Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Review: The Unbelievable Gospel

The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. Jonathan Dodson. 2015. Zondervan. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely found Jonathan K. Dodson's The Unbelievable Gospel to be a worthwhile read. Dodson writes of a culture and society that doesn't believe the gospel, a culture where the gospel is so strange and foreign that it is unbelievable.

He encourages readers to rethink how they evangelize. And he does so in a way that does not compromise the truth and the exclusivity of the faith. He is honest in his assessment that people struggle with how to communicate the gospel and face challenges that seem impossible.

He writes of culture and society, of pluralism, of the new tolerance, of the challenges Christians face living and evangelizing in such a culture. He writes of reasons why Christians are so hesitant to share the gospel with others: fear of being thought preachy or self-righteous, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment and humiliation, fear that they'll do it wrong or mess it up. Dodson writes with clarity of what the gospel is, and, how the gospel is dimensional. (I believe four dimensions?) He speaks of justification, redemption, adoption, new creation (regeneration), and our union with Christ. One can highlight the gospel through the lens of justification, or the lens of redemption, or the lens of adoption, or the lens of new creation--all of which rely on our union with Christ. He reminds readers that you don't have to share the whole gospel each and every time you have a conversation with a nonbeliever. It's not important that you share everything you know all at once. Nor is it advisable that you steer the conversation so that you can share everything that you know. Dodson concludes by sharing examples with readers. These are accounts of his conversations and experiences with unbelievers. He urges readers above all to listen and observe, to pray for discernment in how to make the gospel "believable" to the person they're speaking with. There is not a one-size-fits-all gospel presentation that is right for every unbeliever they meet. Yet, at the same time, he is not asking readers to compromise any aspect of the gospel, to "hide" any aspect of the gospel, so that you can get someone to pray a quick prayer.

Table of Contents

  • Why People Find the Gospel Unbelievable


  • Impersonal Witness: Relationships, Work, and Faith
  • Preachy Witness: Self-Righteous Proselytizing
  • Intolerant Witness: Navigating Pluralism
  • Uninformed Witness: Thinking Securely


  • Clarity: Gaining a Fresh Vision of the Gospel
  • Diversity: Handling the Gospel in Its Different Forms
  • Fluency: Speaking the Gospel in Cultural Key


  • Seeking Acceptance
  • Seeking Hope
  • Seeking Intimacy
  • Seeking Tolerance
  • Seeking Approval
  • Evangelism in Community
  • Conclusion: Spirit-Led Witness

Christians are often proficient at rehearsing the information of the gospel, but we often lack the ability to relate the gospel to the lives of others. For some reason we find it difficult to bridge the gospel into everyday life and everyday unbelief. If we are to overcome our obstacles to evangelism, we must be able to answer this question: "What does the death and resurrection of a first-century Jewish messiah have to do with twenty-first century people?"
The goal in evangelism isn't merely to get a gospel presentation out in one breath! The goal is to get to the heart, and that might not happen the first time you meet someone.
For many people today, hearing that Jesus died on the cross for their sins is entirely irrelevant. It is an abstract concept that doesn't connect with the heart. It's our job to show them how it does. When we speak to people's deepest desires, dreams, hopes, fears, or longings, we make the gospel believable. We get to show them more than a proposition; we get to show them the person of Jesus and the difference he makes. When we get in this deep with people, our evangelism will be far from impersonal.
It may be helpful to consider Francis Schaeffer's advice on this matter. When asked what he would do if he had an hour with a nonChristian, he replied by saying he would listen for fifty-five minutes. Then in those last five minutes, he would have something to say.
Good evangelists have to slow down long enough to understand what people hear and how they speak in order to communicate the gospel in intelligible ways. This involves listening to what people think in order to communicate meaningfully what God thinks. It involves listening to the questions people ask in order to ask them good questions, the questions God asks each of us.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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