Evangelism in the 21st Century: The Critical Issues Edited by Thom S. Rainer. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989. 227 pp. Paper, $12.95.
This collection of twenty-one essays, with foreword by Billy Graham, was published as a tribute to Lewis A. Drummond. Drummond served many years as the Professor of Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and is now President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Thom Rainer earned his Ph.D. in evangelism under Dr. Drummond.
The book is an interesting look into the theology and practice of evangelism largely, but not exclusively, from a Southern Baptist perspective. The balance of authors tips towards pastors, with most of the others being seminary professors or those from academia. Scholarship and critical depth, therefore, range from very competent to somewhat shallow.
The essays span the spectrum of evangelistic concerns, including these divisions: Evangelism and contemporary issues, theological issues, the call to discipleship, reaching people, and the local church. Depending on one’s interests, one section may capture the attention of the reader more than another. However, every section has something to offer.
I found several articles to be especially helpful and well written. Delos Miles, Professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, presented a good case for Christian social work and evangelism as partners. The essay by Edward C. Lyrene, Jr., pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Foley, Alabama, was one of the most motivating and convincing articles I have ever read on the need to pray in evangelism. His sermonic style in this case added to the impact, since we scarcely need another sterile study of prayer.
Three articles were of the most interest to me and also the greatest disappointment. The first, by David S. Dockery, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is titled “A Theological Foundation for Evangelism.” Though most of the article was agreeable (good theology), his section on how salvation is applied displayed a need for clearer thinking and more biblical conclusions. For example, what are we to understand from a statement like this: “Only persons who receive and are transformed by divine grace can make a favorable response to God’s salvific invitation, but only those who do respond are indeed transformed by grace” (p. 83)? This sounds like doubletalk. Dockery goes on to define faith as a full commitment involving obedience and complete submission, and repentance as the turning from and renouncing of sin. No wonder he says our assurance of eternal security is “experiential and subjective” (p. 86). It is distressing to see “a theological foundation for evangelism” laid on such sinking sand, for surely message and method will eventually erode.
Two more essays share a similar thesis: The evangelistic call of Jesus Christ was a call to repentance and radical discipleship. Harry L. Poe, Associate Professor of Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, contributed “Evangelism and Discipleship” and James G. Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia, wrote “Evangelism and the Call of Christ.” Both confuse salvation with discipleship, with the result that God’s grace is obscured. Poe states that unless the costly demands of discipleship are presented as part of the Gospel, “Christians have no basis for pursuing Christ” (p.141). But just as the reader begins to scream, “Read Romans 12:1, Galatians 5, and Titus 2:11–12!”—Poe says “discipleship will grow increasingly more prevalent as we give more attention to the gracious benefits of Christ in the gospel” (p.143). Merritt’s article is equally confusing in its understanding of the Gospel.
Fortunately, the theology of Southern Baptists is diverse and not everyone in the denomination holds to such a Reformed and Lordship Salvation understanding of the Gospel. These three articles show how the issue is discussed and influenced at the seminary and pastoral levels. Obviously, our SBC brethren are struggling with how to cure the problem of false professions. Hopefully, they will turn to a clear presentation of God’s grace in the Gospel rather than to a legalistic gospel.
I strongly recommend this book to all who want valuable insights into some aspects of evangelism among Southern Baptists. Practical helps and renewed motivation can also be gained by reading this book. But go elsewhere for soteriology.
Charles C. Bing
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society