too sort of way.

      But I love the Body-of-Christ approach because sometimes I think we conceive of evangelism only in a individualistic super Christian sort of way, which is great if you happen to be a super Christian evangelist but not if you happen to be me.

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