Our friend, Leon Brown, has written a new book on personal evangelism, Words in Season.
Mike Horton wrote the foreword:
The greatest gift that you and I possess in Christ is reconciliation with God. Chosen in Christ from all eternity, we are united by the Spirit through the gospel to Christ through faith, which itself is a gift. From this union we receive “every blessing in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). We’ll never be recipients of a comparable gift. And the best gift we can give is that same gospel by which others can be reconciled to God: joined to Christ, justified, adopted, sanctified, and finally glorified. We cannot redeem anyone. Nor can we raise those who are spiritually dead to life by our clever techniques, charisma, or persuasion. Nevertheless, we can talk. We can communicate the terms of God’s peace treaty on his behalf to actual people who are “strangers and aliens” to the commonwealth of God. We can share the message that finally addresses the origin of that nagging but undefined sense of shame, guilt, and alienation and announces the good news that God justifies the ungodly. If the Triune God has chosen this means—the communication of his Word—for uniting others like us to the incarnate Son, a gospel that has brought us such rich forgiveness and peace with God, then we cannot fail to raise our hand with the prophet Isaiah and say eagerly, “Here I am, LORD, send me!” But, alas, we often feel somewhat ambivalent about sharing our faith. It’s not that we do not believe it, revel in it, and want others to hear it. Perhaps it is because we are naturally shy, at least when it comes to matters that are likely to be controversial. Maybe we have misconceptions about what personal evangelism is, with visions of standing on street-corners holding “Turn or Burn!” signs. It’s easy to say, “I’m really glad that others are doing it—somewhere—and I’ll even support them financially.” Some people work in sales and others prefer a desk job. It’s the division of labor, right? To be sure, Christ called pastors and teachers to give their lives full-time to studying, proclaiming, and applying God’s Word. Yet we would never say that this relieves us of any personal responsibility for reading the Bible and prayer. The same is true of personal evangelism.
Raised in churches where personal evangelism was highly programmed, we can often over-react. Especially in a society that is increasingly hostile to any serious claims when it comes to religion, we hear many people say, “I don’t preach the gospel; I live it.” The most serious problem with this statement is that it misses the point about what the gospel is in the first place. The gospel is not something that you can live. It’s an announcement about what someone else lived, died for, and was raised from the dead to secure. We are called to live in the light of the gospel, in a way that commends the gospel. Yet we are ourselves among the sinners who need to hear that good news that we’re called to bring to others. We are always the messengers, not the message. The gospel is an announcement and announcements need heralds. Some of us may be burned out on the constant call to be disciple-makers and the expectation to “save souls.” That can be a paralyzing fear, keeping the bravest among us from taking on such responsibility. But it is a great relief to learn that we cannot save anyone. We cannot bring a single person to saving faith. This is the gift of God. This frees us up to share the gospel in intentional ways as we go about our normal life. One of the privileges of teaching in a seminary is that I am able to encounter many young people who are zealous to bring the gospel to believer and unbeliever alike. It is not only an encouragement but a challenge for me to be more intentional about taking advantage of opportunities to plant seeds or to water seeds that someone else has planted. Leon Brown is one of those brothers whose head and heart have found a cordial friendship, one who refuses to choose between knowing Christ and making him known. For Leon, there is no point to getting the gospel right in our own minds if we don’t get the gospel out to those who need it. His own zeal in personal evangelism during his seminary years, and now as a pastor, has been a great example to many, including me. This book is not another guilt-trip. On the contrary, it opens our horizon to a big God who has a big message that he wants the whole world to hear. Filling our sails with the gospel itself, it leaves us drawing our own conclusion, “Here I am, send me!”
Beyond the motivation, Words in Season helps us with the nuts and bolts of evangelistic conversations. Many of us know what we believe, but are not quite sure how to say it or how to take advantage of opportunities— indeed, make opportunities—to present it. The author brings to bear his own experience, working through his own weaknesses and anxieties as well as the approaches that he has seen to be effective. Combining biblical wisdom with common sense, he knows that personal evangelism is a team sport. It is not something that we do alone, as if we could “close the deal” in every encounter. Furthermore, he knows that the goal of personal evangelism according to our Lord and his apostles is not adding a notch to our belt but adding neighbors to the church. We are understandably wary of programs that promise to revolutionize the world and trigger mass conversions. This is not that kind of book. But if just one reader—perhaps you or I—became more prepared to give to the next person we encounter a reason for the hope that we have, then Words in Season will have been worth more than its weight in gold.