This makes him a strange candidate to write a book on evangelism. However, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is one of the more helpful and encouraging books on the subject. It goes significantly beyond his material on evangelism in his other books, and I am thankful for his labor here.
To be a good book on evangelism the essential elements of motives, message, and method all must be addressed. Dever covers these in a way that is encouraging and not condemning. It is more difficult to be long and convoluted than concise and clear. While it is easy to be comprehensive, it is often more difficult to be direct. This book is just over 100 pages, and yet it is not lacking. It is clear and compelling.
Dever explains what the Gospel is, who should evangelize, why they should, and why they don’t. He uses appropriate Scripture and yet does not get bogged down in tangential doctrine. His points are illustrated with experiences from his own life, used as examples of both success and failure.
Dever paints a view of evangelism that is Biblical. He sees evangelism as something you live—that is backed by your lifestyle—as well as something that is spoken. He stresses the importance of clearly proclaiming the essentials of the Gospel, and he also stresses the importance of doing this in a conversation. “Don’t tell people something; talk with them. Have a conversation.”
One of the most helpful sections is where Dever discusses the necessity of being clear when preaching the Gospel. He counsels us to “think carefully about the language you use,” and not to take certain words for granted as if everyone always means the same thing by them (e.g., God, prayer, heaven, good, moral, judge, sin, justification). We must not shy away from using biblical terminology, but we also must be careful to define and explain these terms so that we are not simply speaking into the air. After all, we want to actually communicate the Gospel message.
A minor criticism is his use of the concept “contextualization.” He defines the term as speaking “in such a way so as to be understood” (63), and then speaks about how contextualization is important in evangelism. However, when many authors use the term contextualization, they do not mean that. They mean that the evangelist has to take truths rooted in Grec0-Roman culture and world-view, and place them in our current context. I usually come across the word in contexts that argue against using biblical terminology that is foreign to today’s world, and to replace those words with more modern concepts. So for Dever to use the same word favorably, and define it so ambiguously (who is against speaking so as to be heard?), it can come across as if he is arguing for the kind of cultural contextualization that I’m sure he is really against.
However, these few pages are sidelined by the thrust of the book. Overall, Dever’s book is extremely helpful and clear. It is a forceful challenge to evangelize, and a practical aide to doing it more effectively.
All Christians are called to evangelize, even if they are not particularly gifted. Many, if not most, Christians do poorly at this task. This book is an excellent tool to help Christians who recognize their insufficiency to be faithful in our task.
“The call to evangelism is a call to turn our lives outward from focusing on ourselves and our needs to focusing on God and on others made in his image who are still at enmity with him, alienated from him, and in need of salvation from sin and guilt.” This book helps us with our calling.
There is an appendix in the book, a few pages long, that deals with pastors and the particular opportunities and hindrances to evangelism that are unique to their occupation.