Out of the saltshaker and into the world: Evangelism as a way of life
Since evangelism by knocking on strangers’ doors became something that feels uncomfortable in society, the church has been searching for what should replace it as the evangelistic ‘method’. The void has given many Christians the opportunity to back away from the dreaded ‘E’ word altogether, or else hide behind the smoke screen of “I’ll let my actions do the talking.” The other response to this void in methodology is to carry on regardless, letting evangelistic conversations be filled with either cheesy Christian sound bites that give no depth, or alternatively lifetime long arguments about evolution, creation or of course whether we can be sure that God actually exists at all. It is into this void, that Rebecca Manley Pippert, with years of experience working with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and UCCF, asserts that evangelism is a sheer joy, and instead of it being something you ‘wouldn’t even do to your dog’, she paints a picture of the delight it is to bring a non-believer into a relationship with God through the grace of Christ on the cross.
Don’t be fooled by her title, as much as Pippert asserts evangelism is a way of life, this is no “I’ll let my actions do the talking” smoke screen. She offers a well constructed approach to evangelism that simply begins with the lifestyle choices Christians make. Rooting ourselves in Jesus who was the most human of us all, but is also the Lord of all, she goes onto show how we as his disciples and evangelistic messengers should be radically identified with the world through love, and radically different from the world through holiness. In these earlier chapters of the book, through careful study of Biblical texts Pippert shows that sharing the good news must grow out of a life following Christ. Then, after a chapter considering conversational skills, she makes an analogy between evangelism and the three stages of cultivating the soil, planting the seed, and reaping the harvest. The chapters covering these areas are filled with honest, helpful and insightful examples from her own experience, and as many practical hints as theological depth. It is in this part of the book that you see that Pippert is not just suggesting we invite folk to join a club or society, or even a social activist group, but we are inviting them to hear the good news that Christ has died for them, and should expect folk to respond.
The final section of the book, the most updated section in this, the second edition, is filled with some reflections and hints for evangelistic work in the so-called post-modern era. Pippert is aware enough to see that some will share their faith through reason and logic, and others through relating their own stories and testimony. These two strands are brought together by considering the strength and power of the Spirit in evangelistic work.
The final two chapters speak quite intuitively to the United Reformed Church’s current situation. I couldn’t help but feel that in her chapter ‘The witness of community’ a useful and thoroughly biblical approach to Radical Welcome is aired (which should of course just be ‘Welcome’), and the final chapter is a call to action – ‘Without a vision the people will perish’.
If the book has one down-side, whilst Pippert is experienced in her work either side of the Atlantic, most of her examples come from the American side. However, the benefits, encouragement and practical ideas, based upon solid foundations, far out-weigh these minor cultural differences. The appendices are also very useful with suggestions of evangelistic books and aids, some outlines of the gospel that are easy to share, and a very thorough and useful study guide.
Anyone who wants to be encouraged in evangelism, or wishes to encourage others, or even wants to lead a church in developing its evangelism needs to read and use this book. Every elder and minister should have a copy.