SEPARATING ETHICAL EVANGELISM FROM AGGRESSIVE AND MIS-JUDGED EVANGELISM

Another Fine Book From Elmer Thiessen

We Recommend This Book With No Reservations...



The following book review is a consideration of 'The Scandal of Evangelism, A biblical study of the ethics of evangelism' by Elmer John Thiessen. This is a softback book on ISBN: 978-1-1788-1. It is published by Cascade Books, of Eugene, Oregon, United States of America, in 2018.



I am indebted to Wipf and Stock Publishers for sending me a copy of Elmer John Thiessen's 'hot off the printing press' 'The Scandal of Evangelism.' I review this 2018 book with considerable respect and interest having already written a review of Thiessen's 2011 book, 'The Ethics of Evangelism' here.




This is a paperback (or 'softback,' if you prefer), of between two hundred and three hundred pages. Like it's previously reviewed 2011 evangelism-concerned predecessor, it is an attractive and readable little book which carefully considers just what is acceptable ethical Christian evangelism and just what sort of evangelism has plainly gone too far both in the past and present, whether we consider the Roman Catholic missionaries of earlier centuries in South America ('convert to Christianity or die'), or other dubious practices. Let me say at once that this book, in my opinion, should be consulted by every single leader within evangelicalism, for it sets wise and sensible responsibilities and parameters of active Christian mission. Moreover, the book arms the evangelical Christian with a fair and reasonable defence in order to oppose increasing attacks from the forces of liberalism. Indeed, I note that I made an almost identical comment about this author's earlier book ('Ethics of Evangelism' from 2011).


Like many of us, author Thiessen is well aware of pressure coming from the new liberalism for believers not to communicate their faith beliefs at all, simply to keep them as a purely private matter. This can never be acceptable behaviour, of course, for followers of the One who told his followers to, '... Go and makes disciples of all nations.' See Matthew 28:19. Yes, the relevant Scriptures are considered here but the approach is mainly philosophical, rather than theological (though the latter is not ignored). Everything is put up for further and deeper consideration by Dr Thiessen; what about, for example, evangelising children? How far should one take this with no consideration of the wishes of parents? (we speak in an age in which the 'Sunday School,' in which Christian believer parents virtually handed over their children to be fashioned into Christian believers, has largely vanished in many countries). Also how about foreign humanitarian aid coming from aid workers who happen to be Christian believers; should any pressure be brought to bear towards an acceptance of Christianity? These are just a few of several matters which those involved in evangelism really should be giving some serious thought to, especially in our present age, according to philosophy lecturer Thiessen; he is surely correct in this.


This book is divided into two sections: Part I: Ethics of Evangelism in the New Testament, and, Part II: Applied Topics. Five chapters for each section. The writer does a good job in bringing out many pertinent points along the way, these points sometimes being raised in a manner which might be unfamiliar to many evangelicals. This is good; it is helpful for us evangelicals to be encouraged to 'think outside the box.'


The Gospel Is Too Often Reduced to a Matter of Personal Salvation

Thiessen quite soon brings out an excellent point in his 'The Gospels and Jesus' section, this being something which I also tend to hammer away at. Let's look at it:

Sadly, in the history of the Christian church, the gospel has all too often been reduced to personal salvation. This is certainly part of the reason for the gospel being good news. But there is more to the good news of salvation than this. The good news is about Jesus, who climactically and decisively brought about God's fresh kingdom-order to God's people, and thence to the world. The good news is about God's will being done in all of creation. The good news is about a way that leads to life and wholeness and shalom for individuals and society at large. (p 43).


Wise to draw the perspective somewhat away from the individual and what might be called his/her internal spiritual life. The author is surely correct that this is too often over-stressed at the expense of the teaching of a wider concept of salvation. We must remember that our Lord's gospel intention was/is plainly of a universal breadth. Wise too that the author does not seek to bolster his point with any suggestion of millenarianism. Indeed, he quickly notes (same page) that these things will not be accomplished until, "God creates a new heaven and a new earth."


Here we have a considered author of experience and wisdom who is a million miles away from the flashy, silk-suited, lectern-thumping razzamataz emotional decision salesman who got unleashed by some Bible school before fully completing his theology, or before thinking-through the thousands of difficult human situations one is soon confronted with. In short, Mr Thiessen has done his pastoral theology; he knows about people - just as Jesus surely did.


Getting Back to the Cross and Losing the Current Triumphalism

In the same 'The Gospels and Jesus' section, our author reminds all his readers of the importance of the Bible teacher to assume the mantle and approach of a wise and caring shepherd:

Good shepherds are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sheep. There is nothing here about a triumphalist proclamation of the gospel. Instead, ethical evangelism will be characterized by a wllingness to suffer and even die. Evangelism inspired by the cross is not conquest-minded or militant. Instead, ethical evangelism will be characterized by vulnerability and sometimes even martyrdom. (p 55).


A little later (p 127), Thiessen warns us against showing an overly aggressive attitude towards other religions as we seek to make disciples for Jesus Christ. We are reminded that Paul the Apostle does not do this in Acts 17:16-34. Paul's anger is always more directed towards those who pervert the Christian Gospel, and he shows no interest in getting involved in squabbles with other religions and faiths. This is a sound and timely reminder and is, indeed, exactly what we find in Scripture. Moreover, our author is opposed to using undue coercion or emotional pressure in evangelism as we should also be. He is not of the slick and slippery tongue school who are only interested in making quick converts.


In this book, there is very careful coverage on the subject of evangelizing children with many sensible and timely reminders and warnings. Again, this is currently much-needed especially with the critics of Christian evangelism now much quicker to pounce and to condemn than they once were.


Criticisms of the Book?

I honestly don't have any at all, and that is rare; just maybe a few more impactful statements, the sorts of comments which can make it hard to put a book down might have helped but the writer obviously carefully considers everything before he writes. In no sense is he ever brash, boastful or arrogant and his desire to avoid such things and to maintain humility can only be admired. So I willingly accept him just as he writes.


CONCLUSION?

There is much, much more of value in this little book. Excellent little points along the way which can only prove to be helpful to the evangelist operating in this difficult early 21st century, but I think I have made my point that this is a pretty much essential book for any going into the field of Christian evangelism right now. My advice? READ THIS BOOK!

Robin A. Brace. July 1st, 2018.

UK APOLOGETICS