Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Just Walk Across the Room

Book Review Disclaimer: When I finish reading a book, I'll write my opinion of the book. This is not a formal book review. When I read reviews according to publishing standards, it's pretty clear everyone tries to stay within convention. I don't care about those rules, so don't be surprised if the review is too long or short, and I will not necessarily try to give at least one positive and one negative point (pardon me, give constructive criticism). Many reviews have a contrived point because they must flesh out the template. I may or may not give a summary of the content, so if you feel something's lacking, I'm sure there are plenty of real book reviews that will satisfy your curiosities. Naturally, I'll be way behind the times, reviewing old books. I read the occasional new blockbuster, but I'm spending a lot of time catching up. If you have that same desire, to catch up a little, then perhaps these reviews can be of some help.

Bill Hybels tells stories better than anyone I know. I think this strength is one of the big reasons Willow Creek is so well attended. In that regard, his book Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps to Pointing People to Faith does not disappoint. Stories are how he accomplishes explaining why evangelism is important, how to do evangelism (and how not to), and his personal experience in various evangelistic circumstances.

This book is a great start. Evangelism is one of the most overlooked commands of Christ in today's church. It's true, we all have fear, and most cope by avoidance. So Hybels' encouragement is to seek some discomfort (he calls it 'The Zone of the Unknown') for the sake of eternity--to show love to the people in your life. He stresses genuine love, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness to contrasting that with methods that are wooden and contrived. We need hearts that bleed for the lost!

The vast majority in the church do not take the first step. We all stay in our comfortable circles, and we excuse ourselves by saying we don't have the gift of evangelism. We pass the baton to some proverbial gifted disciple hoping that they (whoever 'they' are) will take care of the task. We are all called to love our neighbor and share this great treasure, this pearl of great value, to all in our lives. For that calling I applaud Bill Hybels. Much fruit would be harvested if this call was heeded: the fields are white for harvest.

The other strong point of the book is the beginning of the last chapter. The exhortation to prayer is wisely and relevantly written, and the admonition is strong: Devote. Yourselves. To prayer. His thoughts about praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) are very practical: "When you understand the concept of being devoted to prayer, it's as if you have one ear tuned in to the conversation you're in, while the other ear is tuned in to God. You may be in dialogue with someone about any number of things -- the latest news or sports or how work is going, whatever -- but you are constantly asking, God, is this an open door? Do you want me to probe that? Do you want me to encourage him? What do you need or want me to do Guide me here, please." And I believe that heart can extend to all of life, not just in areas of evangelism.

I would recommend going deeper, however. Perhaps after getting people to step on the diving board and consider jumping off, he might assume that a reader's desire would be for deeper understanding and further independent study. But throughout the book I felt his methods lacking. His personal means of evangelism was to invite people to church. Sometimes he never knew whether or not they ever came (unless they told him later). He warns against being a used-car salesman bent on closing the deal, and there is a real danger focusing on results instead of remaining faithful, but at some point you need to preach the gospel. A lot of learning what you need to gain a deeper understanding of evangelism happens when you simply get involved, so tie your tunics, strap your sandals and hit the road!

A peeve I had through this book is how Hybels makes Jesus into his image. Every Bible account is retold through the glasses of Bill, as he would talk if he were Jesus. This need not necessarily be a bad thing, but a lot of the embellishment includes extra-biblical assumption. This can be dangerous and give people who don't know the Bible very well a false impression of what it actually says. That said, this man understands the true implications of accepting or rejecting Christ, and while he'll put as positive a spin on everything he preaches, he remains faithful to the message the Bible teaches.

Personally, I will use this book as a reference, but I probably wouldn't recommend it as the first book on evangelism to read. The heart behind the book is sound even if I don't agree with all of the methods. The lessons can be taught fairly quickly--they don't require an entire book. If you learn to be bold in evangelism, get involved in the lives of others (love your neighbor), know how to give your testimony, and actually get involved in evangelistic (or pre-evangelistic) activities, you've got most of what this book can teach you.

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