The story of evangelism

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Recently I read "The Story of Evangelism" (Abingdon, 2006) by Dr. Robert G. Tuttle, Jr., the Professor of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando. Dr. Tuttle tells the story of the ecumenical church’s ministry of evangelism from its apostolic beginning until today.

Tuttle demonstrates an impressive knowledge of historical information and perspective. He explains the social and religious context of each period of church history, reporting not only about the church, but also about all other world faiths. For instance, I learned about how the church missed one of its greatest evangelistic opportunities when it failed to reach out to the Mongols in the 12th and 13th centuries, when Genghis Khan married one of his sons to a princess who was a Christian, and when Kublai Khan was not sent the 100 missionaries he requested from the Catholic Church through Marco Polo.

This book has the most generous ecumenical spirit of  almost any book that I have ever read.  Tuttle includes the stories of all Christians in telling the history of evangelism, from Catholics to Nestorians, from Quakers to Pentecostals, from Protestant liberals to Evangelicals. He is not interested in examining the faults of any Christian community, but discovering how that community has been used by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He treats all other faiths with great respect and appreciation.

Of particular interest to Tuttle is the key role women and the poor have played in the history  of communicating the Gospel. Their stories highlight one of the truths about the history of the spread of the Gospel: it is always received the most by those who are marginalized by the rest of society.

Of course, the main point of the book is to tell the story of the church’s ministry of evangelism.  It is a thrilling story. I believe that the reader will be inspired to want to be a part of what God is doing today through the church to bring others into the Christian life.

As I was reading this book, I received the results of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey about which I have commented in another blog. The startling information in this survey was that the number of Americans who claimed no religious identification increased 138% from 1990 to 2008, indicating that Americans are becoming increasingly secular. 

I think that our cultural situation is a missionary setting, and evangelism ought to be a priority for every Christian community and Christian. This is not about rescuing a denomination; it is about rescuing people who do not have faith in Christ. If every church and Christian will be engaged in transmitting and embodying the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then God will make arrangements for all of the denominations.

Tuttle summarizes the characteristics of dynamic emerging churches in the world: 1) They are culturally sensitive; 2) they emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit; 3) they emphasize prayer and worship; 4) they do whatever it takes to reach the next generation; 5) they are very sensitive to issues of justice, especially for the poor; 6) they know that lasting conversions occur through small groups; 7) they have a strong lay base; and 8) they emphasize repentance and faith.

One of the most encouraging things to learn from "The Story of Evangelism" is that all spiritual gifts are needed and used by the Holy Spirit in the unfolding story of evangelism in the history of the church. Ordinary laborers, scholars, introverts, extroverts, monks and many other types play important roles in the transmission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not all alike, but all of us can make a contribution in our own way to the great work of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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