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Easy to read overview of the task of personal soul winningApr 23, 2005
By Brian Prucey
The Art of Personal Evangelism is an easy-to-read overview of the task of winning family, friends, and acquaintances to saving faith in Jesus Christ. McRaney approached the task of evangelism from the standpoint of a well-informed practitioner. His desire was to point out the scarcity of quality evangelism in North American churches, provide a theology of evangelism, outline theories of communication, and overview techniques for effective witnessing.
The three chapters comprising part 1 provide a summary of the theology of evangelism with respect to God's involvement, the role of the witness, and the nature of salvation. Evangelism begins within the heart of God who has a desire to see all persons come into a restored relationship with himself through their faith in the reconciling sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God is at work. He works in the life of the witness and in the life of the lost person through the superintending activity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers the witness and enlightens the understanding of the lost person. While the Holy Spirit will empower the witness, the evangelist must take responsibility for adequately preparing for the task. The witness must understand the role of evangelism in the economy of God, the essential elements of the gospel message, and the nature of various evangelistic encounters. McRaney wrote that the witness "should prayerfully and persistently pursue the presence of lost people, then proclaim and persuade at the prompting and in the power of the Holy Spirit" (73).
The lucidity of part 1 gives way to the tedium of communication theory in the three chapters of part 2. McRaney summarized the nature of communication with respect to effectively presenting the gospel within the postmodern context. As many others have noted, the American culture has recently experienced a dramatic shift from modernity to postmodernism. This cultural shift necessitates a change in evangelism communication techniques. Whereas modernity defined truth as that which was provable, postmodernism defines truth experientially. Thus, the Christian witness in the postmodern context must emphasize intentional relationship building with lost people so that he or she can experience the truth of the gospel as it is lived out in the life of the witness. The witness must seek to understand the context of the prospect with respect to age, social position, and worldview. McRaney noted, "An essential element of effective communication is to understand something of the lost person's culture in order to make sense of the gospel from the lost person's perspective" (157).
The final three chapters provide a summary of tips and techniques for conversing with lost persons. McRaney summarized how to deal with various objections that may arise during the evangelistic encounter and detailed how to remove the internal and external barrier to effective witnessing. In the last chapter, McRaney provided guidance for understanding the different ways men and women process information and make decisions. Sensitivity to these differences will require gender-specific approaches to presenting the gospel. McRaney properly noted that the evangelist's job does not end with the convert's commitment to Christ. Thus, McRaney provided helpful guidance for following up with a person who makes a profession of faith. Evangelism must naturally flow to discipleship where the convert becomes the witness.
Critical Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses
McRaney rightly began his book with the theological foundations for evangelism. He reminded the reader that salvation is the activity of God. God took the initiative in the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ's propitiatory sacrifice. God takes the initiative in the process of awakening the prospective convert to the truth of the gospel message. The witness joins with God's activity by offering a clear and culturally meaningful presentation of the gospel. The strength of the theological aspects of salvation are tempered by McRaney's definition of successful witnessing as both faithfulness and fruitfulness (47). There is sufficient biblical and experiential information to demonstrate that the witness cannot control the fruitfulness of the evangelistic encounter, only the faithfulness. A witness never knows if he or she is planting the initial seed or supporting the efforts of previous evangelists. A witness may never experience the joy of helping a prospect cross the line of faith. The responsibility of church leaders is to prepare members to actively engage their circle of influence with God's message of salvation as God provides opportunities.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the book is McRaney's comparison and contrast of modernism and postmodernism. Those Christians over the age of forty have realized that the world in which they grew up is not the same world they live in today. Readers in this age group will benefit from chapters 3 and 4. Younger Christians, though, are more likely to have been raised with a postmodern worldview without understanding why the world is the way it is. They will benefit from an examination of postmodernism's assumptions and biases, many of which younger Christians share. McRaney's presentation on postmodernism will challenge younger Christians to compare their own culturally influenced assumptions by the standard of God's Word.
Finally, McRaney presented the job of evangelism as the responsibility of every Christian, not just the trained professional. He demystified the task of evangelism for the average Christian by promoting relationship evangelism. Most all believers have formed relationships with non-Christians. By building friendships, the wise witness gains credibility and trustworthiness to share spiritual insights with seekers. Additionally, credibility provides an opening for more hardened unbelievers to seek spiritual counsel when they experience a critical transitional point. Some may see the chapters on communication as too academic and off-putting, however, most readers will benefit from McRaney's thoughtful reflections.
Evaluation of Author's Objective
McRaney sought to present the task of evangelism as the only viable way to stem the tide of church decline in America. He chose to achieve his objective by examining the theological foundations for evangelism and by exploring the art of communicating the gospel message within the context of postmodernism. He has done both very well.
This reviewer has learned that witnessing in the postmodern world is a time-intensive activity. As such, prospects will rarely come to Christ at the first evangelistic encounter. In order to build relationships with lost people, this reviewer must find opportunities to engage in activities where lost people are most likely to be found--quite a challenge for a pastor who spends 99 percent of his time with church people doing church-related activities. Additionally, this reviewer wonders how he can finding opportunities to build relationships with lost people without compromising his responsibilities to minister to those who sign his paycheck.
The challenge of evangelism in the postmodern world calls into question the outreach strategies traditionally employed by this reviewer's rural program-based church. The door-to-door cold call approach is dead. Non-Christians see a Baptist witnessing team no differently than Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons knocking at their door. The lesson for this pastor is to challenge the church to examine its outreach program in light of the changing culture and needs of the community and to devise strategies befitting the ministry setting.
19 of 20 found the following review helpful:
If only I could give 3 1/2 stars to this personal witnessing primerDec 02, 2008
By Matthew Gunia
Will McRaney, Jr. is a professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. After teaching classes in evangelism (including an introductory course), McRaney produced this book to fit the need of his introductory class. Thus, the book serves as a good introduction the ins and outs of personal evangelism.
Little of what McRaney provides is new or unique, but the advantage of "The Art of Personal Evangelism" is that the author puts a vast amount of relevant information in smaller, easily-digestible chapters and presents then in a narrative that holds the reader's attention.
Theologically, McRaney is an American Evangelical, so his take on theological matters (and especially justification) follow the expected "decision theology" and "cultural contextualization of the Gospel" paradigms. Yet, McRaney's theology is moderated in this regard. His first chapters emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion and the fact that the witnessing Christian is only the vessel through whom the Spirit does (or does not) work. This starting framework is highly appreciated!
The next several chapters move away from the theology of evangelism and into the practical nature of witnessing. McRaney includes chapters on clarifying the Gospel message (understanding it yourself, communicating it clearly, not getting bogged down in extraneous details); starting conversations; not being rude or confrontational when speaking about the Christian faith; and talking with those of other cultures.
One aspect of "The Art of Personal Evangelism" that this reader especially appreciated is McRaney's efforts to apply evangelism to the Post-Modern Westerner. McRaney has a great grasp of the still-young (and often misunderstood) cultural framework from which the post-modern views life and faith. His presentation of post-modernism (and contrasting it with modernism, concerning which many outdated evangelism materials were created) is highly beneficial for anyone preparing to be more effective in communicating his Christian beliefs.
In addition, McRaney is to be commended for liberally using his many students' work as primary source materials. It was an excellent decision to let the unbelievers various students interviewed speak for themselves and to also liberally quote students as they reflect on their outreach experiences.
While "The Art of Personal Evangelism" is a strong book on the whole, many of its weaknesses are especially evident in the appendices. Here, McRaney's critical thinking and skilled editing are less evident, and McRaney's thought appear more raw and (to be blunt) simplistic. First, the editing is horrible; words like "k1112now" and "UUnderstanding" (pgs 236 and 238, respectively) should never appear in a book. But, copy-editing issues aside, here McRaney re-presents tired illustrations (e.g. "God has a plan for your life, but sin broke our relationship with God...") that really aren't helpful. I'm honestly surprised that illustrations that convey the idea that Christians are always in a good mood and can expect worldly riches makes its way into this book. In addition, the advice on construction a personal testimony also re-presents not-so-helpful advice. McRaney encourages the reader to talk about what a screwed-up clown they were before they asked Jesus into their heart...and now they're life is terrific! In addition to presenting a variation on the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel and assuming that Christians don't still screw up (we do!), it isolates the majority of Christians who were came to faith in infancy (via baptism). Finally, the bibliography is not very helpful for futher research as McRaney chose not to annotate it.
In all, this book is recommended. McRaney states that he did not author this work to be the definitive study of personal evangelism, but as a foundation for further study. In that end, he succeeds. It is a shame that the wheels fell off the bus at the end of the book and the appendices that were intended to add value to the book ended up diminishing the reader's confidence in his ideas.
11 of 12 found the following review helpful:
The Personal Evangelism Primer for Today's ChurchAug 13, 2003
By J. C Farmer
McRaney, Will H. Jr. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.
Will McRaney is an Associate Professor of Evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served in several positions such as pastor, church planter, and professor. In addition to his work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, McRaney also leads a church growth consulting ministry called Ministry Enhancement Group.
McRaney�s book, The Art of Personal Evangelism, emphasizes the importance of personal evangelism for both the Christian and the church. While a large percentage of Christians do not practice personal evangelism, McRaney points out that �everything begins with personal evangelism.� The purpose of his book is to review the biblical doctrines of evangelism and to provide assistance in bridging the timeless message with the postmodern culture. McRaney achieved this task by dividing the book into four sections: the first section reviews the foundational elements of personal evangelism; the second section discusses communication theory as it relates to personal evangelism; the third section provides practical application aids in personal evangelism; and the fourth section is comprised of five appendices to aid the reader in further research.
The first section of the book deals with foundational elements of personal evangelism. These elements consist of the theological doctrines of evangelism, including God�s role, the Christian�s role, and the content of the gospel message. God�s role in evangelism is defined as the instigator and agent of conversion. God desires a relationship with mankind for both His pleasure and for the benefit of His people. It is because of this desire that God created a means of salvation through the cross. This salvation is accessible only through Jesus Christ and the moving of the Holy Spirit. However, God uses His people as the messengers of the gospel. It is our role as His people to effectively communicate �the essential gospel message with the view toward seeing people supernaturally become followers and imitators of Christ.� Types and methods of evangelistic encounters vary, but the message and the goal of evangelism remains the same in all cases � to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all the Christ has commanded.
The second section of the book discusses communication theory as it relates to personal evangelism. McRaney covers three main areas of communication as it relates to evangelism. These include making the gospel make sense, communicating inside your context, and communicating outside your context. There are three primary styles of communication: self-centered, message-centered, and other-centered. We must communicate the gospel with a loving nature as God communicates. There are many facets of communicating with people inside our context. We must understand our culture in order to communicate effectively with the people within it. We must understand that there is a shift from modernism to postmodernism, and then we need to understand what this shift means for sharing the gospel message. Communicating Christ outside our context entails sharing the gospel with people of different age groups (children, youth, and seniors), and with people of different cultures. Sharing the gospel outside our context demands that we understand who we are talking to before we attempt to share the gospel.
The third section is comprised of three chapters that supply practical application for the principles covered in the first two sections. These include conversation aids, removing barriers, and the final chapter consists of a miscellany of items. The chapter on conversation aids covers such items as assessing readiness to hear the gospel or make a decision, answering objections, and how to transition to a spiritual conversation. Also, there are internal and external barriers prohibiting the Christian from witnessing. These include: fear, relational distance, isolation, intellectual, informational, and pragmatic barriers.
McRaney�s book, The Art of Personal Evangelism, is an incredible primer on the spiritual discipline of personal evangelism. This is an excellent book for pastors, church members, or students of evangelism. He does a wonderful job in highlighting the fact that personal evangelism is the key to kingdom growth, as well as providing the proper tools to equip the reader to take up the task. Strengths of this book include the thorough description of the theology of personal evangelism, and the practical application section is invaluable. I found the communication theory section helpful as well. There are a few weaknesses in the book, though. First, the editing of the book leaves a lot to be desired. There were several errors that were missed. Fortunately, McRaney deals with this by providing additional information on his website: [...] Also, McRaney seems to focus his writing for a reader in the United States. Yet, these principles are just as applicable in Europe, Australia, Africa, or Asia. With the current cultural phenomenon of globalization, it would have been a stronger book if McRaney did not focus so intently on the United States. An example of this is found on page 62. McRaney is talking about being an expert on World Religions, yet the first sentence discusses the plurality of the United States. Despite these minor weaknesses, McRaney�s book is a must read for any and all Christians. If the reader does not have a heart for personal evangelism before he reads the book, he will once he has finished it � and he will have the skills necessary to do it.
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Evangelism is Very PersonalAug 27, 2008
By Nandi A. Chendori
If you have interest in your own need for salvation, then more than likely you have the interest in seeing others get saved and stay saved as well. This book will help you to accomplish goals for producing disciples for Christ.
According to McRaney's common sense principles, "People are responsive and receptive to us when we consistently display interest in them" pg. 176
This book will surely help us to maintain a healthy attitude towards doing evangelism.
If you desire to be effective in increasing the kingdom of God through effective witnessing, then you must read this book to obtain the knowledge you need to be successful at evangelizing the world for Christ.
1 of 1 found the following review helpful:
Right On TargetNov 22, 2011
By Victor H. Benavides
Dr. Will's covers the bases. He hits on the philosophy, the approaches, and the dynamics on the art of evangelism. Soul winning is an art, which my be learned and practiced from passionate personalities.
Another author who shows that evangelism is still as effective as the examples in the New Testament is the Dr. Victor H. Benavides. His book Breaking the Evangelism Code is based on soul winning experiences and practices that occurred across the nation. His book deals with the biblical concepts, Jesus example, Jesus disciples examples and many personal experiences in conducting evangelism in the citites and communities of America. Breaking the Evangelism Code is a must read for every serious Christian and soul winner.
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