A Look at Books

God-Centered Evangelism R.B. Kuiper Baker Book House, Grand Rapids 6, Michigan 1961, 216 pages, price $3.95

It has always been an edifying experience for the reviewer to read something from the pen of Professor R. B. Kuiper. The present experience is no exception. Our esteemed author has served as Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, President of Calvin College, and President of Calvin Seminary.

That there is a renewed emphasis on evangelism today is apparent to anyone acquainted with the features of contemporary church life. To say nothing of the. great evangelistic campaigns headed by such well-known speakers as “Billy” Graham and “Bob” Pierce, one has only to observe the rapidly increasing number of full-time “Secretaries of Evangelism” employed by Protestant denominations to be convinced that evangelism is one of the Church’s major concerns today. Even the Ecumenical Movement, with its strange variety of theological thinking, has put evangelism at the very center of its interest. The report, Men’s Disorder and God’s Design, published in 1949, goes so far as to say that “if an ecumenical movement is not primarily a strategy of worldwide evangelism, then it is nothing but an interesting academic exercise” (Vol. II, p. 116).

Granted for the moment that this current interest is a hopeful sign of re-awakening in the Church, we still must ask whether we are witnessing an interest that is genuinely evangelistic. Just what is real evangelism? We are not surprised that the author of the book under review addresses himself immediateIy to that important question. “Evangelism is simply the promulgation of the evangel.” …It is “the bringing of the gospel to the unsaved anywhere” (p. 7). But the author docs not stop with that. Something more must be added. The point nt Issue to; the word “gospel.” This was made evident again at the recent World Council of Churches’ Assembly in New Delhi, India, where one of the prominent speakers from America refused to declare unambiguously that salvation is impossible outside Jesus Christ. Where there is no agreement as to the essence, the uniqueness, and the finality of the Christian message, it is understandable how the preaching of the gospel has such wide variations. Even when the World Council of Churches uses the same definition of evangelism as we do, and underlines it with the declaration that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, we still are poles apart so long as we do not mean the same thing by gospel Pr0fessor Kuiper is too keen a thinker and observer to overlook or to minimize this point. He knows that there is a vast difference between preaching ahem Christ and preaching Christ. His whole book is posited on the premise that evangelism to be Christian must be God-centered and that the gospel is the good news that Christ, very God of very God, entered into our scene of time and for us men and our salvation fulfilled the righteousness of the law, and by his death on the cross blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us. This is the God-centered gospel that makes possible God-centered evangelism. “Holy Scripture,” says our author, “demands an evangelism which is of God, through God, and unto God” (p. 8).

The rest of the book is a logical and Scriptural development of that thesis. Evangelism has Its roots in eternity because the Triune God Is the author of salvation, and planned it before the world was. The absolute sovereignty of God is articulated in the whole Ordo Salutis. Out of the eternity in which God foreordained all that comes to pass the Divine arm of redemption reaches into our time and circumstances to apply the blessings of salvation. And always it is God who does it. “He does all that he does because he is who he is” (p. 31). Does the sovereignty that declares, “I will have merely on whom I have mercy,” make evangelism superfluous? Indeed not, for that Divine will concerns means as well as ends. The Bible teaches both Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The evangelist must tell the sinner “not merely that salvation is by sovereign grace alone, but also that, in order to be saved, he must believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord” (p. 34). We are commanded to believe. God’s sovereignty comes to expression not only in the Divine decrees, but also in the Divine commands (cf. p. 53). There is here no adjustment of Divine command to the enfeebled powers of man. The Reformed faith holds that “God requires of man perfect obedience to his law even though man In his fallen state is incapable of rendering such obedience” (p. 54). And when the preacher of the gospel faithfully delivers his message that way, he can be sure of results, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Instead of rendering evangelism superfluous, election both demands and guarantees evangelism. (cf. pp. 33–35). Indeed, “evangelism Is indispensable in the actualization of the salvation of God’s elect” (p. 46). Evangelistic preaching “is an important link In the chain of events that constitute the realization of election” (p. 45).

People, particularly the Anninians, who have the habit of saying that Calvinists, with their emphasis on Divine sovereignty, lack zeal for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) could profit much from the reading of chapters 5 and 6. Here Professor Kuiper discusses the Great Commission in the light of The Sovereign Christ. So often the end of evangelism is defined as the salvation of sinners. That is only part of it. Fact is, if we limit the aim to that one end, we make ourselves guilty of mis-focussing the Great Commission. The theme of the Great Commission is The Sovereign Christ. Sinners to whom the Church brings the gospel are to be taught to obey Christ—“teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” The end here is not merely “receiving him in faith as Saviour, but acknowledging him as Lord” (p. 58). This is not minimizing the gracious deliverance from sin. It is rather placing the period of the sentence farther along where it belongs. The period comes only when we recognize Christ’s sovereignty. Arminians, to be sure, have a missionary “Go.” Calvinists have that too. But they have more. Calvinists seek to honor the God who says “Go” and who is the glorious end of the going! Sinners are rebels who must not only be forgiven, but must be taught to obey Christ. “The end of evangelism is the universal recognition of the sovereignty of Christ” (p. 58). That is how we should understand the Great Commission. The author enlarges upon this in chapter 9.

Other chapters deal with the Urgency of Evangelism, The Motive of Evangelism, the Agent, Approach, Means, Message, Method, etc. There also are chapters on God and C0operation in Evangelism, God and the Effectiveness of Evangelism, God and Resistance to Evangelism, and the final chapter, God and the Triumph of Evangelism. A helpful Index of Scripture passages is added.

This is a good book on a timely and popular subject. The author writes as he speaks—with directness and penetration. He is never ambiguous. His knowledge of the Bible is comprehensive and his interpretation is sane and consistent. So many Christians today need to have their thinking clarified all to what evangelism is all about. A book like this certainly will supply that need.

Perhaps among the readers of this review there is a generous benefactor who will provide a fund to supply our missionaries, at home and abroad, with a copy of this book. It will be money well spent!