I typically try to avoid posting book reviews two days in a row (especially after posting both reviews at Discerning Reader), but I wanted to be sure I drew sufficient attention to Richard Phillips’ new book Jesus the Evangelist. I have written about the book once before (link) while reflecting on what I learned from studying the account of Jesus at Jacob’s Well. But that was just one of the many beneficial lessons I drew from the book. So I’m going to post the review here today in the hope that you will also be excited by this book and consider purchasing a copy of it. Many Christians are convinced that Reformed Christians do less than their share of evangelism. A book like this should help prove that there is no theological reason that Reformed Christians should be anywhere but on the front lines of sharing the gospel with others.
Jesus the Evangelist had its genesis in a series of expository sermons Richard Phillips preached on the gospel of John. As he studied and explored the book, he immediately saw John’s continual emphasis on the theme of gospel witness. As a talented expository preacher, Phillips’ sermons took the theme of the passage and he preached sermons on “the privilege and obligation of evangelism.” Having preached the sermons, he realized there would be value in compiling into book format what John teaches on the subject of evangelism. Jesus the Evangelist is the result and he hopes it will service to “both motivate and instruct the practice of evangelism among Christians.”
The book is written for two audiences. The first is the many committed Christians who do little in the way of evangelism. This book is meant to enhance the zeal of these people by emboldening their witness with biblical wisdom, guidance and instruction. The second audience is those who are zealous in their witness but who would profit from understanding Jesus’ approach to evangelism that they may ensure they are evangelizing in a way that is consistent with Scripture. After all, many who seek to witness for Christ in reality do nothing that genuinely approaches biblical evangelism. Phillips hopes to instruct these people so their knowledge may match their zeal.
The book is structured around chapters 1, 3 and 4 of John. In the first part, examining John 1, Phillips focuses on John the Baptist, the man who came to bear witness to the light, and drawing from his ministry biblical principles of evangelism. The second part, examining John 2, looks at Jesus encounter with Nicodemus and teaching from that story the theology of the gospel. The final part observes Jesus practice of evangelism as we see it in John 4 where Jesus interacts with the woman at Jacob’s well. An appendix deals with the important matter of the relationship of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, providing a brief look at biblical principles that should embolden our witness.
While it is clear that this book is based upon expository sermons, beyond very consistent chapter lengths, it does not have the “feel” of a sermon and potential readers should not allow that knowledge to turn them away from it. Were they to do so they would be missing out on a real treasure. While I have read widely in this subject matter, rarely have I found myself so convicted as I was while studying Jesus the Evangelist. The reason is clear. Rather than depending on surveys, statistics and guilt to motivate evangelism, Phillips turns instead to Scripture and allows the Holy Spirit to work encouragement through the Word. Inherently centered upon the Bible, the book never veers from the Word, never turns aside from plumbing the depths of the Scriptural witness about evangelism.
As I read the book I found myself feeling optimistic that this book may reach an audience beyond the Reformed churches. Many who profess Christ today desperately desire that the church spend more time studying Jesus and following His example. This book offers just such an opportunity. It teaches how the Lord Himself evangelized and how He drew people to Himself through gospel witness. It relies on Jesus to teach the theology and practice of evangelism.
I hope this book is read widely and read meditatively. Unique in a crowded field, Jesus the Evangelist is biblical exposition at its finest, simply opening Scripture, teaching the reader about the character of God, and allowing the Spirit to bring about conviction and action. I recommend this book to any and all believers.