By Daniel R. Gangler
What makes Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese (Chalice Press) unique is the fact that it is based not only on the passion and experience of the author, but also on in-depth interviews with 1,000 mainline Protestant congregations.
Reese, a Disciples of Christ, sums up the why of evangelism early on page 5 when she writes, "The heart of evangelism is being in love with God, being part of a church you love and caring about other people who do not know that faith. Faith sharing focuses on relationships, not 'bring in more young people,' or 'helping our church to grow again.' Evangelism is motivated by growing love - not by all the lists, bread deliveries, mailings, parties for unchurched friends, cell groups, curriculum decisions or new member classes."
Step by step
From there on, Unbinding the Gospel spells out step-by-step in specific terms the actions and reasons that make for successful evangelism, thus church growth. The book is written to be read and studied with others who believe being a Christian makes a difference in ones life. Reese asks, "If it doesn't make a difference., how can one share the Good News of Jesus Christ?" Sharing our faith with others in word and deed results in effective evangelism.
Unfortunately, Reese says mainline churches aren't growing in the same way other churches are growing because most mainline Protestants haven't learned the art of sharing their faith verbally. Personal stories of faith unbind the Gospel for others making it relevant for today. But sharing ones faith is only a good first step. The Christian faith is built upon relationships, what Reese calls a Trinity of Relationship - with God, with people outside the church, with people inside the church. Stories and relationships lead to transformed lives; that's what she says new member want.
From the theological and theoretical, Reese steps into practicality - inviting, welcoming and assimilating new Christians into the community of faith. She considers what church leaders need to do to make evangelism happen, as well as gives barriers which need to be replaced by bridges. The strength of the Unbinding the Gospel is the questions and exercises that need to be done by a group of individuals with a heart to help others - all others - grow in their relation with God through Jesus Christ.
For the most part Reese's book is good news, but I am still chewing on one paragraph that comes early on page 19. She writes, "Evangelism is of massive importance if an eternity in Heaven or Hell is the consequence of the choice to become a Christian. If you love people, it matters where they spend eternity. This is a huge motivator. If you don't believe that becoming a Christian saves you from Hell, what reasons do you have to do evangelism?"
From reading the entire book, I don't believe that eternal destiny is the only driving force for Reese. I believe she makes the point emphatically and in bold because "the more important your faith is to you, the more you want to share it."
Reese can help
Many United Methodist congregations in Indiana are growing and work hard to bring more people into the household of Christian faith. For these, this book will add new insights into furthering their growth. For congregations not growing, Reese can help these congregations take preliminary steps to attain growth.
For a copy of this book, part of Bishop Mike Coyner's Bundle of Books, log on to www.cokesbury.com or call toll free 800-672-1789 to order this book by credit card or account.
For on online discussion of this book, Mark Eutsler has provided a blog that can be accessed at www.unbindingthegospel.blogspot.com. View responses to this book and add your own response, if you wish to do so.