Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

I've been a student of evangelism for years. I've taken multiple college and seminary courses. I've been trained in church based programs. The motivation and theological reasons to do evangelism are often addressed. Sometimes these are the only issues of evangelism addressed because we are more comfortable with theological reflection than meeting people. At other times the techniques of evangelism get addressed. As one explores techniques, it is often the same as general persuasive communication used in business decisions, sales, policy debates, and public speaking...but watered down to one sales pitch which addresses one dimension. Often one sales pitch takes into account all the great public speaking techniques, but the techniques are usually not taught explicitly. These techniques of persuasive speech are incorporated into the structure of the canned presentation, but not taught explicitly. This would be indicative of training, not education. It is my observation that there is theology and techniques, but there is not much robust praxis. What is the difference between praxis and technique? I would say praxis is what we do in the Christian faith that has theological reflection as to why we do it. Technique on the other hand does not assume Christian theology so much as pragmatic outcomes as its rational. Praxis is more global in the issues addressed and multi-layered in issues addressed. Often the techniques of evangelism looks at what worked for one person and tries to teach other people to do the same. This often works but it often does not work. When it works we rejoice and use it as a reason everyone should adopt the technique. When it does not work we hide it and blame the one who did not follow the technique faithfully. I remember no indications that Mack Stiles intended to write a book about the praxis of evangelism, but it seems to me he did. He sees the persuading as a patient retelling of the gospel message multiple times in many contexts. The core of the gospel message is constant, but the individual stories of how one moves from rejection to consideration, from consideration to acceptance is a non-linear story in real life. Stiles seems to know this from experience. He understands that a culture of evangelism as a team is important. His book is one of the best on this topic.