Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World
by Frances S. Adeney
Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 240 pages, 2010, $21.99.
—Reviewed by William D. Taylor, senior mentor and co-leader of the World Evangelical Alliance global missiology team.
Tucked deep within chapter 10, Frances Adeney identifies the stark reality and task we face related to evangelism in North America today: “The project is a big one: reformulating the craft of evangelism for the diversity of contexts in our pluralistic world.” (p. 123). And is it ever!
Adeney’s book is textured, interweaving her own spiritual journey, her perspective as a Presbyterian and a former cross-cultural servant in Indonesia (six years), her years as a teacher, and her commitment to the congregation’s role in evangelism today. Her mainline denominational perspective (PC-USA) emerges in a number of ways that illustrate both the challenges and the opportunities we face today. And these elements converge to stretch both thinking and practice of those of us who are committed to thoughtful evangelism in our day.
I especially appreciated a number of items. First, the material is framed in four thoughtful and memorable questions: Where did we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going? Can we craft a graceful evangelism? Second, with tight argumentation she answers each lead question with material that any orthodox Christian can use. I found her sidebars extremely helpful, sometimes as summaries of sections, chapters, or particular themes. Third, her material is rooted in the life of the local church (albeit the well-read, thoughtful one), and hence is designed to help both laity and clergy to face the challenging tasks before us in North America.
Fourth, her historical survey is extremely helpful in capturing briefly where we have come from since New Testament times. She balances history with the radically-changing context we face in North America today, with new spiritualities, world religions, and the challenges of religious pluralism and militant secularism. Finally, she is honest to face the failures and shortcomings of Protestantism (especially in the last one hundred years or so) in the broader global context. These are issues that our real critics (religious and secular) use with freedom and joy against Protestants (especially the evangelical variety).
A few reservations might include the following. First, the strongest sections were the first two parts, with the third one feeling bogged down, but the final one (admittedly the most difficult to craft) closing strong. Second, I wonder how my sisters and brothers in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp would read the book. Certainly, they would search for more emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and his presence and power in the communication of the good news in word, deed, and sign. Lastly, my own bias emerges as I looked for stronger affirmations of the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ and the essential nature of the gospel.
As an evangelical “lifer,” shaped by my core teaching on the gospel and evangelism during my formative years, for too long I assumed that “as I was being taught must have been the way it was always done.” Well, did I ever have a lot to learn over these forty-five years of active ministry! Adeney’s book has helped me frame and understand my own experience in the context of scripture, history, my changing world, and the need to frame and articulate a “graceful evangelism” for today.
Check these titles:
Choung, James. 2008. True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Keller, Timothy. 2008. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton Publishers.
Wright, Christopher J.H. 2010. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 376 & 378. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.