share-jesus-without-fear-book-coverThe Christian book market offers plenty of books on evangelism, but this one was brought to my attention recently when my pastor loaned me the condensed cassette version and companion New Testament for my perusal. While listening to the cassette in its entirety, I heard a mixture of statements–some good, others not so good in my opinion. Consequently, I decided to purchase the book so I could delve deeper into the thinking of the author, William Fay, on this most important topic of evangelism.

So far, the book has not been a disappointment. I have not come close to finishing it, but that should not delay my posting a review of the book here, so I plan to write the review piecemeal as I progress through Fay’s work.

The first chapter seems more like an introduction, not only because of its brevity (it is only about two pages long) but also because it seems to set the tone for the purpose of the book: to encourage believers in Christ to share their faith without fear. Entitled “You Can’t Fail,” the first chapter is spent providing a brief testimony of the author’s pre-conversion resistance toward the attempts of others to share their faith with him. He assures us that, even though he resisted these attempts fiercely, “I never forgot the name, the face, the person, or the words of anyone who ever told me about Jesus.” (p. 2)

What follows is just as encouraging, for Fay wisely points out, “But be aware: you are not responsible for causing a person’s heart to turn toward God. Jesus said, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44). It is God who draws people to himself, not you.” (p.3) I cannot tell you how encouraging it is to read such a powerful, clear statement on the sovereignty of God in the work of evangelism so early in the book. This is indeed a breath of fresh air in an evangelistic climate polluted by the attempts to market Christ, the deception and manipulation of unbelievers by believers, and an excessive reliance on human effort through relationships to win the lost to Christ. I don’t know yet where Fay stands regarding the concept of friendship evangelism and similar postmodern errors that have crept into the church, but his emphasis on man’s powerlessness to bring the lost to Christ is indeed a strong sign.

The second chapter, entitled “Catch the Vision,” begins with a parable of the author’s own, from a dream he had. In this dream he saw people escape drowning in stormy ocean water by climbing onto a large rock.¬† Rather than help out those who were still drowning in the ocean, however, these saved ones began focusing on their own pursuits on the rock. The parallel to contemporary Christianity is all too clear. The saved people on the rock did exactly what so many in the church today do: They ignore the lost and focus inwardly on themselves and their churches rather than reaching out with the gospel.

This parable is a fitting start to a chapter that is intent on stirring up the reader to begin doing evangelism. Unfortunately, Fay’s means of doing this are not always scripturally accurate. For example, on page 6 he says, “The wound that killed [Jesus] was silence. No one spoke up for him.” This is rather odd coming from the author who only a few pages earlier displayed a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God. While it is true that his disciples fled when he was arrested, we must not overlook the overarching reason that Christ was crucified: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23, NIV). Scripture takes it even further than that, though: Christ went to the cross of his own volition and obedience to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). The point that Fay is trying to make is a vital one that all Christians need to hear over and over again: To fail to tell others about Christ is to commit the sin of silence. To say, however, that the silence of others at the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion was what killed him is incorrect, and to use this incorrect interpretation to try to make a point is an additional mistake. To my mind it casts a lengthy shadow of doubt on an author’s credibility when he makes such a serious misinterpretation of scripture in order to validate a deeply held conviction. To do so is to trifle with the word of God. Hopefully the author does not repeat this later in the book.

Fay also claims on page 7 that the reason “one hundred thousand churches will close their doors this decade” is because their members don’t share their faith. This strikes me as an oversimplified diagnosis of a profound problem that is caused by a variety of factors. Some churches could be beset by financial problems. Still other churches’ numbers may dwindle due to weak, watered-down preaching–or uncompromising¬† sermons that are faithful to scripture. In addition, Fay does not provide a documented source for this figure, so one has to wonder if this is merely rhetoric designed to stir up his readers. Although I applaud his goal, I have to say that his means here are less than convincing.

Fay goes on to give a strong, scripturally accurate explanation of the reason that Christians need to share their faith: the great sacrifice Christ made on the cross for sinners. Exhorting us to resist the lie that unbelieving people will end up escaping hell, he urges us to give people the whole gospel message rather than “hints of gospel truth.” He points out that some Christians “don’t share enough information to allow the Holy Spirit to effect a heart change.” (p. 8 ) This is another moment in this book when the author shines, showing his keen insights into the biblical method of evangelism. Rather than promote an outreach method that avoids sharing the message of Christ in favor of building relationships or doing acts of kindness, Fay (whether he was aware of it or not) faithfully echoes Romans 1:16 by emphasizing that the gospel message, given in full, is of primary importance.

On page 11 Fay gives another figure whose accuracy and source are in doubt. He writes, “Nonbelievers must hear the gospel an average of 7.6 times before they receive it.” I truly wonder where people get these statistics from and, if they are not entirely fabricated, how reliable they are. If the number is the result of a poll, who was interviewed–professing Christians? Of these people, how many were truly converted individuals? That is something we mere humans could never know, and that is precisely the problem: If we don’t know for sure whether the interviewees in such polls actually received the gospel on their 7.6th hearing, how can their lives constitute evidence for this figure?

Another figure is given on the next page:

“What kind of encounters does the Holy Spirit use most often to produce fruit? He uses a witness whose heart is motivated by love. A survey from the Institute of American Church Growth showed that 75 to 90 percent of new believers come to Christ through a friend or acquaintance who explains the good news on a one-to-one basis. Only 17 percent of all conversions come through what is called an “event”–a pastor giving his Sunday morning message, a Billy Graham crusade, or a Friendship Sunday.”

Again, how can we trust these findings if they are based merely on the word of those who claim to have been converted? Perhaps only a minute fraction of this “75 to 90 percent of new believers” were genuine converts; perhaps none at all were! How do we know? We don’t, and we can’t. Therefore, providing such figures is really nothing more than an exercise in futility. What Fay should have done is spend more time in this chapter providing passages of scripture that back up his message rather than citing unreliable figures.

Overall, though, I appreciate what the author is trying to accomplish. Anyone who labors to stir up the church to proclaim the gospel is to be commended, all the more so in an evangelical culture that is determined not to do so.

to be continued in part 2…

Leave a Reply