(Downers Grove: IVP, 2010; 128 pages)
I requested a review copy of this book specifically on the strength of D. A. Carson's endorsement: "I do not think I have ever read a book on evangelism that makes me more eager to pass it on than this one—better, that makes me more eager to evangelize than this one." Recently I was shaken when my boss, whom I like very much, spent a long spell in ICU, unconscious and in grave condition with septic pneumonia... and I realized in all our talks I had never told him the Gospel. So the promise of this book, with that fresh in my mind, sounded as if it might address that failing.
Stiles works, worships and witnesses in the United Arab Emirates, a very hostile environment for the Gospel. As Mark Dever promises in his Foreword, it is engaging and easy reading, like listening to Stiles talk about the Bible and his experiences.
One no longer looks to IVP for reliably Biblical, Reformed books, which makes Marks of the Messenger a very pleasant surprise in both regards. His stance is equally rigorously evangelistic and Biblical, which is to say Calvinistic. He issues a ringing warning against the bane of pragmatism, which he regards as "the greatest obstacle to healthy evangelism" (19). The Gospel is not a product to be peddled. He also stresses God's sovereignty in salvation, and sweeps aside the un-Biblical notion of "free will" (77).
While Stiles recognizes the need to be mindful of one's context, he insists that the message must not be changed, citing Galatians 1:8 (30). Guy could be a Pyro.
Chapter 8 is "Worldly Love and Its Fruits" (91ff.), a really bracing set of contrasts between "pop culture's" notions of love on the one hand, and Biblical truth on the other. To wit:
- Pop culture believes that God's love is sentimental
- Pop culture believes that God's love is universal and unconditional
- Pop culture believes that God's love is me-centered
Also, I found a couple of things Stiles said a bit brain-snaggy. I'd like to ask him a few questions. For instance, he starts off chapter 3 telling about a treacherous unbeliever who deceived Liberty students into thinking he was a Christian so he could write a book about them. Stiles' point is that the unbeliever was able to "fit in" by keeping to certain rules of behavior. This concerns Stiles, understandably.
Is Stiles saying Christianity isn't defined by rules? If so, I'm right there with him. But is he saying that Jesus doesn't have any rules for His people, that He doesn't issue commands which He expects Christians to obey? That you shouldn't be able to look at those red shiny globes and say, "That's an apple tree"? You know I wouldn't agree. I don't think that's Stiles' point at all, but I found that discussion incomplete and a tad annoying.
If we can only identify other Christians by seeing their hearts, then we'll never have any reason to think anyone is a Christian, because we can't see others' hearts — except as revealed in their words and deeds. Trees are known by their fruits. This treacherous "tree" just taped plastic fruits on its branches and fooled kids. Shame on it.