Saturday, 19 May 2007

Book Review: 'Tell the Truth' (Will Metzger, IVP USA)

I have to say I have no idea as to why this book is known so little in the UK. In all of the circles I have moved in: both within UCCF and within a number of evangelical churches, I have never heard it even mentioned. And yet this is probably the best book on personal evangelism I have ever read. I only heard about it through recommendation from the 9Marks website.

Metzger's heart is for genuine evangelism: in other words, he longs to see the gospel taught faithfully within a Biblical framework so that repentance and faith are clearly seen as the proper responses to Jesus' death and resurrection. He longs to see true conversions and new life, which only the Holy Spirit working through the power of God's word can give. And he longs to see evangelism that seeks God's glory and tells people of their utter dependence on God for salvation. Metzger warns against proclaiming a 'partial' or 'packaged' gospel that does not call for the whole person to repent and believe; in their emotions, in their minds and in their wills. He wants to see rebels transformed by God into worshippers of him as the gospel is proclaimed (and includes an excellent chapter on worship).

The first section of the book thinks about what the Biblical gospel is, and contrasts it with the 'me-centred' gospel that is so often pedalled in evangelism. As Metzger writes, 'My plea is that we taste and see the difference between modern evangelism with its methods / me-centred gospel and the historic God-centred gospel.' Fans of John Piper's emphasis on God-centredness will love Metzger's Bible overview (and Piper himself writes a commendation of the book). The section on sin is particularly strong, and Metzger expertly shows that sin can only be understood Biblically as a correlative of God, the soverign Creator. He writes that they need to be 'lovingly shocked' as they are told about their true spiritual position, in rebellion against the God worthy of all glory. Metzger quotes JI Packer on this, 'To be convicted of sin means not just to feel one is an all-around flop but to realise that one has offended God.' And so Metzger advocates strong teaching on the doctrine of God early on in sharing the gospel. Don Carson also commends the approach of teaching the doctrine of God as creator and sovereign in evangelising post-moderns (you can hear an example of this here). Why is this so important? Well, because until unbelievers realise this, they will never see the importance of repenting or the urgency to place trust in the cross of Christ with their whole beings.

Part 2 of the book is entitled 'To the whole person: the gospel to whole people'. This was perhaps the most helpful section of all. A true Christian is one who responds to the gospel intellectually (but not only with head knowledge), emotionally (but only with emotions led by truth) and in the will (as true conviction of sin will lead to a re-orientation of one's life). This section can perhaps best be expressed by one longer quote:

Our desire must be nothing less than to see the whole individual converted. We are looking to God for changed persons, not just a response from one segment of a personality. God's regenerative work is a thorough renewing that involves all the faculties of a mind, emotions and will. Scriptural language calls this a 'new creation', a 'new birth'. People are either saved or lost. To weaken this radical but scriptural cleavage of mankind by suggesting a third category for people is an attack on the biblical doctrine of regeneration. There is no such thing as being a half Christian - for instance, being a Christian but not a 'Spirit-baptised' Christian'; being a 'Christian' but not accepting Jesus as Lord; or being a Christian but living a life continually characterised by being carnal (spiritual adultery).

Part 3 of the book centres on God's grace. In fact, God's grace shocked me once more as I read through this section! Metzger spends time unpacking some of the sections of the gospel, focusing on the account of the rich young man who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and the parable of the prodigal son (or better, the parable of the two lost sons) in Luke 15. Both legalism and considering oneself unforgivable are blockers to the gospel of grace in which God calls us to trust. This all leads to a chapter on worship, where Metzger quotes from Piper's 'Let the Nations be Glad' at length, reminding us again that worship of God is the real passion and purpose of evangelism.

The final section of the book looks at personal evangelism, and here Metzger focuses more on method. However, what really impressed me is that the God-centredness that the book has displayed shines through all of the examples and tools that Metzger employs. The gospel outline he advocates (called 'Come Home') is perhaps quite complex for the average person to use in evangelism, but does demonstrate how the Biblical story can be taught faithfully in a few short steps, leading to the challenge to repent and believe with one's whole self. The book concludes with a lengthy set of appendices: including training materials for learning God-centred evangelism, learning the gospel outline 'Come Home', a study guide for the book, and a rather juicy essay called 'Doctrine is not an obscene word'.

'Tell the Truth' was initially published in 1981 (the most recent edition that I read was published in 2002), and as I said at the top of this blog entry, I have no idea as to why this book is unknown to the extent that it is here. I finished the book with a new passion for God's glory and with a new urgency for telling the gospel to others. It might perhaps be considered to be on the lengthy side at 272 pages, but is a must-read for all of those who want to be reminded of God's passion for people as evangeliser, and for those who want to see genuine repentance in unbelievers.


thebluefish said...

looks like a better get a copy!

étrangère said...

Deary me, I hadn't heard of it either... *rushes off to buy it*

ToddForthright said...

The book is big in the US with the recent rival of reformed theology.

Even had a stint in South Africa when he preached for 6 weeks on the book... pre-apartheid. (in the 80's)

He spent this summer working on another revision..and still evangelizes 40 years later with College students through IVCF.

A must read.

Todd (someone who knows him well)