Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 3, Number 2


Book Review: The Logic of Evangelism

Gailyn Van Rheenen
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

The Logic of Evangelism, by William J. Abraham. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989. 254 pp. $12.95.

Abraham defines evangelism as the intentional initiation of people into the kingdom of God. Using this definition, Abraham incisively critiques partial and naively constructed definitions of the past. Evangelism is more than merely converting people through proclamation; it also implies nurturing new believers so that they become mature in Christ. The Church Growth perspective is evaluated positively for its aggressive, iconoclastic spirit that is determined to get at the facts, its emphasis on pioneer evangelism, and its unreserved struggle with various core theological issues (for instance, the relation between evangelism and social action). Church Growth thinking, however, is severely critiqued because of its fierce pragmatism and the subsidiary role it gives to theological considerations.

These orientations of evangelism--proclamation and church growth--along with three other perspectives--soul-winning, witnessing, and disciplining (pp. 93-94)--each focus "on one dimension of the kingdom of God" which is then erected "into the essence of evangelism" (p. 95).

The kingdom perspective of evangelism, on the other hand, shifts the focus from the anthropocentric to the theocentric "where the focus is on the majestic and awesome activity of a trinitarian God" (pp. 98). Abraham's definition thus sets the stage for new dialogue about evangelism--a dialogue which assumes that practice grows out of proper theology.

Abraham, professor at Southern Methodist University, emphasizes the pietism of the Wesleyan tradition. Initiation into the kingdom of God is related to community, provides a morality based on love, involves equipping through the development of spiritual gifts, and appropriates the basic Christian disciplines (prayer, fasting, reading of scripture, and taking of the eucharist). While the church of culture has no place for conversion, Abraham embraces conversion as a radical transition into a new way of life.

Modern people are frequently embarrassed by the exclusive claims of the Gospel and desire that evangelism accommodate itself to their cultural milieu. Evangelism thus degenerates into social and moral programs, institutional maintenance, and educational projects. Abraham's definition of evangelism incisively helps the church maintain a theological focus in a pluralistic age where people are tolerant of differing worldviews.

  Evangelists of a restoration heritage will likely disagree with some aspects of Abraham's otherwise formative treatise on evangelism. Abraham ascribes the same type of inspiration to scripture and early Christian councils. He highly regards John Wimber's "power evangelism" because of its eschatological orientation. He, however, fails to acknowledge Wimber's pragmatic use of power and the limitations of any theology centered around power. Finally, Abraham writes more as a theorist of evangelism than an active participant as demonstrated by the wide use of historical material but little use of personal illustrations.

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