Jesus the Evangelist: Learning to Share the Gospel from the Book of John.By Richard D. Phillips. Orland, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007. 185 pp. Hardcover, $19.00
Jesus the Evangelist is a delightful and challenging combination of reformed theology and evangelism from the heart of a thoughtful and passionate pastor.
Within GES circles most would question anything delightful coming from reformed theology. Most Reformed theologians hold to an understanding of predestination that creates tension between God’s sovereignty and evangelism: If God chooses or predestines all men—either to be eternally condemned or saved—it is “wrong or pointless to labor in evangelism” (p. 168). The beauty of Phillips’ work resides in his willingness to confront this dilemma: “Having written this book to stress biblical evangelism, this is obviously not my view. And in light of our studies in John’s Gospel, it is equally obvious—and far more important—that this was not Jesus’ view” (p. 168) Phillips states: “It is my hope that studying the biblical approach to evangelism afresh will help bring much-needed reform to our gospel witness” (p.3).
Jesus the Evangelist does not delve into the whole of John’s account, but instead focuses on chapters 1, 3 and 4: Likewise, the book is divided into three corresponding parts: 1) “The Witness of John the Baptist and the Calling of the First Disciples: Biblical Principles of Evangelism” (pp. 7-56); 2) Jesus’ Witness to Nicodemus: The Theology of the Gospel (pp. 58-107); and 3) Jesus’ Witness to the Samaritan Woman:Jesus’ Practice of Evangelism (pp. 108-157). While this kind of synthesis can be helpful, Phillips’ work fails to comprehend the whole of John’s account as a carefully integrated testimony structured around eight carefully chosen signs designed specifically to persuade that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who gives life in His name to those, who believe in Him (John 20:30-31 and 21:24-25). This failure creates challenges for the book.
As Wilkin, Hodges and Niemelä have consistently taught: Christians should witness to many things about Jesus, but in their words and actions addressed to the unbeliever, they must prioritize their efforts and never lose sight of the sine qua non or purpose of God’s message for the unbeliever—“life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Consider the follow excerpt from Phillips:
We tell people what the early church enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed: that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son and our Lord; that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died, and was buried; that he experienced death for three days and then rose from the grave; that He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and that from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. These make up a Christian witness. (p. 12)
Amen! Yet, where in this “Christian witness” is the gift of eternal life clearly revealed?
When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, He focused on eternal life. Regarding Jesus’ words in John 4:10, Phillips makes some challenging statements regarding the gospel (p. 117 & 123).
Is the gift a multifaceted offering composed of: 1) Christ’s blood to wash away sin; 2) the indwelling Holy Spirit; 3) life beyond the grave; but most of all 4) Christ, Himself, God of His people Israel? Or, is the gift eternal life to those who partake of the living water? Is it sufficient to know the gift of life and Jesus “as the One who brings it”?
Phillips is a thoughtful and passionate pastor, who is willing to depart from many within reformed theology regarding the practice of evangelism. However, believers ought to measure their personal testimony in light of the authoritative, unimpeachable, eyewitness testimony God gives in John’s Gospel. The consistent sine qua non and purpose to which John testifies is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who gives eternal life to those, who believe in Him (John 20:30-31 and 21:24-25). The work of evangelism requires believers to place first things first: For this reason John’s witness must be the Christian’s witness to the unbeliever as well. Jesus the Evangelist is both delightful and challenging!
Chairman of the Board
Grace Evangelical Society
Denton , TX