Book Review: Before You Share Your Faith, by Matt Smethurst
Matt Smethurst, Before You Share Your Faith: Five Ways to Be Evangelism Ready. 10Publishing, 2022. 126 pages.
I’ve often asked myself why new believers are so willing—and often so effective—in sharing their newfound faith. If you have been walking with Jesus for any length of time, I suspect you’ve asked that question, too.
New believers haven’t been to an evangelism course. They are lousy at apologetics. They are clumsy with the gospel. Yet time and again, I see new believers proclaiming the good news of Jesus to non-Christian friends.
Admittedly, sometimes the only friends they have are non-Christians, so who else will they tell?
New believers remind me of my grandson, Ezra, who loves being tossed into the air by his father, Tristan. “Higher, higher,” he demands.
“Well, isn’t he trusting,” said a woman at church watching Ezra take flight.
“No,” Tristan said, “he just hasn’t been dropped.”
Right. Much like evangelism.
Along the way, as we share our faith, we become acquainted with the feeling of being dropped on the cold, hard reality that not everyone is as excited about our faith as we are.
And after a couple of bad landings, what begins to drop is evangelism. When that happens, it’s time for an evangelism tune-up. Matt Smethurst’s new book is just the ticket.
A BOOK FOR CHRISTIANS—ALL OF THEM
I suppose the book’s title would lead one to think this is only for those who have never shared their faith. Not so. I found Smethurst’s book to be a refreshing reminder of the critical underlying principles of evangelism. And since evangelism is a matter of continuously pushing the ball uphill, it’s a book for everyone.
Don’t let the petite size of this book fool you. It’s a mighty-mite chock full of wisdom and insight. And it’s a fun read, too: I don’t know anyone with a better ear than Smethurst’s for a turn of a phrase.
In the interest of full disclosure, I read the book in manuscript form and was asked to endorse it, which I did happily without remuneration. (Crossway did send me a free copy after it was published.) But all to say, I endorsed the book because I think this is a welcome addition to a crowded field. Of all the books written about evangelism, I don’t know of a book like this one, a book about living ready to share your faith.
There are only five chapters and a short (but super important) conclusion.
I love the way chapter one starts the book—with the gospel. So much of what concerns me in evangelism is confusion over the gospel, so it’s beautiful to see Smethurst begin with a clear explanation of gospel truth. He rightly notes that though we might talk about the gospel, we need to make sure we’re talking about the true gospel as spelled out in the Bible. Smethurst does that with clarity. Nailing down the gospel guards us against an assumed gospel, leading to a lost gospel and the end of true evangelism.
The gospel explanation in chapter one is dear to my heart, as it reminds me of my wife’s conversion. In her teen years, she came to Jesus by going over a tract with a non-Christian friend and realizing she was not a believer herself. Fortunately, the gospel was well-defined in that small booklet. Until then, she assumed being a Christian meant being a “good girl” and attending church. That night alone in her bedroom, she bent her knee to Jesus by repenting of her sin and putting her faith in Christ.
In chapter two, Smethurst begins a disorienting treatise on contextualization using 1 Corinthians 9:27; not your ordinary start to a book on evangelism. But don’t put the book down! This seven-syllable word is power-packed with meaning for evangelism.
When Paul says, “To the Jews I became a Jew,” I’m reminded of Don Carson’s observation, “But, Paul, you are a Jew!” making the point that Paul’s new identity in Christ was his ultimate identity.
Contextualization is not about being hip, Smethurst points out, but about finding our identity in Jesus first. We then remove obstacles that hinder gospel clarity.
In chapter three, Smethurst again defies the common expectation of evangelism books and builds a case that the most significant problem in sharing our faith is a deficit of love, not a surplus of fear. I found this to be the most challenging chapter. I’ve always maintained fear is our greatest problem in evangelism, but love casts out our fear according to 1 John 4:18.
In this chapter, Smethurst helps us avoid two dangerous ditches in evangelism. First, we do not rush the gospel (learn their name, and listen, he says), but neither do we assume the clock will tick forever, noting that we can pre-evangelize someone to hell.
It’s not that Smethurst doesn’t acknowledge fear in evangelism. In chapter four, he helps us deal with fear. And he’s gentle with us. He confesses his failing in evangelism and reminds us of things we should know but easily forget. Don’t go alone; remember the church is a powerful witness if it’s gospel-centered. He reminds us God is sovereign—and that God has a good track record of saving people.
Then finally, in chapter five, the last chapter, Smethurst gets to practical steps to share the faith.
But even here, Smethurst readies our hearts. He calls us to prayer, to keep in mind that God loves to save. And he helps us see we have two great privileges: “We speak to God on behalf of others, and speak to others on behalf of God” (31). An excellent insight.
This book is a helpful tool. I appreciate how Smethurst consistently draws from Scripture throughout the book and calls us to more than a method, but a lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s a small book with a big message: live ready to share the gospel, and be intentional. Evangelism is not converting people, Smethurst says in his conclusion; it is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the rest to God.
I mentioned earlier that Smethurst’s conclusion is excellent. And that’s because he shares what I think is the essential part of evangelism. He gives a call to love Jesus all the more. We must be so enamored with Jesus, so amazed with what he has done for us sinners in his sacrificial death, so overwhelmed with his beauty, so confident we will rise with him in the resurrection, that evangelism becomes part and parcel with worship. If you dwell on the glory of God in Christ Jesus, and he is the focus of your life, you can’t help but evangelize; it will come out of you like streams of living water.