Strengths and Weaknesses of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The strengths of Spencer’s approach are many, but the essence of the strength is found in that it was for the glory of God, not man. Spencer had no emotional barriers to witnessing for God, more than once in the book he states, “The scene was too much for me, I turned away and wept (147).” Spencer engaged in follow-up, “For the purpose of learning as much as possible about the workings of the human heart, I have been accustomed, in conversing with those who have been led to indulge a hope in Christ, to ask them questions whose answers might be beneficial to me in my intercourse with others to gain a clear understanding of the operations of the Holy Spirit, and of the difficulties or errors which keep sinners from repentance (139).” Spencer was meticulous with details regarding his visits in hopes of further empowering future generations. The strength of Spencer’s evangelism lies in the truth of his principles, his command of God’s word, the motives and desires of his heart to guide the lost toward the truth, and the faith and reliance he has upon the Holy Spirit to carry out salvation purposes and to provide protection.

The weaknesses of Spencer’s approach are only assumed because they are not specifically mentioned within the pages of the book. The book never mentions fellow clergy of the church sharing the gospel in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. The book never discusses laity being empowered to share in leadership, service and witness. There is never mention of anyone accompanying him on visits for safety or discipleship purposes. Spencer never mentions carrying the gospel beyond cultural boundaries to freed slaves or Native Americans. The book never mentions how Spencer deals with persecution and temptation.

Advertisements

Principles of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ichabod Spencer’s, A Pastor’s Sketches is a volume of forty stories Pastor Spencer encountered as he conducted home visits with anxious souls. Pastor Spencer had a goal to visit every member of his church, every year. He recorded each of the visits in careful fashion (2) in hopes they would one day be useful on the ground of their applicability, referring to common experiences and common difficulties (5). The principles of Spencer’s approach to evangelism are based on the Bible as the primary source of God; truth, understanding and action regarding God’s fundamental laws and doctrines; the underlying faculty and endowment of the Holy Spirit, resulting in conduct of true religious practice.

Spencer’s goal in proclaiming the Word of God was to convey the gospel in a manner that people could relate to and were interested in, and to proclaim God’s Word in a spirit of truth and love. Spencer says, “It is important to be wise in aiming to win sinners to Christ. The Bible is the only safe guide. Its spirit is love. To lead sinners to condemn themselves is one thing, for us to condemn them is quite another (200). Spencer reflects, “No one is ever safe in giving any counsel to impenitent sinners, unless he is careful to talk just as the Bible talks to them. Blind guides do mischief (80).” Spencer’s highest compliment was paid to him by a personal friend who was nearing death. She says, “I was blind, and did not understand why you should preach so much about Christ, and the atonement, and our evil hearts of unbelief, and the Holy Spirit, and sovereign grace to justify us, and prayer…, but examining the Scriptures has been the means of fixing my faith just on the Scriptures; so that now I am comforted by them. Your preaching led me to examine God’s word to see if the things you preached were so there (282-283).”

Spencer’s goal in using the Bible to convey God’s fundamental laws and doctrines was to encourage and empower believers to grow in truth, understanding and action. Spencer made it a point to reach people where they were, physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially regardless of the time involved. He was more than willing to support people who desired to work through doubts, difficult concepts or misunderstandings. In the story of a church member who had grown up in the church, but was truly an atheist, Spencer relates, “I demonstrated to her satisfaction such things as the existence of God, his infinity, eternity, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, justice, truth and goodness, his creation of all things, and his providence over all things… I aimed to bring in religious practice as soon as I had established a doctrine or truth to found it upon. It is a very difficult and laborious thing for a minister to deal with such cases as I have mentioned here. It will be hard for him to find time. But he ought to find it. He will seldom labor in vain (216-217).” Spencer reiterates, “Many convicted sinners are kept from salvation by some mere trifle. It is important to remove the obstacle (138). Our main business with any doctrine of religion is, not to prove it, but to proceed upon it – not to understand it, but to apply and employ it (254).”

Spencer prayerfully and persistently sought God’s dynamic presence and power to find the point of tension with people. Spencer was fully aware that it was the Holy Spirit that guides, empowers, convinces and regenerates. Spencer declares, “All that men can do is contained in two things – to make sinner understand God’s truth, and make its impression upon their hearts and consciences as deep as possible. No man can preach so powerfully as the Holy Spirit. It is vastly important to know when to stop. Silence is to be imitated, as well as utterance (82-83).” Spencer would use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to explore the spiritual depths of the people he met by asking questions for the purpose of ascertaining their state of mind (62), by spending time with them, then listening to their responses, seeking flaws in their theology. Spencer states, “If I perceive any one truth has impressed the mind, I aim to make its impression deeper; because the Holy Spirit has already made that impression (153).”

Once Spencer finds the point of tension with a seeker he would then pique their interest by asking a difficult question or making a provocative statement. People that Spencer stimulated reflect, “I somehow wanted you to lighten my burden, you made it heavier (154).” “I thought it was most cruel to speak to me so. I did not believe you, but I could not get the idea out of my mind (105).” “Then you said nothing more to me, I thought it a most cruel thing, but you drove the arrow deeper and read my heart exactly (152-153).” Further emphasizing the importance of the underlying work of the Holy Spirit, Spencer states, “If anyone thinks that he has turned to God without the special aids of the Holy Spirit, it is probable that he has never turned to God at all (109).” “All true converts may not be conscious of any special act of the Holy Spirit in their regeneration, but with discriminating minds there will ordinarily be the clear impression that something has been done for the soul beyond its own power (141).”

Spencer’s ultimate aim was to share God’s word in a manner that initiated spiritual growth and resulted in regeneration. The goal was achieved when a person was reborn and the commenced to live life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Spencer states it best when he says, “True religion is solemn and humble (183)… and there can be no religion without obedience. And there is not likely to be with any sinner, a just sense of dependence, till he earnestly intends and attempts to obey the gospel (77).” Spencer demonstrates a principle of true religion by humbly working with others, many times speaking to someone at a pastor friend’s or church members’ request. Spencer seemed to especially focus on the area and group of people living within a few hour radius of his congregation and always offered his services freely. Spencer’s approach appeals to the practical minded, he states, “Practical religion is the very thing I am urging upon you: the practice of prayer – the practice of repentance – the practice of self-denial – the practice of loving and serving God in faith (120).” Spencer notes, that in the end, each person is most influenced toward God by those practicing religion around them, he states, “Private example of godliness is what the world most needs (50).”

Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, A Review

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hiebert, Paul. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985. 315 pp. $22.99.

Introduction

Have you ever found yourself in a foreign world, and, in the same glance notice a high-rise building, a cow pasture, a McDonald’s restaurant and a man pulling an ox cart? Although this image may sound a bit strange, this is merely one snapshot of a myriad of situations with which expatriates are faced when encountering—and especially when living in—foreign lands. Paul Hiebert in his work Anthropological Insights for Missionaries seeks to open the eyes of new missionaries who are involved in ministry overseas. An anthropologist, Hiebert is also the son of missionaries and he and his wife served in India as missionaries themselves. Thus, his background allows an authorial view that is to much avail as the main subject matter of Hiebert’s work involves understanding other cultures and one’s own culture through the use of various tools of anthropology. For the average person who knows little about the discipline of anthropology1 Hiebert brings to light many key tools that anthropology offers while not getting bogged down in the semantics and theory of the discipline. Emphasis is placed on both the gospel and on anthropology; the wedding of these two creates a unique work that is eye-opening and provides the missionary with valuable resources for ministry.

Summary

The thesis of Hiebert’s work here is this: missionaries need both a solid understanding of the Scriptures and a deep knowledge of the people they serve in order to be most effective in their ministries. While Bible colleges, seminaries and personal study may prepare us in the scriptural sense, anthropology (especially cultural anthropology) helps equip us for the latter of these two necessary elements.

Thus, Hiebert utilizes his book Anthropological Insights for Missionaries as a platform for surveying many of the various aspects of missions and of being a missionary, focusing on how anthropology aids in each scenario. Hiebert’s overarching aspiration is to enable the missionary to understand himself while seeking to understand the target culture and how God and theology are thus worked out in such a culture that is not one’s own. The volume is very well written and does not seek to enlighten without practical points of application, which, by default is comforting and useful. He details what it is like to go overseas, including many of the experiences that accompany such a venture and looks at how cross-cultural ministry changes us. He also is careful to point out many helpful anthropological insights that allow us to better understand both ourselves and the people to whom we are ministering—while discussing specifically various realities involved in international missions and precautions to bear in mind when engaging in such ministry. Hiebert emphasizes the function of anthropology for missionaries; he does so very well, as many times the discipline of anthropology is viewed in stark opposition to anything that is as myopic as is Christianity. Anthropology is after all a discipline that does indeed have many eye-opening realities to offer in lieu of cross-cultural ministry; and what’s more, it helps us to evaluate our own personal cultures in light of a greater human paradigmatic framework. Hiebert sets forth many principles that have missiological implications and can accordingly be applied. First of all he sets out to explain the “messenger” (i.e. the missionary) and then discusses the “message” (i.e. the gospel). This he follows by looking at the effect that these two entities have on the hearers, considering how it would be expressed in real-life situations. He sets forth the following principle for the messenger: make no assumptions and understand your own limitations. Other principles set forth by Hiebert to be concurrently employed are the following: go to your host culture as a learner, contextualize the gospel message, and identify with your host culture and people as strongly as possible without ‘going native’.

In the section entitled “The Gospel in Culture”, Hiebert stresses the following principle: “All authentic communication of the gospel in missions should be patterned on biblical communication and seek to make the Good News understandable to people within their own cultures.” (55) The first portion of the book is entirely focused on the above assertion and the use of anthropology to understand and unearth both the implicit and explicit meanings and forms of the receiving culture in order to effectively do just what this quote urges: speak the Truth in a fashion that your hearers will receive it. The natural flow of events in sharing any information—for our purposes, the gospel—goes from communication to understanding to a response. We as missionaries are seeking a response; for this reason, we must couch the information to be communicated in culturally relative terminology.

After intense focus on the messenger and the message and various anthropological insights that aid us in our understanding of these elements, Hiebert focuses on issues such as our incarnational witness, contextualization, self-theologizing and other issues which we face as missionaries, getting into our ministry and church planting on the field. This segment of the book is very practical and thus very helpful. Directly related to this segment is discourse of the latter portion of the book, devoted to our role as missionaries and how we are to allow the church to truly be autonomous, and realize our place in the grand scheme of things.

Critical Evaluation

In this work, Paul Hiebert has set forth to open the eyes of new missionaries, equipping them with some key anthropological guides and methods in order to better minister cross-culturally. His firm belief is that anthropology is a discipline that has much to offer us as missionaries. His goal has been accomplished with unwavering merit. Hiebert first stated his purpose clearly and then supported this thesis with numerous examples and life experiences that give tangibility to his work; naturally, this concreteness makes the book one that can be used practically by the average person who may know much about theology but little about anthropology.

In purposing to equip new missionaries, Hiebert affirmed time and again what an invaluable source that anthropology is as we serve cross-culturally. This claim is the basis for his writing this book. Throughout, his work sets forth principles of anthropology, allowing the reader to see how these basic tenets might apply to both current and future ministry experiences. The evidence for his claims (as mentioned above) is seen by way of illustration and real life examples. The only way to see whether or not anthropological methods are effective is to put them to the test; Hiebert, along with many others of whom he gives example, have done just that. Thus, his support for his claim(s) comes by relating stories of various missionaries. These illustrations help his claim to take life for his readers.

Hiebert’s failure to deal with counter evidence on his main thesis and goal is self-explanatory: the assumption is that the reader is interested in how to utilize the discipline of anthropology and her insights to minister as a missionary. The title itself is indicative of this. One may say that this is no good reason for lacking antithetical views; however, in this case such an argument seems irrational as it is clearly accepted that an interdisciplinary networking is the best way to go about mission work. Historically, we see the mistakes that have been made based on a lack of cultural sensitivity, contextualizing of the gospel, and truly knowing your focus people group, among others. These are the mistakes we are striving to correct and avoid in the future through the use of disciplines such as anthropology.

The belief that effective cross-cultural ministry involves use of anthropological methods is one firmly held by Hiebert. As an anthropologist and a former missionary, Hiebert sees the benefits of anthropology for missions; however, he does not undermine the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in ministry. In fact, in the concluding chapters of this book—after devoting more than three-hundred pages to articulating anthropological insights for missions—Hiebert makes it clear that he comes at this study from the perspective that God can and does work through us or despite us, no matter how contextualized or culturally appropriate our message. The bottom line is that the Trinitarian God works in the hearts and lives of people to bring amount ultimate change.

This book proves a very useful resource to those interested in any type of cross-cultural ministry—and especially missionary service overseas. Those with little knowledge about the field of anthropology might first read a short discourse on the discipline.2 This would help the reader to better understand Hiebert’s anthropological perspective and presuppositions. However, Hiebert’s work does stand alone; he elaborates as necessary on anthropological theory. Anyone involved in missions should pick up this book and invest a couple of days reading it and grappling with some of the issues that it presents; many are inevitable realities that each missionary will face in their overseas career.

Conclusion

Hiebert’s knowledge and experience in both missions and anthropology create a unique and helpful manuscript that is applicable to cross-cultural ministries—especially international missions. This work stretches me in thinking about my past experience in missions and in looking toward a future as cross-cultural laborers. Many times Hiebert’s work provokes more questions than it provides answers. This is good, however, as the positing of questions allows us the opportunity to grapple and deal with real life issues theoretically before we hit the ground running in our ministries abroad. As aforesaid all ministries must be conscious of many of the principles set forth in this work by Hiebert if they are to claim any effectiveness at all. In essence, we must be aware of the implications of colliding cultures, paradigm shifts, and the limited relativity of our theologies in order to prove successful in the aim of reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel message of the Bible. Paul Hiebert has worked very thoroughly—with years of experience and work both in anthropology and in Christian ministry overseas comprised in this volume—in his efforts to enable those of us called to missions to be effective ministers worldwide.

1 To guide our understanding, we will utilize a working definition of anthropology given by Stephen A. Grunlan and Marin K. Mayers in their work, Cultural Anthropology: “Anthropology is the study of man (humans). Anthropology is concerned with every aspect of human beings—their origin, their past, their present, and their future.” (Grunlan & Mayers, 34). To add, Hiebert is concerned here with the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology which looks at humans as they interact and live out their culture. This is the area of anthropology most helpful in assuming the missionary task.

2 A good beginning work might be S. Grunlan and M. Mayers. Cultural Anthropology. Grand Rapids,Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979.

A Pastor’s Sketches, A Review and Philosophy of Evangelism

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Spencer, Ichabod. A Pastor’s Sketches: Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation. Brooklyn, New York: Solid Ground Books, 2005. 600 pp. $23.10

PHILOSOPHY OF EVANGELISM

Principles of Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism

Through his sketches, we can see that Ichabod Spencer is a man who seeks to meet people where they are. He gets to know them and where they come from. This helps him to assess where they are spiritually. His general approach then consists of ministering to them at the level they are at with as much intensity as the situation calls for. An example of this is his visit with a girl named Mary whom he visited multiple times a week. She did not tire of his company and counsel, so he was persistent with sharing gospel truth with her. In another case, that of The Young Irishman, he began to speak to him much like a lawyer, using certain reasoning and debate tactics, when he learned that he was himself a lawyer. In this way, Spencer works on a personal, case-by-case level with people.

In addition to the above discussion of meeting people where they are, throughout his ministry Spencer not only assesses where people are and the error involved in their thinking or beliefs; he then takes them from this point and shares with them the truth of scripture, without necessarily quoting scripture itself. He pleads with them the case of Christ. The person must do nothing in and of himself other than trust in Christ with his all—but this, in and of itself—is activity on the part of the one doing the trusting.

Spencer does not seek to give people security of salvation, but allows the Holy Spirit to give them such hope and assurance. One classic example of this is in his second entry entitled Faith Everything:

The idea had not yet occurred to her mind, that she was a Christian. She had only discovered the way. I did not think it wise for me to suggest the idea to her at all, but lead her to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the hymn. If the Holy Spirit had given her a new heart, I trusted he would lead her to hope, as soon as he wanted her to hope. The hymn which had opened her eyes, was the best truth for her to meditate at present (70).

Spencer suggests that faith is simple. We only cloud the minds of non-believers—he might say—when we begin to justify our claims about Christ with philosophical arguments. This is clearly a principle that he sought to live by in his ministry: faith is simple and need not be complicated. In evangelism we need to share the gospel with people and realize that God’s word defends itself. We need only to “take God at his word”. This is faith.

Spencer instructs us in just how to approach and address sinners: “The directions of God’s word are the only safe directions for inquiring sinners. The more accurately we see their hearts, the more appropriately we may bring scripture truths to bear upon them. In this perception of their state and this application of divine truth, consists the skill of any one, who would guide them to Christ” (116-117). These are recurring themes and principles in Spencer’s life and ministry: accurate assessment of one’s heart and guiding by scripture and not by our own whimsical advice. Application of the word of God is to Spencer a cure for the common life of the unbeliever and the believer. He goes on to add some words on the Holy Spirit and our plea to unregenerate sinners: “There is no reason to believe, that the Holy Spirit ever leaves awakened sinners; only as they leave the truth of God, for some error, or some sin. Truth is the Spirit’s instrumentality. ‘Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.’ We never should cease to cry to a sinner, flee, flee; till safe within the city of refuge, he cannot be reached, by the sword of the avenger of blood” (117). This just goes to show that we cannot assume someone is a Christian simply because they attend Sunday school class, each church service and have all the right answers. Until we see fruit in their lives, we—as believers in Jesus Christ and followers of Him—must impress upon them the truths of scripture—especially the gospel of our Lord that is able to save!

Another principle of Spencer’s is this: sometimes we simply must leave people where they are and refuse counseling them when, in reality, they are counting on us rather than despairing to the point where they must turn to Christ and call upon Him for counsel and pour out their broken souls before him—and finally be saved! This principle is one that Spencer never says deliberately as I have just stated it, but he does say it in the way he interacts with several people in his sketches. In one such sketch Spencer’s thoughts an actions exemplify this principle:

(After speaking with a certain young man) I knew it was not in my power to teach him any important truth, which I had not already taught him; and I feared, that anything which I could say to him would diminish, instead of increasing the impressions which the Holy Spirit was making upon his mind. I wished him to realize that his help must come from God….(He requested to accompany me home in order to talk with me). Consequently I refused his request. He entreated; but I would not yield. I wished to treat him affectionately; but as he said he had no question to ask me and nothing new to tell me, I refused to allow his accompanying me home, and bade him good night. As he turned away, he seemed ready to sink; and I could not but hope, that he was about to give up all his attempts to save himself, and flee to the Saviour of sinners (113-114).

Sometimes, after much ministry to someone—time spent with him and in prayer on his behalf, and in pointing him to the Scriptures and to Christ—we must let him go and force him to flee to God rather than to us. Oftentimes, people who have someone else to turn to in crisis will never throw up his arms and finally seek God. This may be ‘tough love’, and it is often difficult to know when and how to practice it, but God will help us discern such situations and see them through as He sees fit.

Spencer also places strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and the ‘impressions’ that He makes upon people’s hearts.

Another key characteristic of Spencer is his undying persistence. He does not simply take “no” for an answer, but presses the importance and urgency of faith in Christ on those to whom he talks.

One last thing that is continually addressed throughout Spencer’s sketches is the idea of striving and trying to seek God and to obey Him and the counter idea of fleeing to Christ and resting in His arms that are sufficient for sinners like you and me. At least one-third if not more of the Spencer’s entries involve a conversation something like the following which is from the sketch entitled The Whole Heart:

You (Spencer) asked me, if I was seeking the lord, and I told you that I was trying to. You asked me, if my trying had done me any good; and I answered, that I did not know as it had (118).

He would then go on to assure that one’s trying is not what saved him; in essence, it is when one gives up trying that he is ready to let God do the work on him that He has been waiting to do. It is at such a point that he is teachable, moldable and open to God. This is the state at which God wishes to encounter sinners in order to redeem them; they see their need for help and for redemption.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Spencer’s Approach

One noted strength of Spencer’s approach to Evangelism is his persistence. This is a quality that many Christians lack. We see the need to persist at times, but often lack the boldness confidence to follow through with people in this way. Especially, it seems that Spencer pressed his people again and again until the finally were saved or, in some cases, went the way of apostasy. Spencer was not much for lukewarm individuals; then again, neither is God.

A second strong point characteristic of Spencer’s approach is his meeting people where they are. Oftentimes we will expect some pre-transformation in people before they come to Christ when the reality is that Christ is the one who transforms us. Ichabod Spencer realized this and so, did not expect people to come to Christ any way other than just as they were; illustrated his believe in this notion in his evangelizing by meeting people where they were—spiritually, intelligence-wise, interest-wise and oftentimes, geographically. If we do not meet people where they are—meaning both outside of the church walls and in the spiritual state they are currently in—we will never be able to lead them to Christ.

In addition to meeting people where they are, Spencer assesses the spiritual status of a person as he is conversing with them. This is good method as well, for is one does not know in what state another is in, he cannot know in which way to lead him or just how to guide him.

Another strength of Spencer is his understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. He completely gives God (in the three persons of the trinity) the credit for converting sinners. He realizes his role and duty to press upon people the necessity of fleeing to Christ, as they are sinners in need of a savior; however, he recognizes that only God can change a man’s heart and incline a man to Himself. We too must appreciate this reality, allow God to do his work while obeying the call and duty to share Christ and press the truth of scripture upon those who do not yet believe.

Another strength of Spencer is a more pastoral aspect of his ministry: he is not content to assume people in his congregation know Christ. In fact, he seems to go to the other extreme at times and, if there is no evidence of fruit, he seeks them out one-on-one and presses them to flee to Christ for their salvation. He never downplays the urgency of placing faith in Christ.

One weakness to Spencer’s approach might be his lack of interest in the non-spiritual portions of people’s lives. Most often, he made his intentions of speaking solely about Christ known and went from there. If someone tried to go off subject, he came back to the focus. Now, this is not necessarily bad; however, investing in the whole person and not just one’s soul is preferable. Spencer’s role as a minister greatly affected this methodology in that most often people knew why he was calling on them.

Another weakness of Spencer is that he sometimes presses Christ with people before they are ready. Although I note this as a weakness, I think it far better to do just this than to sit back and never evangelize or ‘press Christ’ at all. Perhaps the leading into such conversation about Christ could be done with more finesse than that of Spencer.

Personal Philosophy of Evangelism

In reflection upon Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches and my own philosophy of evangelism, the strengths noted above will be methods and ideas that I try to emulate. These include the following: meeting people where they are and taking them (through scripture, testimony and witness) to where they need to be, assessing people’s spiritual state upon meeting and conversing with them, being persistent in pressing the necessity of Christ upon those with whom I have a relationship, working with people on a personal, case-by-case basis, understanding the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to Christ, and never assuming that a person knows Christ personally and has placed her faith in Him.

In addition to the above related strengths from Spencer, I will seek to employ the following techniques as well: intentionally build relationships with non-believers—getting to know all facets of their lives; systematically involve myself in the geographical community in which we live in order to share my faith with my neighbors and others who live near us; pray for those in my neighborhood, and others I know are lost; seek to share Christ with one person per week.

Overall, my personal philosophy of evangelism involves the above points, but must be a lifestyle in which evangelism is incorporated at every point. We should be sharing Christ in all opportunities that the Lord grants us and in all relationships that He gives us—in both word and deed. Evangelism must be a way of life, not only for the minister, but also for every believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Tell the Truth, A Review

March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 2002. 272 pp. $15.00.

Introduction

“A right motive (love for God), according to a right standard (the revealed will of God in Scripture) and for the right goal (the glory of God) – this is what constitutes a good action in God’s eyes (123),” quotes Will Metzger discussing what helped him to most accept that human goodness was a myth. Will Metzger has been a campus minister at the University of Delaware since 1965. Metzger’s evangelism ministry has taken him to every continent where he has witnessed to people from many nationalities. The purpose of the book is to help readers “show and tell” the gospel in a way honoring to God, helpful to others and liberating for the reader. Metzger’s book will achieve its goal by changing the reader’s view of God’s active grace in salvation so the reader can find the confidence, joy and gratitude to undergird a new evangelistic lifestyle (15).

Summary

Tell the Truth is a based on the notion of taking the whole gospel to the whole person, by whole people and is organized to clarify and elaborate this notion. The book is divided into four parts consisting of the content of the gospel, the conversion of the total person, the foundation for evangelism and character and communication in witnessing.

The portion of the book that covers the content of the gospel covers topics such as presentation, references for assurance of salvation, me-centered versus God-centered evangelism, combination of doctrine, life, truth and practice, the centrality of grace, the necessity for theological foundation, sovereignty of grace, dependence on prayerful pleading, truth-centered witnessing, and genuine love and friendliness. The second part of the book is based upon the conversion of the total person. The second part of the book comprises topics such as professing faith without possessing Christ, testing conviction, obedience, examination and testing of self, the willingness to keep Jesus’ teachings, the truth leading, emotions and will conforming, calling for a response and avoiding Christian labels.

The third part of the book is based on the foundation for evangelism. The section of the book touches on themes such as existing to benefit God, God’s image defaced but not erased, selfishness and arrogance being totally hopeless unless saving grace intervenes, changing focus of desires, examination of heart motives and desires, the myth of human goodness, biblical love being tough love, grace as an active power, God-centered evangelism including both love and justice, worship as the energizer to witness and theological conviction sustaining evangelistic zeal. The final segment of the book considers character and communication in witnessing. Concepts covered in final part of the book include true Christianity combining tolerance and truth; reinforcing, educating and illuminating the conscience of unbelievers, boldness in prayer preceding boldness in witnessing, the supreme motive in witnessing being to glorify God, action as the fruit of sound doctrine, emphasizing God’s grace in witnessing because it is scriptural, evaluating a profession of faith by its fruits and an authentic conversion resulting in a life of service. Metzger’s book is overloaded with helpful insights for real-world application. The book serves as a reference manual for Metzger’s conviction that we all must share the life-changing message of the gospel.

Critical Evaluation

Tell the Truth paints a picture of Will Metzger that casts him as a foundational teacher of evangelism. Metzger’s experiences sharing his faith as a campus minister has given him firsthand knowledge about the theological basis for witnessing and impresses him to the point that he must be obedient to the call of teaching others. To Metzger, “A scriptural doctrine of evangelism should be the controlling element in any practice of evangelism.”

The main purpose of the book is to give a modern view of evangelism from the perspectives of the message, the receiver and the sender. Metzger states that the platform on which we can build a life of evangelism is God’s sovereignty (22). It is imperative for the content of our message to be Christ and God, not our journey to faith (27). Metzger writes from the viewpoint that our task is to faithfully present the gospel message by our lives and our lips. In order to present the gospel message faithfully, the message must come from the scripture that compels conviction of sin and reveals a compassionate Savior, guilt (law) and forgiveness (love) (58). The viewpoint is convincing because of the foundation of his guidelines and illustrations.

Although Tell the Truth is a comprehensive guide on personal evangelism that I will surely reference in the future, the book was a very difficult read. It seems as if the author is trying to compensate for his lack of academic credentials by pouring all his life’s learning into 200 pages. The book’s editing is horrendous in that it has no natural flow and jumps from thought to thought. Metzger makes clear from the very start that theology should drive methodology but never discusses the role para-church organizations should play in leading people not only to Christ, but involvement in the local church. It would also be beneficial to hear how Metzger teaches evangelism to those in closed countries without an opportunity to overtly share the gospel due to government and cultural restrictions. It would benefit the reader to know how Metzger uses contextualization in witnessing. More stories of his years in campus ministry would help to keep the interest of his readers; these stories, few and far between, were my highlights of the book.

One of the insights that I will apply to my future evangelism is that the true reason for becoming a Christian is not that we may have a wonderful life but that we may be in a right relationship to God (105). It will be important for me to refer back to the truth because it is very easy for those witnessing to try to sugarcoat the gospel. Another insight that I will certainly refer to in the future are the scripture verses he gives to use for the assurance of salvation. Metzger states, “The first pillar of assurance is a trust in the promises of God as being promises to you. You can count them true and take them personally. The second is the beginning of a change in your attitudes and actions corresponding to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) and the marks of salvation (1 Jn). The third is the inner witness of God’s Spirit to your spirit that you are his child (Rom 8) (79).”

Metzger’s book should be read by pastors, students, professors and believers who desire a theologically driven witness to be taught to those saved by Christ.

Conclusion

Will Metzger’s text is a challenging reference of witnessing for God. Metzger says it best, “How often have you heard someone justify a large outlay of time and money in some evangelistic endeavor by say, “Well, it was all worth it if one person came to the Lord.” Was it? Maybe ten people would have come to the Lord and many more softened rather than turned away if another approach had been used. We must learn to become assertive without being obnoxious (187).” Metzger’s knowledge and experience with theology, campus culture, and the gospel of Christ create a unique and helpful account that will be applicable to future evangelists for Christ. Metzger’s work has stretched me in thinking about the importance for sound theology for witnessing for God and obeying his commands. Metzger’s work convicts believers to think through the importance of sound theology and the urgency of God’s message that he may have in our own lives and the lives of others.

Bruchko, A Review

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Olson, Bruce. Bruchko. Seattle, Washington: YWAM Publishing. 1995. 208 pp. $10.00.

Introduction

“This is why God had let me live. I was there to tell them where they could find God. Perhaps this was an opportunity that God had arranged. My body tightened at the thought of having a chance to share Christ after five years of waiting. Yet it seemed too much to expect. Inside I was praying (139),” recounts Bruce Olson on his first opportunity to share the gospel with the Montilone Indians. Olson has worked with the Montilone Indians for more than 30 years. His work among the Montilone Indians is considered by many to be the fastest example of development that has ever occurred among a tribal people. Bruchko, Bruce Olson’s name given to him by the Montilone Indians, is the story of God’s work in and through his life to reach the tribe. The purpose of the book is to garner continued support for the cause of Christ among the Montilones.

Summary

Rejected by mainstream mission boards, Bruce Olson was still obedient to God’s call on his life. Leaving the comforts of Minnesota and traveling to South America, he spends his life in the jungle along the border of Venezuela and Colombia with the Montilone Indians, living as a witness of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.

At fourteen years old, Olson wanted to know God. His conversion experience occurred when this verse in Romans began to make sense to him: “If thou shalt… believe in thine heart that God hath raised him [Christ] from the dead, thou shalt be saved (29).” Brought up in a Lutheran home, Olson struggled with finding a church that preached the gospel, finally ending up in an interdenominational church. His regular attendance at this church brought many trials from his parents who did not understand his break with their tradition in pursuit of authentic Christianity. Bruce states, “I was discovering that the cross of Christ meant more than joy and peace. It meant suffering, too – suffering that was necessary to bring a later hope (38).” Breaking tradition, pursuing the cross of Christ, and suffering to bring a later hope would become recurring themes throughout Bruce’s life.

At sixteen, Olson’s church held a missionary conference. Olson remembers thinking, “Listen, God, these missionaries are ridiculous…they wear tennis shoes in the pulpit. Their prayer letters aren’t even written in decent English. And their theology. They’re always talking about hell and damnation. Where is their love for the people they’re living among? They’re failures, Lord. They can’t make it in normal life, so they go off to be missionaries (41).” Gradually, God changed Bruce’s heart to where, by the time he was nineteen, he couldn’t escape his fascination with the people of South America. He applied with a well-known mission board in Venezuela. Though rejected by the mission board, God called Bruce to Himself, to follow Him to South America. Olson was called to Venezuela to work with the Indians, but his early time there was spent learning Spanish and reaching out to the Venezuelan nationals in Caracas.

Through a conversation, Olson heard of the Montilone Indians who lived in a wild jungle area on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. He knew in his innermost self that God wanted him with the Montilone Indians. However, before Bruce was able to spend an extended period of time in the jungle with them, God brought him into contact with various Indian tribes to carry out His purposes. God had Bruce spend three weeks with the Orinoco Indians to see how mission work was not to be carried out. The Orinoco Indian converts were taught to dress in Western clothing and to sing Western songs. Bruce remembers asking himself, “What does the good news of Jesus Christ have to do with North American culture (54)?” God had Bruce spend about one year with the Yukos Indians so that the Indians could become people to him, caring for him when he needed help, teaching him a valuable lesson not to judge a people before you really understand them. Bruce’s first few encounters with the Montilone Indians were cut short by God to protect Bruce from imminent danger and to get him medical attention. During these first few visits Bruce was shot in the leg by an arrow and contracted hepatitis. Through all this, Bruce remained obedient to God serving as a go-between, as God’s messenger to the Montilones, and as a source of God’s good news.

Bruce became discouraged after spending nearly a year with the Montilone Indians and still having only a very limited vocabulary. Around this time two small miracles occurred. The first miracle was that he made a friend named Bobarishora, or “Bobby”, who would become his pact brother. The second miracle was his discovery that the Montilones had a tonal language. These miracles brought him into an intimate fellowship and rapport with the Indians that would allow the people to hear the gospel. Advancements in healthcare, agriculture and education were all introduced in a way that built on things the Montilones already knew and the Holy Spirit was at work preparing the Indians for the presentation of the message. In his fifth year Bruce had the opportunity to make Jesus known to Bobby and a few others; Bobby was the only one to start walking with Jesus. At the Festival of Arrows, the only time of year all Montilones gathered together, there was a singing contest that involved relating legends, stories and news of recent events. These contests could last up to twelve hours. Bobby was asked to participate and was able to share the gospel of Christ for fourteen hours. That night a spiritual revolution swept over the people and the Montilones accepted Christ. The book ends by detailing some personal tragedies that Bruce Olson endured after the Montilones accepted Christ and it tells how God broke down the individuality and stoicism that prevented them from caring one another and even used the Montilones to reach other Indian Tribes in their area and throughout the world.

Critical Evaluation

Bruchko paints a picture of Bruce Olson that casts him as a visionary who discerns God’s call strongly. The call resonates with him, convicting him to the point that he must be obedient. The story of Olson’s life is both a vivid and humorous tale discussing his victories and defeats, ultimately showing his comfort with the story God has written with his life. The prologue states that Bruce had a “conviction that God had a plan totally unlike conventional mission techniques for evangelizing remote and unreached native peoples (7).” This story serves as a case study for Bruce’s conviction of unconventional mission techniques using the immersion of a messenger, go-between, or missionary in a culture to live modeling the gospel and contextualizing the gospel to reach the people. Even though his testimony stands on its own merit, it would be satisfying to readers if, in the epilogue, the biblical texts that he used to support his conviction and reasoning for these unconventional techniques were shared, discussed and supported.

The main purpose of the book was to tell of God’s work among the Montilone Indians and to seek people, money and prayer to help further their cause. Bruce writes from the viewpoint of Jesus desiring to be all things to all people and that the gospel works best when contextualized to a point that it can be knit into the fabric of extant culture. This viewpoint is convincing because of the great works God has done among the Montilones; the way the gospel was spread contrasts with the work that was done with the Orinoco Indians, who were encouraged to change their culture. Overall, the book is filled with insights and anecdotes inspired from the Holy Spirit. A few of the Spirit-filled insights were: leaving gifts on the trails for the Montilones to find when trying to reestablish contact with the Indians and using a microscope to show the witch doctor that disinfectants killed the germs when her chants did not.

Although Bruchko is a comprehensive story of Bruce Olson’s life, further information is needed to clear up questions that the book leaves. It would be edifying to know if Bruce was ever able reconcile his relationship with his parents. It would also be beneficial to read if he believes that all missionary work should be done independently, and, if so, what role a mission board should serve. It would also be helpful to know how Bruce would have responded if God did not provide the opportunity to share the gospel with the Montilones in his lifetime. Would he have considered his work a success? How would he have continued his legacy? It would also be rewarding to know what he might do differently if he were starting out today, and how the technological advances that have occurred in the past thirty years would affect his ministry.

Bruchko has few gaps, the biggest of which are theological in nature. More than once the Montilone legend is shared about the prophet who would come carrying banana stalks and that God would come out of those stalks. Bruce Olson fulfills the prophecy when they realize that the Bible pages look like the inside of a banana stalk, but he never really clarifies whether he believes he is a prophet. On numerous occasions he contextualizes the gospel using Montilone lore such as using the word for “becoming like an ant” (141) for incarnation, but he never clarifies where the line is drawn. It would also be good for the book to have shared some theological issues that the people faced as they matured spiritually and as they translated the bible and how those issues were resolved. Anti-establishment and anti-traditionalism are the only biases overarching the book; these are contrasted against the backdrop of true Christianity being an unconventional call to obedience and suffering.

This book should be read by anyone considering working with remote or unreached native peoples and for anyone who has been rejected by a mission board and still feels a call to go. This book would also profit mission board trustees to see alternative techniques for conducting mission. Finally, this book could enable indigenous refugees to see the benefits of adapting to North American culture, while emphasizing a need to keep their heart culture.

Conclusion

Bruce Olson’s story is a challenging testimony of obedience to God. Olson’s knowledge and experience in unconventional missions, linguistics and contextualization create a unique and helpful account that will be applicable to future cross-cultural missionaries. This work has stretched me in thinking about discerning God’s call and submitting to his commands. I will meditate on the perseverance exhibited by Olson as he struggled to adapt to life in a foreign culture, and the patience he demonstrated waiting for the perfect opportunity to share the gospel. The book’s demonstration of the ability of God to empower a people to care for one another, work together and work with others impacted me. The creative approaches to solve potential social conflicts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will also be useful in future endeavors into cross-cultural settings. Olson’s work provokes questions that allow us the opportunity to think through God’s potentially unconventional call He may have in our own lives.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with book at Outside the Gate: Gospel & Organization.