John Carter – May 12, 2015 – Book Review
BOOK REVIEW – WHEN MISSIONS SHAPES THE MISSION
Christians have been given a mandate to tell people about Jesus of Nazareth. Ever since that mandate there has been a regular discussion among Christians as to how they should tell people about Jesus. Over the past 2000 years this discussion on evangelism and its practical outworking’s has resulted in accomplishing much good and creating much harm. However, as Christians have gone throughout the world to do the work of evangelism one question seems to still saturate the conversation, ‘how are Christians to faithfully obey the original mandate?’
In this paper three books are being reviewed that have in one way or another addressed this question. These three books are Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, The Master Plan of Evangelism, and Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did. This paper will briefly summarize these books, offer critiques of each of these book’s strength and weakness, and then compare the books to see how they contribute to the theology and methodology of evangelism.
Summary: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God was written by J. I. Packer and first printed in 1961. In this short book we are engaged with a work that has had a wide impact on the Christian community. As the title alludes to this book seeks to address the common debate of who affects the salvation of an individual. Within the reformed tradition there are those who would over emphasis the responsibility of the individual in salvation. There are also those within the reformed tradition that would overemphasis the responsibility of God in salvation. Although many would use these differences as a point of argument Packer goes to show the nearness of these differences.
This book is not a ‘how to’ manual on evangelism and methodologies. Rather in his four chapters, Packer establishes the important doctrines that fuel evangelism and Christian witness. Although the book is short and easy to follow Packer’s work still requires that the reader wrestles with the information provided.
Summary: The Master Plan of Evangelism
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman is an excellent synthesis of Jesus’ approach to evangelism during his three years of ministry. With millions of copies of this book sold it can be easily assumed that there is some weight to what has been written. Coleman spends 8 short chapters sifting through the ministry of Jesus to identify methods to his evangelism strategy. In this book the reader is brought to understand the clear connection between evangelism and discipleship. This connection is carefully made to show and train the reader how to evangelize and how to teach others to evangelize. This book is truly a call to teach others what has been learned.
Summary: Questioning Evangelism
In Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did, Robert Coleman beautifully marries the two subjects of Evangelism and Apologetics into one outstanding volume. Over the past few decades evangelism and apologetics have begun to become two distinct categories. Yet Newman approaches these two subjects as intertwined as he equips the reader to engage with difficult questions that non-Christians may ask. Although this book is very heavy on the methods of evangelism what is most striking is Newman’s heart and compassion for those who are not Christians. With three sections and thirteen questions Newman equips the reader to engage in evangelism and apologetics without becoming cookie-cutter in his approach or overly simplified in his answers.
Critique: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God provides many points of strength in its contributions to Evangelism. Three of those strengths include the theological unity, the introduction of the term ‘antinomy,’ and the importance placed on prayer. In response to the debate of God’s role in evangelism Packer states early in his book, “on our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we all agree.” 1 This is not a statement of superiority of one side of the argument. This is a statement showing that those in disagreement agree more than they may want to admit. Packer then introduces the reader to the word and definition of an Antinomy. Understanding Packer’s use of antinomy will have a catalytic effect on the reader’s theology. The final strength mentioned here is the importance placed on prayer.
Time has proven this small work extremely valuable but there at least three weaknesses worth considering. The first is that the book was first published in 1961. This mean the reader will have to work through the 50 year old language. This of course leads to the second weakness. This book requires thoroughness on the part of the reader. These first two weaknesses are more related to the present day reader, but a book can only communicate what is read. The final weakness is Packer’s final part of his Gospel explanation. 2 It seems that placing a stronger emphasis on man’s eternity might add to a fuller explanation of the Gospel. The weaknesses presented here still do not give reason to discard J. I. Packer’s well written work.
Critique: The Master Plan of Evangelism
The Master Plan of Evangelism has at least three strengths worth mentioning here. The first is its cohesion between discipleship and evangelism. Coleman looks at how long term evangelism should transition into a long term discipleship relationship. This relates to the second strength, which is the focus on multiplication over addition. Often evangelism can become all about getting a person to say a prayer and then move on. Coleman shows the importance of sharing the gospel and then teaching that person how to teach others how to share the Gospel. This results in a multiplying effect rather than just addition. Finally, this book supplies an excellent balance of being focused on long term relationship and short term relationships. In other words, Coleman articulates the need for Christians to share the gospel whether or not they are able to invest in every person they share the Gospel with.
The weaknesses of Coleman’s work are closely related to the reader’s application. The books first weakness is the time commitment needed on the part of the reader. A person cannot simply implement a few new items into their bag of evangelism tricks. The reader will actually have to invest weeks, months, and even years into another person for Coleman’s method to work. Coleman’s second weakness is in the temptation to turn this into another silver bullet approach to Christian ministry and evangelism. These first two weaknesses relate very closely to the final weakness of the book, “Building men and women is not that easy.” 3 A book on methods is only as good as those attempting to use the book. So in this case, the weaknesses of the reader quickly become the weaknesses of the book.
Critique: Questioning Evangelism
In Questioning Evangelism three strengths become evident. The first strength is the blending of apologetics and evangelism into one cohesive topic. In recent years these two areas have found themselves divided. The second strength is that there are no quick and easy answers. For example, Newman says, “The truth is, we don’t have an adequate answer for the problem of evil. No one does.” 4 Newman provides an excellent treatment on evil but he does not do this is a simplistic or naïve fashion. The final strength mentioned here are Newman’s straightforward answers to difficult and uncomfortable questions. Whether sex, homosexuality, evil, or hell, Newman takes the time and care to avoid fluffy Sunday School answers.
The reader will observe at least three weaknesses in this book. The first is that the sample conversations may come across as overly simplistic. This may be due to the fact that Newman is trying to be helpful by providing broad examples. Second, there was not sufficient information provide to answer, “Why are Christians evangelizing?” In this book the purpose for evangelism is assumed. The third weakness is that the material covered only works if the reader engages in actual conversations that would allow for these questions to be asked. This could lead the reader to avoid these conversations or to be discouraged because they are not having these conversations.
When comparing the three books to each other J. I. Packer’s book is most easily identifiable as a theology book. Packer is not primarily interested in addressing how to evangelize. His main emphasis rests upon the goal of addressing what evangelism is and why Christians should be doing it. The other two books reviewed here are competitively weak in these areas. However, Coleman’s book does address both the ‘what’ and ‘why’ in an effective manner.
Out of the three books Robert E. Coleman’s book shines in the area of answering ‘how.’ With a focus on Jesus’ example of evangelism Coleman stands out as the go to book for teaching or learning how to make disciples and to evangelize. It is this reviewer’s opinion that this is the best standalone book on evangelism of the three being reviewed here.
When reviewing these three books Randy Newman’s book stands out as the most unique. It is also probably the most culturally restrained. Although the content addressed in Newman’s book is Biblical, it is highly focused on the question being asked at the beginning of the 21st century. So although Coleman and Packer’s books may prove to endure through the hall of Christian history for a longer period of time Newman’s book is helpfully addressing questions that people of this time are asking.
After reviewing these books it is highly recommended that any person interested in studying evangelism in the classroom or in the living room to pick up these books. Summarizing these books, offering critiques, and then comparing the books should have shown overall readability and usability of these books. These three books will certainly provide any reader or Christian with a wealth of information and theology to become better at understanding evangelism and fulfilling the great commission.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008), 21.
 Packer, Evangelism, 60-71.
 Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2006), 40.
 Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004) 105.