This is the fourth in a series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on Evangelism by Mack Stiles. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.
How did you react to the events of September 11 2001? I was a clueless first-grader then, and my only memory of that day was seeing the crisis unfold on the televised news. On the other hand, Mack Stiles reacted by driving a stake into the ground outside his house with a sign that read “For Sale” the very next day. The house was sold two days later, before Stiles flew to Dubai to be a missionary. More than a decade later, Stiles is still in Dubai juggling his dual portfolio of CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions in Dubai and General Secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS). Having served in the missions field all this time, he wrote a book on how he envisages evangelism.
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus is a short and simple book of just over a hundred pages. In it, Stiles defines evangelism as “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” He is also very clear that his definition does not necessarily entail immediate outward signs like answering an altar call or saying the sinner’s prayer. Rather, Stiles writes,
Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is.
Maybe you’re thinking, is this just another book to promote relationships as a mode to evangelize? The answer is yes, but so much more. What I found refreshing about the book is that it does not wholly reject programs and traditional methods of evangelism because of postmodern culture. Rather, Stiles roots his understanding of evangelism in sound doctrine, supported by Scripture, where he promotes what he calls a culture of evangelism. This culture is centered on the local church as the instrument by which pre-believers are exposed to the faith through sound teaching from the pulpit. Moreover, this idea of the local church being the instrument of evangelism is founded on Biblical passages, two of which I have included below.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)
Personally, I have never been a big fan of street evangelism, seeker services, altar calls and other evangelism programs churches use today. In fact, I have probably been so to a fault, appearing to be militant against such results-centric programs, which on reflection may have caused others to stumble. Reading Evangelism, however, humbled me greatly as while Stiles seems pretty much against such programs as well, he writes that we should “acknowledge that God is sovereign and can do as He wills to bring people to Himself.” This was upon reflection that a great number of pastors at a convention he attended agreed that they “came to faith in a church that evangelized in ways (they) would now reject.” I have thus been convicted that while these programs are not the be all and end all of evangelism as “the Bible never uses results to guide or justify evangelistic practices”, God plants the seeds of the Gospel in our hearts in mysterious ways and we must acknowledge His sovereignty in doing so. More importantly, we should be intentional in ensuring that follow-up is conducted, relationships are established and that these new believers are united with a local church.
Evangelism is not the kind of book that gives you programs or a prescribed methodology. Instead, it envisions a church culture where leaders share their faith consistently and openly, while members jump on to encourage one another and make evangelism a way of life. Friends, whether you’re a leader in a church or a campus ministry, a faithful witness for Christ or even a believer struggling with your faith, you can be part of this culture and bear fruit for this ministry. If that entices you, Evangelism is definitely a book you should pick up.
Evangelism is available in most Christian bookstores and online at https://www.crossway.org/books/evangelism-case/