Review: “The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Mark Dever

Crossway, Wheaton, 2007, 128pp.


There is much to commend about The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. It is warm, engaging and theologically accurate, and it left me encouraged to speak to friends about Jesus. However, it also left me with questions about the best way to mobilize us for this task.

Dever begins by correcting some of the more common objections and rationalizations that prevent us from evangelizing. Some of the excuses we make are so transparently feeble, they only need to be identified to be rebuffed. (For example, when we tell ourselves that no-one would want to hear or accept the message, this only demonstrates our faithlessness in God’s sovereign work through the gospel.) Dever then goes on to address our fears, apathy and misguided priorities.

Significantly, he asserts that evangelism is the job of all of God’s people and not the sole responsibility of ‘professionals’ or the specially gifted. All of Jesus’ disciples share his mission to seek and save the lost. How can we not introduce people to our God when we are commanded to love others as Jesus loved us (p. 49)? In fact, it is love for neighbour above love for self that should drive us to speak: “We share the gospel because we love people. And we don’t share the gospel because we don’t love people. Instead, we wrongly fear them … We protect our pride at the cost of their souls.” (p. 27).

Furthermore, Dever writes, “We might be the closest Christians to a particular unbeliever” (p. 24), and therefore we have the best opportunity to share the gospel with him or her. Why wouldn’t we embrace eagerly the great privilege of being God’s fellow workers in the task of reconciling the world to him? It is here that Dever urges us to recognize that our ultimate motive in declaring the gospel is that God is glorified: God is glorified as people come to know and serve him, and as his goodness, love and mercy to the world is made known.

Dever also recommends practical things to encourage us in evangelism. He suggests asking others for their testimony to remind us that sharing the gospel still works to save. (Asking others about how they became Christian is also a useful evangelistic approach when meeting them at church for the first time.) He also points out how motivating it is to consider the reality of hell, for all who are unforgiven will have to face a justly angry God. Remembering this puts the priorities of our regular routines and our conversations with unbelievers into perspective. So does meditating upon God’s solution to our sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus: the more we consider the depth of God’s love and the enormity of his grace towards us, his enemies, the more we will feel compelled to tell of God’s goodness towards us and his unconditional love, which is on offer to all.

The book’s outstanding strength, however, is its theological orthodoxy. Dever is convinced that God is sovereign over all things, including evangelism. Without this solid biblical foundation, not only will we get the gospel wrong, but also our motivations to share it. When we recognize that conversion lies solely within God’s power, it relieves us of the guilt and final responsibility for another’s salvation. It also removes the temptation to coerce people into the kingdom and to measure our evangelistic efforts by numbers of conversions. Instead, it drives us to preach faithfully and clearly, and to pray, asking the Lord of the harvest to display his grace upon yet another sinner. It also provides us with renewed confidence for the task as the power resides in God and his gospel, not in us and our persuasive abilities.

Dever writes as a preacher and a pastor, exhorting people in his gospel explanations of the need and urgency for salvation in Christ alone. While many books make me feel inadequate when they recount anecdotes about super-evangelists, Dever helpfully admits his personal struggles. Reading about him sometimes neglecting opportunities, being unexcited about the message or being motivated by spiritual pride encouraged me to persevere in evangelism, despite occasional (or more frequent!) failures in this area.

Nevertheless, I was left with some nagging questions. Is a book the best tool to motivate us in personal evangelism? That is, are our difficulties with evangelism problems of ‘will’ or ‘skill’? The answer, I believe, is that we have problems with both: we need to have our theological foundations established and our hesitations addressed, and we also need the confidence that comes from guided training and practical experience. A DVD or training course may be a more effective approach to get us sharing the gospel.

So I don’t think we should expect that simply placing a book like this in everyone’s hands will get them evangelizing. However, I recommend Dever’s book to those who are keen, but who lack confidence. In particular, I think this book could most usefully be discussed a chapter at a time in a group setting. In God’s grace, hopefully those friends we speak to about Jesus will one day be won for Christ.

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