Missions Book Review: The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs

1581347154“I’m interested in missions. How do I get started? Should I sign up for a trip? Where should I go? How much will it cost?” Over the years, I’ve been asked dozens of times how to begin investigating missions. One way I answer is by urging people to read good books and to act on what they are learning. Today, I hope to make a case for why anyone interested in missions should read The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs.

Most Christians that fly off on short-term missions trips or become long term missionaries will tell you they are motivated in one of two directions. Their answers to the question “Why are you going?” may be nuanced, but they boil down to these categories:

  • I want to share the love of Christ to win the lost.
  • I hope to relieve suffering.

Obedience to the great commission generally falls into the first category—sharing the love of Christ. Helping rescue abandoned babies from trash heaps generally falls into the second. This part isn’t rocket science. Unfortunately, doing missions well also isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The practice of missions has a mixed track record. While many souls have been won, we also have to admit that much damage has been done around the world in the name of Christ and for the sake of missions. I’m starting with the bad news because it’s always a good idea to start off with confession. And it is painfully clear that even when we set out with the best intentions, we often still ended up getting some things terribly wrong in our zeal to do good. We need to confess that our misguided efforts have endangered the work of The Gospel by creating barriers that make it hard for people to see the beauty and love of Christ. We need to confess that we have often done substantial harm to the individuals and cultures we set out to help. I’m not only talking about the paternalism and colonialist greed of previous centuries, I’m also referring to short and long term missions strategies of the last few decades. Before we go forward, we need to confess and repent. Before we go forward, I need to confess and repent. I have pursued unwise and hurtful paths in my own missions experiences.

  • Are we getting wiser? Hopefully.books-stack
  • Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely.
  • Is The Crossing committed to being as wise as we can be when it comes to short and long term missions? Absolutely.
  • Do we approach this topic with a healthy amount of fear and trembling? Hopefully.

In months to come, I will review books that deal with how to be more wise when it comes to the practical implementation of missions—books like When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

Today, I want to urge you to read The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs.

I’ve told you how we have gotten a lot of things wrong. If we hope to get things right, we’ll have to personally and collectively move in the direction of wisdom and Christlikeness. We’ll need to examine our hearts. We’ll need to ask God to give us hearts that are full up with the right kind of love, Christ’s love, for those around us.

The Heart of Evangelism is a book about right-minded and right-hearted love. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover:

All Christians are called. Called to love God with all that we are. Called to serve Him. Called to reach out to the lost. However, when we’re honest, the majority of us would admit that we find this last calling the most difficult…

You can learn to witness comfortably in your own circumstances so that sharing Christ doesn’t feel like a chore. And as you watch God work in the lives of others and see the great blessings He brings, you’ll discover what a privilege it is to live out the heart of evangelism: truly loving others to Christ.

If we feel compelled to serve in missions in distant lands, across cultural divides and language barriers, the best preparation is to get started living the gospel by showing right-minded and right-hearted love to people in our own families, neighborhoods and communities, schools, campuses, workplaces and carpools. If we find it hard to love those across the dinner table, desk, hall or street, how much harder will it be for us to love when we’re much further removed from our comfort zones.

In his wonderfully readable book, Jerram Barrs lays out compelling and practical ways we can each begin loving people to Christ, right here, right now, today and tomorrow, without buying an expensive airline ticket, or getting immunizations at the travel clinic. 

It is divided into 4 sections:

  • Mission to the World
  • The Kindness and Perseverance of God
  • Barriers in the Way of Communicating The Gospel
  • Making The Gospel Known

The chapters and sections build on one another, reinforcing and deepening our understanding. Almost all of the chapters are 3-5 pages in length. By reading only a few minutes a day any of us can have this entire book read before MLK Day. Many of us could read it even more quickly.

The Heart of Evangelism also fits together well with other Advent readings we may be doing. Advent is a season of anticipation when we remember our sin and need for the incarnation (first coming) of Jesus who was called Immanuel “God with us.” At Advent, we also remember our longing for Christ’s return (second coming) when  his Kingdom will be fully consummated and all that is sad and broken will be made new. Advent is a season to be thankful our hearts have been turned from their rebellion and brought to know the love of Christ. Advent is also a great season to learn how to better love those around us. Reading The Heart of Evangelism during Advent can help us grow to love those around us in greater and better ways.

You may be interested in two other ESI posts related to The Heart of Evangelism:

You may also want to read:

Author Bio: Jerram Barrs (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is the founder and resident scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he teaches apologetics and outreach as professor of Christianity and contemporary culture. He and his wife also served on staff at English L’Abri for many years.

A final note:
The Heart of Evangelism can be categorized as a missiology book. The term missiology first appeared in the 1930’s. It can be simply defined as the study of (Christian) missions and their methods and purposes (google definition.) It applies to the area of practical theology that studies the message, mandate and mission of Christ’s body, The Church, especially the nature of missionary work. At its best, missiology incorporates a multitude of disciplines including: theology, history, anthropology, linguistics, social sciences, geopolitics, public health etc.


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