Evangelism in the Early Church. By Michael Green. Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970. 349 pp. Paper, $7.95.
Evangelism in the Early Church by Edward Michael Bankes Green has been around for some time. However, since this book will be of great interest to the readers of JOTGES, it justifies a review.
To anyone interested in this subject, this book illustrates the who, how, and why of evangelism in the first four centuries of the Church. The outlines of the chapters are clear and logical, making the book easy to read. Green has included a very generous sprinkling of quotations from the works of the early church fathers. The author even shows through archaeology how Christians expressed their faith by means of symbols and home decorations. Thus, this book is appealing to those, who, like this reviewer, are interested in church history.
There are, however, some features of the book that would cause many of our readers to raise an eyebrow. First, Green’s definition of faith is existential: “Faith is far more than assent to propositions about Christ, though it involves this. It means encounter with Christ arising from commitment on the strength of certain propositions. It is nothing less than self-surrender to One who surrendered himself for us” (p. 316; f.n. 51). Also, the author demonstrates a rather “high church” view of the ordinances. Along with repentance and faith, “the third condition incumbent upon all who wanted to begin the Christian life was, of course, baptism” (p. 152). Green does describe baptism as a “seal,” but the way in which he ties it to repentance and faith might give one the impression that Green is a three-point Campbellite! In fact, in a further defense of his position he writes: “This does not mean that baptism was inevitably and invariably effective as a sacrament in uniting a man to Christ, if his own attitude was not right” (p. 317; f.n. 59). However, even this disclaimer is also in agreement with the position of the Churches of Christ. In this, Green reflects the position of many of the early church fathers, a position which caused Thomas Torrance to write about the loss of the doctrine of grace in the teachings of the early church in his book The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, a book to which Green makes an objection (pp. 133–34).
On the whole, Green’s book is good in representing what the early Church did in the area of evangelism. It is helpful to see what the Church in another era did that was both right and wrong. It helps us to see some blind spots that we may have. Certainly, the passion of the early Church for evangelism, as Green presents her, is in contrast to our apathy. But, unfortunately, as Green’s book illustrates (despite his objections), a clear presentation of the Gospel seems to be rare in any generation.
Lanny Thomas Tanton
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society