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The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (9marks) Paperback – September 7, 2007
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"Mark Dever's personal devotion to Scripture has led him to think deeply, read widely, preach clearly, and write simply to the great blessing of the body of Christ. Evangelism is the church's mandate, and the one reason the redeemed are still on earth. Doing it effectively requires doing it biblically. Mark teaches us how to mobilize our churches to do just that."
—John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; President, The Master's University and Seminary
"For most of us, personal evangelism is the reverse of easy, and so it becomes a task we evade. Mark Dever writes to shake us up about this, clearing our heads as to just what evangelizing involves and motivating our hearts to go to it realistically and responsibly. This is a word in season that will surely do a great deal of good."
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"At the heart of this book is a heart for the gospel. Mark Dever encourages, instructs, and challenges us to proclaim the gospel in all its fullness, grace, truth, goodness, and wonder."
—Randy Newman, teaching fellow, C. S. Lewis Institute; author, Questioning Evangelism, Corner Conversations, and Bringing the Gospel Home
"Mark Dever has done every Christian and pastor a tremendous favor. With great humility, Dever helps us to connect the dots of our hopes for seeing people saved with the truth about the gospel and evangelism itself. This little book searches our hearts, corrects our thinking, calls us to faithfulness, and encourages us with practical examples and exhortations."
—Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, D. C.; author, What Is a Healthy Church Member?
About the Author
Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge University) is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and president of 9Marks (9Marks.org). Dever has authored over a dozen books and speaks at conferences nationwide.
C. J. Mahaney is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He has written, edited and contributed to numerous books, including Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology; Don't Waste Your Sports; and Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God. C. J. and his wife, Carolyn, are the parents of three married daughters and one son, and the happy grandparents to twelve grandchildren.
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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.
Mark Dever, senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D. C. and council member on the Gospel Coalition, provides a disarming delivery in an area of Christian living for which many need incitement.
Many do not feel gutsy in the area of evangelism. To excuse faintheartedness, we fetter ourselves from evangelism with excuses like our schedule, relationships, career, and personality. Yet, as Spurgeon puts it evangelism is “the great work of our lives.” So what’s keeping us from doing evangelism? Dever answers this question and many more in the Gospel and Personal Evangelism.
Rather than provide a fully-encompassing review, I’d like to highlight three chapters that notably caught my attention. I will comment on each of these chapters briefly.
But before I do, I’d like to recommend the entire work. I loved this book! I found the Gospel and Personal Evangelism practical and compelling. This book invokes an intrepid affection to faithfully evangelize.
I love how chapter one of the Gospel and Personal Evangelism discusses why we don’t evangelize. Dever delivers this content in an empathetic fashion, as one who knows and owns a sense of failure in this discipline. He says, “But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably not quite so blunt about your failures in evangelism. You’ve altered your mental records.” (19)
And that’s what many of us have done. We’ve given ourselves mulligan after mulligan on the fairways of gospel and evangelism. Our excuses are numerous. But at the heart of the matter, we lack intentionality. At least that is the case for me.
We need to plan to stop not evangelizing. Dever offers twelve steps to bring evangelism back to a prominent role in our life. These steps are: pray, plan, accept, understand, be faithful, risk, prepare, look, love, fear, stop, and consider. I found these steps to be enriching aids for developing a process and system for evangelism.
Chapter one sets a disarming tone for the book. Dever comes alongside fellow pilgrims in order to equip them to thrive as they pilgrimage to God’s celestial city.
Chapter five of the Gospel and Personal Evangelism caught my eye because it saves us from evangelistic-confusion. Having fallen victim to evangelistic-confusion myself, my senses are heightened to this flawed form of evangelism.
In this chapter Dever presents what is not evangelism. He reminds us that evangelism is not an imposition on others. He says, “According to the Bible, evangelism is simply telling the good news. It’s not making sure that the other person responds to it correctly.” (69) This is a comforting clarification.
To be clear about a proper definition of evangelism, Dever distinguishes evangelism from the results of evangelism. He remarks, “Evangelism must not be confused with its fruit.” (78) Don’t miss this point! It is crucial. I say this as one who functioned in evangelistic-confusion for years.
When I read Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, I was rescued from my evangelistic-confusion. For many years I operated under the false assumption that evangelism was converting someone. I was mistaken.
God converts people. I proclaim God’s message of salvation. That’s my role. It is simple. My part is to speak the gospel. God’s part is to save souls. I invite people to God’s banquet. But many will not be interested. God wants me to tell as many people about his banquet as possible. (Luke 14.16-24)
This realization astounded me and freed me from the guilt of not playing the role in the final step of someone’s conversion. I don’t get to pick when the fruit is ripe for reaping. God does. I simply sow bountiful gospel seeds.
Cautions Against Impure Motives
Chapter 7 of the Gospel and Personal Evangelism cautions us from evangelizing with impure motives. This chapter is crucial because motives reveal the posture of our heart. Reputation, being right, being successful or looking spiritual are all dead wrong reasons to evangelize.
Once again, Dever discloses a shortcoming. He admits, “I know that sometimes I’ve shared the gospel, at least in part, so that I could tell others that I had witnessed to someone. I’m not particularly proud of that fact, but it’s true.” (96) You know what? I bet Mark Dever is not alone in this shortcoming. Evangelical culture is amuck with leaders breeding all the wrong motives for evangelizing.
To counter impure motives, Dever offers three reasons to share the gospel. These reasons are built off biblical instruction. We should evangelize out of a desire for obedience (Matthew 28.19; 1 Peter 3.15), a love for the lost (John 3.16), and a love for God (John 17).
In each section Dever uses biblical characters that showcase the right posture towards evangelism. After studying these three sections and seeing these examples, I felt stirred and motivated to evangelize.
I’m not saying that reading the Gospel and Personal Evangelism will turn you from evangelistic chicken to daredevil. But it will pique your passion to faithfully gospelize.
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is yet another one of the excellent, accessible books for the church found within the line of 9Marks resources. You should check out the 9Marks website, subscribe to their journal and blog, and take advantage of their many resources they offer to the church. 9Marks is a dependable source for working out and processing a practical ecclesiology.