Jonathan K. Dodson. The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 240 pp. $16.99.
It’s been years since I’ve read a book on evangelism. But I read a ton in my first few years as a Christian; as is typical with dramatic conversions later in life, I was passionate about evangelism from day one as a Christian and was consumed with a desire to share the gospel at all times. I learned many different gospel presentations, including several that Dodson mentions in his new book, The Unbelievable Gospel. Sure, there were times when I felt awkward, when my words felt canned, when I felt discouraged; but as I grew in my Christian faith and continued to both read about and “do” evangelism in the context of community, it felt less and less canned and awkward. Different evangelistic presentations and methods became like tools on a toolbelt, ingredients at your disposal with which to get creative and create a good meal.
It seems from The Unbelievable Gospel that my experience is atypical; the feeling one gets from reading it is that in general this generation of Christians is disillusioned about evangelism because of both growing up in an “altar call” culture and because of experiences with gospel presentations that felt very canned and ineffective. If this is how you feel about evangelism, then The Unbelievable Gospel is definitely for you and can be paradigm-shifting; you’ll come away with a rather different conception of evangelism and a renewed vision for it, as well as helpful practical suggestions in methodology. Even if one does not have a distaste for traditional models and methods of evangelism, this is still a great book to read for anyone passionate about evangelism or wanting to (re)gain a passion for evangelism. Dodson writes from a place of sound theology and passion for the gospel and the local church, but also with keen insight into the postmodern culture.
Operating from the premise that traditional methods of evangelism are no longer effective, Dodson communicates that evangelism is not just about what we say, but how we say it and aims in this book to help readers share the gospel in a way that is worth believing (14). Part I addresses four reasons why we tend to avoid evangelism – essentially, four typical approaches that are not effective. These are impersonal evangelism (seeing people as “projects” rather than taking time to build authentic relationships), “preachy” witness (being seen as self-righteous and hypocritical), intolerant witness, and uninformed witness (avoiding evangelism due to fear of not knowing enough). Part 2 unpacks the content and message of the gospel. Dodson defines the gospel as “the good and true story that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us” (110). He emphasizes that there are three dimensions to the gospel – historical, personal, and cosmic, which necessitate a corresponding threefold response – doctrinal, personal, and missional. Dodson also highlights five gospel metaphors which allow us “to communicate the good news in personal and contextual ways” (128) – justification, redemption, adoption, new creation, and union with Christ.
Finally, in part 3, Dodson devotes a chapter to each of these gospel metaphors, showing how they facilitate sharing the gospel in a “believable” way that connects with a person’s felt needs – justification for those seeking acceptance, new creation for those seeking hope, union with Christ for those seeking intimacy, redemption for those seeking tolerance, and adoption for those seeking approval. A concluding chapter emphasizes that it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and reminds us of the importance of praying and being led by the Spirit in our evangelism.
The Unbelievable Gospel is a helpful and refreshing read for Christians disillusioned by traditional conceptions and methods of evangelism. There is a sensitivity to the culture, an awareness of the importance of relationship, and an emphasis on the Holy Spirit that is sometimes missing when more conservative circles talk about evangelism. As such, those in more conservative circles might be uncomfortable about some of these elements. However, regardless of certain elements of discomfort or disagreement, the core of this book is helpful. It’s an encouraging and edifying read for all Christians passionate about evangelism or wanting to (re)gain a passion for evangelism.
Thanks to Zondervan and GCD for a review copy!