On the back cover of J. Mack Stiles’ book: Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010) D. A. Carson comments:
I do not think I have ever read a book on evangelism that makes me more eager to pass it on than this one – better, that makes me more eager to evangelize than this one. -D. A. Carson.
I had purchased the book before I saw that comment, but it certainly prompted me to move the book higher on my reading list. The book does not disappoint the reader. Stiles believes that evangelism ought to be rooted in who we are and what we do.
His first chapter raises concerns about pragmatic evangelism that focuses on results. When numbers become all important, methods can overshadow the message and the character of the messenger. The author’s concern is that we become healthy evangelists.
In chapter two Stiles begins his “marks” of the messenger with the first, the messenger is a student of the message. Here he emphasizes that we must avoid adding to or subtracting from the biblical gospel. Both the bad news of our sin and the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ are essential. The author writes:
We want people to see their sin in all its horror, not so they are motivated to “clean up their act,” but so they fall at the feet of Jesus knowing he is their only hope. People need to see the depth of their sin so that they come to a fuller understanding of the depth of God’s grace. -31.
Chapter 3, “On your Guard: Don’t Assume the Gospel” is an important alert. We need to guard the gospel because of our tendency to drift. Stiles structures this chapter (after an intriguing story of participant observation at an evangelical school – you don’t want to miss this) under the headings: “Assuming the Gospel,” “Confusing the Gospel,” “Cultural Christianity,” and “A Look at How the Gospel is Lost.” Assuming the gospel is the beginning of the drift to losing the gospel. We need to make the gospel message explicit, remember that “those who know it best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest!”
An assumed gospel leaves the message of the gospel unspoken and implicit. … Not to sound too simplistic, but the clearest indication of an assumed gospel is that you don’t hear it anymore. -40,41.
The author sums up the drift pattern:
The dangerous pattern for healthy evangelism in all of this is that first, an assumed gospel forgets to speak the gospel, and second, a cultural gospel preaches moralism and cultural norms and so twists the gospel’s message. Then the gospel is lost altogether. -46.
Chapter four highlights the importance of living out the gospel in our daily lives. A healthy evangelist must live the gospel as well as speak the gospel. Our lifestyle needs to be shaped by the gospel. This chapter includes powerful examples of how that works.
Chapter five, “Messengers in a Troubled World: The Gospel and Social Change” calls for a refusal to separate the gospel message from social action. The author points out that the gospel message itself brings about social change. He sums up the gospel-social action relationship:
Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it’s an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel. Furthermore, all actions of kindness, compassion and justice must be done with the hope to share our faith, otherwise we are not upholding the gospel. We share the good news always open to do good, and we do good always with the hope of sharing our faith. We never divorce the two. -69.
Chapter six, “Waving the Flag: Understanding True Biblical Conversion” is the fifth mark of the messenger. In this chapter Stiles presents five principles of biblical conversion: conversion is required, conversion requires understanding, true conversion requires genuine faith, a radically changed life attests to true conversion, and conversion results from God’s action. We would do well to remind ourselves of these principles frequently.
Chapter seven, “Be Bold,” gives some helpful pointers for overcoming fear. He points to the apostle Paul’s prayer requests for boldness ( Col. 4:3,4; Eph. 6:19,20). There was a time when I wondered why Paul, of all people, prayed for boldness. Though these prayer requests are later that the accounts in Acts, I can’t help but wonder if the boldness we see in Paul is the answer to prayers for boldness.
Chapter eight helps the reader distinguish between a sentimental notion of love and God’s love displayed in the gospel. Chapter nine emphasizes the role of the church as “the gospel made visible.” By this he means the church displays the gospel when we love one another. He concludes with “a Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism: Taking Action” in chapter ten. On the final page the author writes:
For me, the greatest point of healthy evangelism is when we gain a picture of just what it is that we are a part of. Evangelism is not a duty to perform; it is not a cross one must bear. It’s a privilege we’re granted. -122.
You might ask at this point, do I agree with Carson’s comments on the back cover? Having read it when it first came out and again this past week, I can enthusiastically say yes! This book will enlighten your mind, warm your heart, and equip and motivate you to actually evangelize!