I agreed to review Rico Tice’s new book Honest Evangelism: How To Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough sight unseen and I really, really wanted to like it.
After all, the people who endorsed it are solid folk, and I want Christians to share their faith. And let’s face it—most good-hearted steps toward evangelism are good steps. If we’re going to fumble and stumble, then let’s fumble and stumble toward the cross. And besides, evangelism isn’t a hard concept. I’ve been working at it for 40 years and can boil it down in one sentence: “Evangelism is teaching the gospel message with the aim to persuade.”
So what could go wrong, right?
As I waited for the book, I began to waver. I began thinking of all the programmatic shenanigans foisted on good-hearted Christians who want help talking to Joe about Jesus during their lunch break at work.
The book arrived. I flipped to the table of contents. The chapter headings only created more worries: “Chapter 6: ‘Be Yourself.’”
Yikes, I thought, If I’m going to “be myself,” I’m never going to share the gospel!
I read the book.
Unexpectedly Encouraged and Challenged
My fears vanished. I couldn’t be more excited about this hard-hitting, honest book on personal evangelism.
Tice had me with his first story. I could feel the heat rising up my neck as he described the abuse his newfound faith attracted from schoolboy bullies.
Books on evangelism often pander to our sinful desire for an easier way. But Jesus didn’t promise easy. Neither does Tice, thankfully. Honest Evangelism is honest because, as he says, “If you are going to talk to people about Jesus, you are going to get hurt. It is going to sever some relationships. It is going to provoke people” (15).
Tice, then, draws in the evangelistic sand a “pain line” that must be crossed. He summons all who share the gospel to face—and embrace—painful hostility in order to reach the lost.
It’s the old “get out of our comfort zone” for a new and much more uncomfortable generation.
Beneath the Surface
To help us make that move, more than half of Honest Evangelism is biblically rooted teaching on why evangelism is hard. Like a good doctor or accountant, Tice makes sure we get beneath the surface of things. We’re encouraged to take deep looks at the character of our sin that opposes sharing, the idolatry of people pleasing, and the lack of love for Jesus. These kill our evangelistic efforts. Tice also spotlights the surety of hell. It’s clear he isn’t aiming for the bestseller list, but for truth and clarity.
Though skilled at pointing out the sin that prevents us from sharing, Tice does so in an endearing, self-effacing way. I especially enjoyed his encounter (or non-encounter) with his future king Prince William.
Not All Vegetables
And it’s not all vegetable eating. Much of Honest Evangelism is about why evangelism is worthwhile.
Tice reminds us of the highest reasons to cross the pain line. He calls Christians to remember that ultimately we long for God’s glory in Christ to be known. Tice also reminds us that one of the major reasons we share the faith is because we long for our King to be adored, and he provides us with much-needed teaching on our future glory in heaven.
Not only did I enjoy Tice’s insights into Scripture and solid theology, I also found myself drawn to his appropriate and vivid stories throughout the book.
Preaching the Gospel, Reading the Bible
I found two things particularly important in the book’s latter half (the chapters on the doing of evangelism).
First, Tice weaves a clear gospel message throughout. I’m so grateful for that. Surprisingly, books on evangelism can muddy the gospel or jettison it entirely. A generous assessment for this plague is that evangelism instructors assume everyone is on the same gospel page. A less generous assessment might surmise that blind guides are writing books. Not so with Honest Evangelism. My standards are low here, mind you—a simple gospel outline would be enough—but Tice goes well beyond by thickly integrating the gospel into the fabric of his instructions.
Second, Tice summons us to evangelistic Bible reading. It’s this point that really helped me see what an ally I have in Rico. (You’ll be calling him by his first name, too. The book is that personable.) Promoting Bible discussions in evangelism makes sense, of course. After all, Tice is the author of Christianity Explored, an evangelistic series of Bible studies that walks a seeker though selections from the Gospel of Mark and has been instrumental in seeing many come to Jesus. Tice understands that the world is getting harder for those who share their faith. An excellent way to respond to the growing hostility toward Christianity is get people into Scripture to see directly what Jesus claims. If you think things are tough for evangelists in England and getting tougher in the United States, then come to my part of the world. As someone who’s lived for the last 14 years in the Middle East, by far the most effective cross-cultural method of teaching the gospel is simply studying the Bible.
I only wish that these encouragements to Bible reading weren’t tucked into away in the back. Page 88 alone is worth the price of the book. Nevertheless, Honest Evangelism is a book pastors should use to equip their congregations for the coming storms.
I do wish Tice went deeper into what evangelism isn’t. If you’re going to call a book “honest,” it would help to expose what’s dishonest.
Second, I wanted to hear more about the church. As Christians move into hostile cultural times, it’s imperative to know how the community of faith and a culture of evangelism will both resist the cultural tide and support evangelistic efforts.
In some ways, these concerns are really backhanded compliments; I’m grateful for the work that Tice has done and would simply like to hear more from him.
Bottom line: I really, really like Honest Evangelism and commend it to you.