A REVIEW OF TELL THE TRUTH BY WILL METZGER

Tell the Truth

Since God has commissioned believers to evangelize the lost, we cannot underestimate the importance of the subject Will Metzger discusses.  In his own words, Will Metzger describes his desire to “offer a new outline of a God-centered gospel for the training of Christians to share their faith with non-Christians” (Metzger, 11).  Thus, Will Metzger is responding to the need for comprehensive training for the task of evangelism.

In his introduction, Metzger shares his personal need to come to conclusions regarding his responsibility to fulfill the great commission, and the most Biblical method to fulfilling that responsibility.  He desires to evaluate all evangelistic methods in light of the Bible. Metzger very effectively fosters in his readers the desire to come to firm conclusions regarding the preeminent responsibility of evangelism.

To accomplish his goal, Metzger divides the book into four sections.  In the first section, he discusses the content of the whole gospel.  Within this section Metzger begins by discussing the importance of witness in lifestyle and in word in chapter 1.  Some contend that a pure lifestyle apart from verbal declaration completely fulfills one’s duty to witness.  Others exclude the necessity of living righteously, emphasizing the necessity to preach the gospel without living it.  Metzger accurately points out that exclusion of either aspect of witnessing comprises only part of the believer’s responsibility.

The second chapter discusses the content of the gospel, analyzing various imbalanced and impractical approaches.   Some of the most outstanding discussions include a “me” centered gospel, a method-centered approach, and the exclusion of teaching about the punishment of hell and the justice of God.  Metzger cites various contemporary tracts that demonstrate the imbalances he reports.  He concludes by asserting that Biblical truth alone sets the standard for evangelism.

The following two chapters are entitled, “The Gospel Recovered” parts 1 and 2.   At the very outset he suggests five pillars of gospel truth and the proceeds to illustrate these pillars on a chart that elaborates on each point.  His points are listed in the following order: Who is God?God-Centered Living, Self-Centered Living,Jesus Christ: The Way Back to Life, Your Response: Coming Home.  This chart will be used as template that is often referred to throughout the book.

The second of the fourth major sections is entitled, “To the Whole Person.”   Metzger begins this section by pointing out that many profess the gospel, but do not truly possess the gospel.  Then he analyzes the expected response of the whole person intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally.  Metzger examines contemporary imbalances to each aspect of man’s person.  For example, he points out the danger of over-intellectualizing the gospel, or over emotionalizing it to the exclusion of the necessary tenants of the gospel message.

 In the next section entitled, “Wholly by Grace,” Metzger discusses in some detail the necessity of grace for salvation.  The author dedicates three chapters to the necessity and work of grace in salvation. Finally, the section ends with a discussion of worship as a response to God’s grace being applied.

The fourth and final section discusses the character and communication of the person who has been commission to witness – every believer.   He begins by discussing the major contemporary issue of pluralism and tolerance in post-modern society.   While Metzger’s discussion of these issues is not lengthy, it is very well organized and helps his readers to gain a sufficient grasp of the problems of pluralism and tolerance in evangelism.  This portion is followed by short discussions of subjects related to evangelism such as reasoning with people, speaking to the conscience, and common fears in witnessing.

Finally Metzger ends the book by designating many pages of instruction on how to effectively communicate.  Since Metzger has already established the message to be presented, he teaches people how to converse in a way to create the opportunity for the gospel to be presented. He points out that the diversity of culture will factor significantly on the approach taken in witnessing.   This is followed by instruction on getting started and bringing a conversation from discussing common interests to personal beliefs as well as being a good listener.  Charts are included to aid in understanding and instruction.

In this book, Metzger makes significant contributions that readers will find very instructive, helpful, and enlightening.  First, Metzger alerts believers to the imbalances in contemporary approaches to evangelism.  He accurately points out the fallacy of “me-centered” thinking that is infiltrating evangelistic efforts.  His compelling examples throughout contemporary Christianity should cause people to think about the motivation and focus of their own evangelistic endeavors. Also, Metzger identifies a common trend in churches toward a method-centered approach to outreach, rather than a message centered-approach (Metzger, 41).  This shift results from pragmatism becoming the standard of implementation rather than the truth of God’s Word.  Finally, Metzger points out that the Biblical motivation for evangelism remains the believer’s accountability to Almighty God, rather than self-fulfillment or drawing large numbers.  Believers would do well to heed Metzger’s warnings regarding the imbalances of contemporary approaches to evangelism.

Second, Metzger endeavors to establish a theological foundation for evangelism rather than merely producing another “how to” manual.  Clearly, Metzger desires to be both Biblical and practical.  For instance, he points out the importance of presenting God’s love and justice in a balanced way (Metzger, 39).  He also speaks to the importance of grace in salvation, the necessity of the law for the conviction of sinners, among other theological comments.

Third, the author emphasizes thoroughness and clarity in the presentation of the gospel.  He effectively argues that the careful presentation of the gospel is necessary since the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  This remains the main thrust of the book: the need for comprehensiveness in evangelism including the message, the believer, and the lost person.

While Will Metzger makes many positive and helpful contributions, several areas will demonstrate Metzger’s shortcomings.    One example of this is when he speaks of the concept of the carnal Christian (Metzger, 79). Metzger suggests that labeling someone a carnal Christian will lead to false security.  While there may be an element of truth to this assertion, it remains unclear from his writing whether or not Metzger denies the existence of the carnal Christian, or whether he is merely concerned with the issue of labeling someone as such.  Whatever the case, Metzger falls short of clarity in this instance.

Metzger also errs in his use of 1 John as tests of assurance.  Although this remains a common view of 1 John, this view ignores the clearly stated prologue in the first chapter of John’s first epistle.  The purpose of 1 John is found in verse 3-4, namely, to teach us how to have fellowship with God and thereby experienced fullness of joy.   This approach to 1 John comes directly from the stated text, rather than imposing ideas on the text that do not explicitly exist.

 The book also presents an imbalanced view on man’s free will, making the false assumption that the doctrine of man’s free will comes from a list of improper motivations (Metzger, 124, 143), rather than an honest look of the whole counsel of God.  Metzger fails to address some of the valid theological arguments of the proponents of free will, such as the multitude of commands God gives requiring a choice to obey.  Also, he seems to unilaterally discount the idea of free will without suggesting alternatives such as a limited free will.  In a far more balanced approach, many hold that the God’s providence, election, and predestination work in cooperation with man’s limited free will rather than in opposition to it.  This view honors the paradox of Scripture and respects God’s ways as incomprehensible to man.

Despite Metzger’s short-comings, his book provides important insight and thought-provoking ideas that will prove very helpful to the believer who is serious about reaching people with the gospel of Christ.   The reader of this book will be confronted with full responsibility of the great commission and the complete message of that commission. The practical instruction will provide more tools for evangelism.

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Book Review: Carson’s Call to Spiritual Reformation

Review of D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation – This book will help you with your prayer life. 

content

Donald A. Carson, in an effort to encourage and inform the church on both the theology and practice of prayer, writes this work which serves both as an exposition of some of Paul’s New Testament prayers, as well as primer on the practice and discipline of prayer. This book review will provide a summary of Carson’s work as well as assess his work. Then it will suggest a range of readers that will find this work valuable.

Summary of Content

Carson introduces his work by presenting several urgent needs of the church today, citing purity, mission, and expository preaching, to name a few.   After raising these urgent needs in the church, he raises his belief that knowledge of God stands as the greatest need of the church at large. He asserts, “The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.
[1] Then Carson delimits his writing objective explaining that he does not intend to take on the challenge of meeting this need entirely, but he desires to facilitate that cause by addressing one of the first steps to knowing God, namely, “prayer–spiritual, persistent, Biblically minded prayer.“[2] Carson proceeds to lay out his method by purposing to work through several of Paul’s prayers in order to gain a working theology of prayer.

After his introduction, Carson proceeds to present some very practical advice for those who would endeavor to give themselves to prayer. After his practical chapter, Carson expounds upon Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 1 for the next two chapters. The first of these chapters establishes the importance of praying with thanksgiving and a grateful spirit, while the second focuses on petitions that aid the believer in knowing the content of appropriate petitions. Carson deviates from his Pauline exploration in the fourth chapter to discuss intercessory prayer and in this chapter he discusses the importance of prayer with a genuine concern for others.

This theme of focusing on the needs of others intensifies with Carson’s exposition of 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13. Here Carson asserts that believers and church leadership should actually possess a passion for people, and by that, he means a passion for the spiritual progress of people. The prayer for the spiritual growth for others continues into the next chapter when Carson interprets and applies Colossians 1:1-14.

Then, Carson deviates, again from his exposition of Paul’s prayer to discuss the matter of people making excuses for not praying. Among some of the excuses is busyness, contentedness with mediocrity, and ashamedness. This chapter, though a deviation from his exposition really provides the impetus for reading his next chapter, which is an exposition of Philippians 1:9-11 and discusses overcoming hurdles.

Once more Carson will provide an excurses from Biblical exposition in the ninth chapter to synthesize the nature of God as both sovereign and personal.   He establishes the need for seeing the harmony in these two attributes as well as raises some valid questions regarding this issue that he answers by working through Ephesians 1:15-23. Carson posits that a view of God as both high and personal will aid in a richer prayer life.

Finally, Carson teaches from Ephesians 3:14-21 and Romans 15:14-33 to demonstrate how to pray effectively for ministry both in ability and in opportunity.  Most notably he points out how good God is to go beyond what we pray or think. Carson accurately establishes prayer as essential in ministry.

Assessment of Content

Carson’s book serves as an excellently balanced treatment of Paul’s view of prayer. While Carson’s reputation as an exegetical scholar precedes him, Carson’s work here, is neither esoteric nor highly technical. Rather, Carson composes a book that readers will find Biblically based, practically beneficial, and highly motivational.

Carson’s Biblically Based Approach

Carson’s work stands highly commendable because it seeks to find the answer to the most urgent need of both the church and the individual believer in the Bible. While plenty of books offer churches advice on the latest methods, programs, and ideas, this book differs greatly. While Carson could have ascertained some level of application for the church by presenting a study of some other Scriptural genre such as Old Testament narrative, he most appropriately studies Paul’s prayers who were written to actual New Testament churches. This approach is of the most Biblically appropriate level. The refreshingly Biblical nature of this book differs greatly from many other books on prayer who err to the point of mysticism and a mishandling of the text.   Conversely, Carson’s loyalty to an accurate interpretation of the text results in a book with solid exegetical backing.

Carson’s Practically Beneficial Approach

Carson’s approach proves not only Biblical, but also beneficial practically. His practical chapters on prayer lessons, interceding for others, and his chapter on excuses prove extremely helpful beyond understanding the concept of prayer. With these chapters he provides experiential advice on the actual practice of prayer including setting aside times of prayer, developing prayer lists, having prayer partners, etc. In a world where an insufficient amount of mentoring occurs, these chapters may provide exactly the advice needed for implanting a solid, fervent, consistent prayer life.

Carson’s Highly Motivational Approach

Carson demonstrates quite well the urgency of the matter of prayer. His introduction immediately arrests the reader’s attention and causes him to realize the severe need for prayer in his own life and in the church. By listing other urgent needs and then positing that the most urgent need is a greater knowledge of God, he positions the reader to embrace the need for prayer as a significant step in meeting that urgent need. By shedding light on Paul’s emphasis on prayer, he substantiated his high elevation of the practice of prayer. Additionally, by providing practical advice for the implementation of prayer, Carson makes the practice of prayer seem attainable at least on some level and thereby, adding to the motivational value of this book.

At first Carson’s book may seem to lack a logical flow from one chapter to another. It appears that he shifts gears from an exposition of Paul’s prayers, which he states as his objective, to the practical, back to exposition without reason. But Carson evidently does this to keep the readers attention throughout the book by introducing topics related to prayer and then working through those topics by means of an exposition of one of Paul’s prayers. In this way Carson effectively keeps his reader engaged, motivating him to read the entire book.

Value of Content

This book will prove valuable to a broad range of Christians. First, the average Christian who desires to enhance his prayer life will benefit from reading this book. While Carson possesses the intellect and education to write for a more advanced reader, his simple, readable style will benefit nearly any Christian. Second, because of the ecclesiastical emphasis of this book, the church leader, such as a pastor, may find this book to be inspirational, informative, and instructional. Finally, the Bible student will also find this to a good source for material on the subject of prayer in the epistles as he endeavors to gain a fuller understanding of the scope of prayer throughout the Bible.

Not only will this book prove beneficial to a broad range of people, it will also prove beneficial in two specific areas. First, the book is valuable for its benefit to the heart. For example, Carson places emphasis both in the need to have a thankful and grateful heart in prayer, and he also expresses need to have a passion for people. Second, the reader will find benefit for the mind.   Since Carson presents such Scripturally based truth, it is sure to inform the mind.

Conclusion

Without question, the needed posture for a believer today is to be on his knees. Carson surely succeeds in his goal of encouraging, motivating, and informing believers on the incredibly important subject of prayer, to the degree that people read, retain, and apply its concepts. Those who read it will surely benefit greatly.

[1] D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Academic, 1992), 15.

[2] Ibid., 16.