Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles

Book Review - Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

Few words give rise to more fear and trepidation among Christian as the word evangelism. Fear of sharing one’s faith, or fear of making an unattractive gospel presentation, is common in churches. The irony of a word associated with “good news” eliciting so much angst makes one wonder if we have veered off the track somewhere. Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus addresses the topic of evangelism and its author, J. Mack Stiles, clearly understands the problematic nature of this topic and the need for clear, biblical teaching on it.

The overarching purpose of this book is hinted at when one consider the series it is a part of: the Crossway Books published 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series. Evangelism is a book that addresses the need for biblical evangelism as an integral component of a healthy church.

More specifically, Stiles writes about “biblical evangelism” (17), and “more than that, [the book is] also about developing a culture of evangelism” (18). The author is concerned about teaching the reader what biblical evangelism is and he believes that it includes implementing and encouraging a culture of evangelism within the church. Stiles further expounds on this issue with teaching on healthy evangelistic platforms as well as “basic principles that shape the actual practice of sharing our faith” (19).

Chapter one concerns itself with important definitions of evangelism, the gospel, and biblical conversion. These definitions provide the foundation for the rest of the author’s discussion of this topic. Evangelism, “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade” (26), is thoroughly explained. Teaching the gospel–“the joyful message from God that leads to salvation” (33)–is the means of evangelism. And, the goal is biblical conversion which occurs when we “repent, place genuine faith in Jesus, and walk with him” (38).

Chapter two’s content is made obvious with its title: A Culture of Evangelism. Stiles initiates this discussion with a polemic against both programmatic evangelism and pragmatic evangelism. The antidote for these unbiblical methods of sharing the faith is an approach that the author sees as “communal and personal: a culture of evangelism” (47). In the chapter we read that a culture of evangelism, though hard to succinctly and exhaustively define, is a culture that: is motivated by love for Jesus and his gospel (48), is confident in the gospel (49), understands the danger of entertainment (50), sees people clearly (51), pulls together as one (53), has people teaching one another (53), models evangelism (55), celebrates when people share their faith (56), knows how to affirm and celebrate new life (57), does ministry even when it is risky and dangerous (58), and understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism (60).

The importance of the church as God’s plan for evangelism is the sole concern of chapter three. Stiles seeks clarity for the reader by defining the church and arguing that the church is “God’s great plan for evangelism” (100) and the way we can best implement God’s great plan is by developing and nurturing a culture of evangelism in Christ’s body. In fact, Stiles argues that all churches have a culture of evangelism and that the difference from church to church is in the health of that culture. This chapter deals with evangelism at the corporate level.

Chapter four considers the individual Christian within a healthy culture of evangelism. Stiles indicates that believers must be “intentional evangelists” (79) with the context of a church’s evangelistic culture. Stiles elucidates how individual Christians become intentional evangelists: by preparing our hearts, mind, and feet (84); by understanding a gospel-shaped way of life (88); by slaying our assumptions (90); by perceiving evangelism as a discipline (94); by praying (96); by giving leadership in evangelism (97).

Finally, in chapter five Stiles addresses the actual sharing of our faith. The author purports the best instructions we receive on sharing our faith come through the New Testaments illustration of Christians as ambassadors. Stiles indicates the significance of conversations and displays what these might look like. He instructs that an ambassador must be bold, clear, and deliver the message while trusting Christ for the response. Stiles finishes with a call for ambassadors to not lose heart.

On a practical level, I found Stiles’ book edifying, enriching, and encouraging with both myself and the church in mind. His faith-filled optimism and clear biblical teaching is both informative at the head level and motivating at the heart level. His practical wisdom won from real-life experiences was also helpful.

I have noticed a greater awareness in my life for opportunities to share the gospel and find myself less apprehensive than I once was. For those two reasons alone I am thankful for this book. This book is an easy-to-read and hard-to-put-down volume on evangelism that will benefit both leaders and members of churches.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: Church Elders: How to Shepherd People Like Jesus by Jaramie Rinne

Much time, money, and energy is expended in North America by well-intentioned people who desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Many spend their hours, hard-earned cash, and strength, while eating healthy foods, so as to reach and maintain one lofty goal: health. Church Elders: How to Shepherd People Like Jesus is a book that is also concerned with health. However, author Jeramie Rinne is not concerned so much with healthy individuals, but rather with healthy churches. This book’s inclusion in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series, published by Crossway books, make the book’s purpose obvious. The book’s title makes it clear that the author believes church elders are part of what makes a church healthy.
More specifically, Rinne believes that a proper understanding of biblical church leadership among both the leadership and the congregation will promote vitality in the local church. Thus, Rinne provides a “concise, biblical job description for elders” which is “an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task” (15). The author hopes to instruct the church on biblical eldership, instill a desire in men to pursue the office of elder, and inspire any men whom God may be calling to vocational eldership to consider this great privilege in ernest.
The author, Jeramie Rinne, is the Senior Pastor of South Shore Baptist Church and studied church eldership when he became a full-time pastor (elder). He graduated from Wheaton College in 1993 with a B.A. Bible and Ancient Languages and followed this degree with a Master’s of Divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1996. Rinne’s passion for church leaders and congregations is apparent in the pages of this book.
In chapter one, the author initiates his attempt to provide a proper understanding of eldership, which will lead to healthy churches, by listing six qualifications of elders. These qualifications are gathered from the New Testament. Rinne invites the reader to consider the following marks of an elder: the desire to be an elder (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Pet. 5:2), godly character (1 Tim. 3:2-3, Titus 1:7-8), the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9), leading one’s own family well (1 Tim 3:4-5), being male (1 Tim 2:12, Eph. 5:22-6:4), and being an established believer (1 Tim. 3:6).
Chapter two describes the overarching responsibilities of elders with the job description of “shepherding church members toward greater Christ-like maturity” (102). Elders have as their goal seeing the image of Jesus in their congregation and understanding the means to this end being investment in their lives. Thus, elders are more like shepherds and less like trustees.
The emphasis of chapter 3 centers on sound teaching; elders accomplish their tasks through teaching the Word. The author recognizes there are many different scenarios in which teaching occurs–from one-on-one discipling to small group leadership to preaching to the congregation–but he insists that biblical teaching is integral to shepherding God’s people.
Rinne uses the fourth chapter to expound on another duty of elders/shepherds: tracking down stray members/sheep. While explaining the duty of searching for lost sheep, the author also describes five different types of strayers: sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep. With each of these types of people he includes some ideas for how the church elder might help.
Lead Without Lording, the title of the fifth chapter, indicates the direction the author moves. Rinne wrestles with two ideas that are often in tension. The first, confident leadership, often seems to clash with the second, gentleness. According to the author, an elder should lead confidently but with being a bully, without being arrogant, and without domineering. In fact, a “Jesus-shaped humility gives [the elders] a moral authority to which the church willingly defers” (103-4).
Chapter six introduces the issue of polity: a church is to be lead by a plurality of elders. The life of the elders is a mirrored microcosm of the life of the church. The author demonstrates the plurality of eldership present in the early church with a brief survey. He follows this up with a brief apologetic for multiple elders.
Much of the preceding chapters are about doing eldership; chapter seven is about being an elder. Rinne calls elders to model maturity. Elders should live lives that the church can imitate and should encourage congregants to do so. God uses elders who have a “well-tended life” (105). Eldership is not for those who have finally arrived, but rather it is a call to a deeper and more profound imitation of Christ.
The importance of prayer is the focus of the eighth chapter. The author produces arguments for the necessity of prayer and also includes what a “prayer-soaked elder ministry” (113) should look like. This includes public prayer, presbyter prayer (praying at elders meetings), personal prayer (praying with members), and private prayer. In praying for their sheep, elders are joining with the Great Shepherd, Jesus, who is currently praying for his people (Heb. 7:25).
In concluding this book, Rinne reminds the elder and potential elder the eternal ramifications of being an elder. On a serious note, the author warns the reader that an elder will give an account for his stewardship of this office: elders will “answer to the Groom for how [they] treat his bride” (122). Secondly, the author reminds the reader that there is an unfading reward for those who faithfully shepherd God’s flock.
Church Elders is a book that challenges me on a very personal level. As someone who has been in that office and continues to aspire to that office, I found ample opportunities in the pages of the book to question my own character and calling. In particular, the love a shepherd has for his sheep and the sacrifices he is prepared to make for them, as they are compellingly presented in the book, cause me to re-evaluate my own life in light of what biblical eldership is.
On a practical note, this book offers many helpful suggestions on the day-to-day aspects of being an elder. It offers ideas that the author has formulated from his experience leading the church. The suggestions are powerful because they are attainable and they come with a persuasive, urgent plea from the author. The author is serious about this topic and his gravity is coupled with a great joy. Both the seriousness of the calling and the enjoyment of the office as expressed by the author are contagious. I found this very edifying.
Finally, this book strengthened many philosophical positions that I already held. I hold to a view of church leadership that is very close to the one espoused by the author. The book did not challenge my beliefs, but rather bulwarked them.

Church Elders strength is its content and its conciseness. The book is very accessible and very readable. It is relatively short in length and the style is informal. That being said, its message is very important and the author covers a surprisingly significant amount of material considering the size of the volume.