by J. Mack Stiles
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1226, 128 pages, 2010, $15.00.
—Reviewed by John Mann, youth and teaching pastor at Salem Alliance Church in Salem, Oregon.
There is a growing discussion in organizational culture regarding the merits of a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). The mantra is “people are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.” Rather than pursue structures and policies intended to ensure people are at their desks forty hours a week, simply make clear what is expected of them and let people figure out when and how it all gets done. Some have approached evangelism in the same way. “If it works, do it” as an approach to evangelism is likely rarely preached, but it seems as though it is often practiced. J. Mack Stiles builds a case that healthy evangelists “are more concerned with our faithfulness in presenting Christ clearly than we are with results” and that the first task of evangelism is to ask the question: “Who do we want to be as people who share their faith?”
Stiles posits in the first four chapters that before we share our faith, we must make sure we have faith—that is, that we trust, know, guard, and live the grace and truth of the gospel in our own lives. Especially in contexts where the verbiage of the gospel has become part of the vernacular of the day, we must make sure to be explicit about the gospel and guard against implied faith. We must continuously communicate both the bad and good news of the gospel and explain what true conversion looks like. Stiles concludes with an appropriate reminder that the most effective witness the world will ever see will not be any single individual, but rather the love and unity of the Church.
The author’s approach isn’t so much new as it is a clear reminder beckoning believers to examine the clarity and conviction of their own faith before attempting to pass on that faith. The biblical basis of his argument is clear throughout and he speaks from a position of practice, not just theory, integrating stories from his personal experience of serving in a Muslim context.
That being said, the book is not without its shortcomings. Many of his assertions come off more as armchair anecdotes rather than research-based information. Also, many of his arguments have stronger conclusions than they do supporting premises. In one example, cautioning against assuming people are saved based on religious activity, he uses a story of someone who posed as a Christian to do an ethnographic study at a Christian university. Faking you are saved and thinking you are saved are two very different things: an instance of one does not build a strong case for the existence of the other. Additionally, Stiles’ rendition of the bad news of the gospel is overly offensive. Yes, the reality of our sin and rebellion should not be avoided, but fellow InterVarsity Press author Gary Moon presents just as accurate and yet a far more compelling gospel narrative in Apprenticeship with Jesus (2009, 19-22). Overall, Marks of the Messenger is an important reminder that before we share our faith we must make sure our lives exemplify a faith worth sharing.
Check these titles:
Hybels, Bill. 2006. Just Walk across the Room. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Moon, Gary W. 2009. Apprenticeship with Jesus: Learning to Live Like the Master. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 124-125. 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.