Review: True Evangelism by Lewis Sperry Chafer

Lewis Sperry Chafer was a theologian, author, andthe founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. This month, I enjoyed reading a book he wrote in 1919 called True Evangelism: Winning Souls Through Prayer. Several other books I am reading now are rather overweight considering their contents but this volume is slim, only 100 small pages, and filled with ideas to savor.

The first chapter “False Forces in Evangelism” pointed out several trends in the church which block effective evangelism, such as the idea that evangelism is mainly only for special times and should be done by special people, ie "evangelists."

Chapter Two, “Salvation: The Objective in Evangelism,” is theologically rich. Recognizing that the objective of evangelism is salvation, Chafer explores the elements of salvation. He speaks of salvation in “three tenses” on p. 29, “The believer was saved from condemnation . . . he is being saved from the habit and power of sin . . . and he will be saved from the presence of sin” and focuses mainly on the “first tense.” I appreciated his seven-part summary of the changes that occur immediately a person comes to Christ, especially his reminder that one who believes is now clothed with the righteousness of God. Without such a reminder, it is easy to forget the real object of evangelism is not a simple conversation but salvation.

Chapter Three, “Conviction by the Spirit,” explores the central importance of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. All Christians whom I know acknowledge the necessity of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but few of us take time to meditate on that truth. This chapter emphasizes how foolish the gospel is to an unbeliever and how impossible it is for him to belief through his own power. Chafer does not write to discourage people from attempting evangelism but to encourage them not to neglect their own spriritual lives and to rely on the Holy Spirit's conviction rather than their own persuasive skills.

Chafer only gets better in Chapter Four, “The Prayer of Intercession.” He is refreshingly scriptural and God-centered in its approach to prayer. His brief descriptions of the privileges given to the people of God to approach him in prayer for the sake of other people were inspiring to me.

The idea of “intercession” is carried on in Chapter Five, “Suffering With Christ.” Chafer develops the idea that we can share in the ministry of Christ by sharing in his sufferings. I thought it was helpful to be reminded that suffering is not an pointless part of true evangelism. Sharing the gospel is not making a sale or winning an argument but doing my utmost to bring the benefits of the suffering of Christ to a lost world, regardless of whether that brings suffering to myself or not.

This book wouldn’t be complete without its final chapter “Cleansing of the Priests.” Those who go out as representatives of Christ cannot be effective in intercessory prayer, in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, in explaining the gospel without first being in a right relationship with Christ. I believe this is why the New Testament epistles say little about going out and “doing evangelism” but much about developing a pure and holy community and being conformed to the image of Christ. People who are living in sin are not able to be effective evangelists and should not be pushed to do so.

In short, this book is a short but Scripturally rich exploration of evangelism. I was afraid it might be a tract trying to harangue people into going out and “doing” evangelism. Instead, I found a deeply Scriptural, theologically deep, yet beautifully brief description of the nature of true evangelism. True evangelism is God-centered and God-directed. True evangelism is not a burden but a joyful product of service to Christ.

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