Book Review: Paul Borthwick, Great Commission, Great Compassion

Borthwick, Paul. Great Commission, Great Compassion. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.  Link to IVP

Paul Borthwick is a missiologist who teaches at Gordon College and has contributed several important books on missions and evangelism. This short book uses the Great Commission as a model of evangelism. The book divides into two sections; the first develops the biblical foundations for evangelism based on the Great Commissions(s). The Borthwick-great-commissionsecond develops a number of “lifestyle imperatives” necessary for successful evangelism. Borthwick offers insights based on Scripture and illustrations from his experience in cross-cultural missions in this encouraging book. His goal is it write a simple, clear text which equips people to do the work of evangelism.

Under the heading of “biblical foundations.” Borthwick uses five commissions from Jesus as a model for doing evangelism (“kingdom mission”) in the church today. Since these are the last words of Jesus in the Gospels, he observes that Jesus commanded his disciples to go, to “be on mission, to be 24/7 available as witnesses and to join the work he started” (29). Borthwick blends all five final words of Jesus in canonical order (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8; John 20:21-23).

There is nothing shocking in Borthwick’s presentation, although I would point out a few oddities. First, he prioritizes Matthew 28:18-20 as the “Great Commission,” a traditional name for the last words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew. Chronologically these are not the last words of Jesus, Acts 1:8 are just prior to the Ascension. Second, I think he could have omitted Mark 16:15-18 since the majority of scholarship (even conservative evangelical scholarship) agree Mark’s Gospel did not originally end with these words. He briefly mentions the problems with the text (39), but his footnote is wrong: “the text is deemed reliable by enough scholars that they include it in our Bibles” (200). Included, yes, but significant indications it is not “deemed reliable.” It would be simply better to avoid the controversy which distracts from an otherwise good presentation.

Third, and more controversial, is the lack of reference to Paul and the Pauline mission in the book. Although the Great Commission (in whatever form) are the last words of Jesus in the Gospels, they are not Jesus’ last words. The risen Lord Jesus also commissions Paul to a particular ministry and guides him a number of times in Acts to do evangelism and plant churches. I realize the book is entitled Great Commission Great Compassion, but to claim the Great Commission is everything the New Testament says about evangelism, mission, church planting, and cultural engagement is to overlook the ministry model used successfully by Paul in Acts and illustrated in the epistles.

Under the heading of “lifestyle imperatives” Borthwick briefly comments on eight necessary lifestyle choices which will help make evangelism successful. The first four are foundational (choosing to be involved in kingdom mission; learning what is necessary to share; looking for opportunities and prayer). The second four lifestyles are activities which are by their nature evangelistic (welcoming outsiders; generous giving; unity of the Church and cross cultural experiences).

These eight “lifestyle imperatives” are certainly necessary for evangelism and mission, but Borthwick does not consistently connect these imperatives to the Great Commission from the first half of the book. I wholeheartedly agree prayer and generous giving are necessary components of evangelism and the mission of the Church. But if the Great Commission is foundation for ministry, things like prayer or generous giving are not explicitly mentioned. I suppose one might say these things are taught by Jesus elsewhere (and they are), but I do not think Jesus’ teaching on prayer is foundation for his commission to his disciples to “go to the nations.”

Perhaps this is a result of the weakness of the biblical foundations section. By overlooking Paul’s mission, Borthwick misses an opportunity to support things like prayer and generous giving from biblical texts where Paul does both of these things in the service of evangelism and mission. His section on welcoming the stranger is excellent, although the Twelve seemed to struggle with this when “the stranger” included Gentiles. I find in strange Borthwick uses Peter’s experience with Cornelius as an illustration of welcoming strangers since Peter is extremely reluctant to go even when commanded by the vision and Peter’s later behavior in Antioch (Galatians 2) makes readers suspicious he did not fully integrate his experience into his own mission strategy. Every one of the nine principles for welcoming outsiders from Acts 10 ought to be integrated into the life of every church, but there is far more to be had by integrated Paul and his mission into the model.

Conclusion. My criticisms are the result of the brevity of the book and the clear delimitation o the book to include only the Great Commission as a model. And this may be a case of a reviewer concluding “that is not the book I would have written”! Nevertheless, this book would make an excellent text for a small group Bible study interested in developing an evangelism or missions program in a local church. Borthwick clearly and concisely outlines a biblical mandate as well as a biblical mindset for doing evangelism.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on April 28, 2016 on Reading Acts.

Book Review: The Evangelism Study Bible

EvangelStudyBIbleThe Evangelism Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 1564 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

This Study Bible is a project developed by EvanTell, a Dallas-based evangelistic ministry founded by evangelist Larry Moyer.  The Evangelism Study Bible uses the New King James translation, dual column with cross-references in the center, a concordance and map-set. The study notes are sparse with only a few key comments per page. In fact, there are sections of the Old Testament without any study notes at all. The promotional material states there are 2644 notes, so not quite two per page. These notes all focus on how a particular text might be used for evangelism so it is not unexpected that sections of Old Testament do not have notes. The book introductions are thematic. There is nothing that is typically found in a Study Bible (date, authorship, destination, etc.) In the Pauline letters there is sometimes a reference to the Book of Acts for context, but not always (1 Thess mentions Acts 17, 1 Corinthians does not). Given the fact that all the book introductions are less that ten lines of text, this is not an unexpected omission.

The 264 “Evangelism Tips” are scattered throughout the Bible, there does not appear to be an index or master list for these short tips. These are not really “tips for doing evangelism” as much as short comments encouraging the reader. Daniel 12:2 reminds the reader everyone is going to live forever and that God wants us to make a difference. Not all are specifically on evangelism. For example, at Eph 4:32 the tip concerns forgiveness (although this could be tangentially related to evangelism).

The main feature of The Evangelism Study Bible is a series of 85 “How-To” articles 125, “In Depth Articles” and 45 “Inspirational Devotions.” These are indexed in the introduction to the Bible by book but there does not seem to be any visual way to tell which note is a “how to,” an “in depth” or a “devotional,” since they all have the same look and feel. These articles are rarely a full page long. I think a topical index would have enhanced the usefulness of the book. By grouping all of the articles offering advice on evangelism into a single index, a reader could more easily read through them rather than scanning through the pages. This could also be added to the EvanTell website.

Some of the articles are designed to be short instructions for evangelists. Commenting on Ezra 4, the short article suggests six steps for “How to Deal with Roadblocks in Evangelism.” Haggai 1 is made to serve the topic dealing with distractions which keep you from doing evangelism. The note following 2 John concerns “sharing Christ with a cult member who knocks on your door.” Occasionally a note will deal with a theological issue, such as Rev 20:15, “Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?” This is a common question for evangelists and could have been expanded to a few pages! The same is true for the short note on Rom 15:20 concerning those who do not hear the Gospel (why is this not at Rom 1:20?). The notes could be improved by offering the reader a “for further reading” section for topics needing more in-depth study.

Sometimes the articles seem only vaguely related to the biblical text. After Song of Solomon 2:16 there is a full page note on how to have a healthy marriage. On the one hand, the nine points the article makes are quite good, but there is nothing in the article actually drawn from Song of Solomon, nor is the topic of marriage related back to the purpose of the book, evangelism.

The articles appearing in the New Testament were better related to the topic of evangelism. For example, the “Role of the Holy Spirit in Evangelism” (John 16:7-11) is quite good, and the article at Acts 20:24 attempts to define New Testament Evangelism. I fully expected this Bible to have more articles in Romans than any other book, but that is not the case. There is not a single article or tip for Romans 6-8!

The Evangelism Study Bible includes a short glossary of “Evangelism Terms,” although many of the terms are general Christian/Biblical words which may come up while sharing one’s faith (evangelism, witness, follow-up, testimony). Some theological terms appear (reconciliation, redemption, justification) and are defined in very traditional conservative evangelical ways. There is a short two-page plan of salvation included at the back of the Bible. No authors are indicated for these articles, although several are adapted from books by Larry Moyer.

Conclusion. This Study Bible should probably be considered a Devotional Bible since it lacks almost all of the study helps normally associated with the study of the Bible. It is not an apologetics Study Bible and does not claim to answer common questions one might encounter while sharing their faith.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.