Book review: Marks of the Messenger

June 26, 2017

Marks of the Messenger

Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel

Publisher: Intervarsity Press

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

Available on Amazon

Recommended: Yes

If there is one type of book that Christians should never tire of, it ought to be fresh, faithful expositions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Veteran InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staffer and author J. Mack Stiles has gifted the Church with just such a book in Marks of the Messenger. In just 122 pages, Stiles synopsizes the essence of the gospel and covers many implications necessarily following on from believing the gospel.

As evidenced by the subtitle of his book, Stiles wants Christians to know, live, and speak the gospel. Good thing too, because that’s what Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus want of us as well. Following hard after Paul, throughout this little book on evangelism Stiles exhorts his readers that in order to properly spread the gospel, we must first protect the gospel. Is it an irony to guard the gospel in order to disseminate it? Not so. To guard the gospel (Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in both pastoral letters which bear Timothy’s name) is the pre-launch systems check before sending the gospel into orbit by way of word and action.

I could easily go on and on about the contents of the chapters, but if I did so I would be robbing readers of the opportunity to enjoy Stiles face-to-page. Here, then, are the chapter titles, which I trust will whet your appetite for the contents of the book:

  1. Roger’s Question: Don’t Peddle the Gospel
  2. Students of the Message: Don’t Add or Subtract from the Gospel
  3. On Your Guard: Don’t Assume the Gospel
  4. Does the Message We Share Look Like the Message We Bear? Living the Implications of the Gospel
  5. Messengers in a Troubled World: The Gospel and Social Change
  6. Waving the Flag: Understanding True Biblical Conversion
  7. Be Bold: Slaying the Fear Factor When Sharing Our Faith
  8. Worldly Love and Its Fruits: Mistaking the World’s Love for God’s Love
  9. The Gospel Made Visible: the Church
  10. A Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism: Taking Action

Stiles’ writing style is no utilitarian prose, but does sing at many points. His most memorable lines are replete with repetition and parellism, making for enjoyable reading and easy memorization:

Notice this commitment to faithful living, to action, to doing – including evangelism – only comes after we have answered the question of who we are to be, that is, people of faith in Christ. To share faith means that we must have faith first. (18)

Pragmatic evangelism is about promotion…Jesus regularly told his disciples not to talk about him. Part of the reason so many are baffled by this command is our pragmatic commitment to promotional evangelism. Jesus understood that in the disciples’ desire to promote, they would promote the wrong things in the wrong way. (20)

Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it’s an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel. (69)

If anything is needed in Christian witness today, it is boldness. We don’t need bigger and better music ministries, longer prayer walks or nice church foyers. We need boldness – wise boldness, gracious boldness, boldness rooted in the hope and that we have in the gospel, boldness mixed with love, but boldness nonetheless. (83)

I believe I’ve made my point that Stiles is a winsome writer, but because “the greatest of these is love”, here is one more quote:

God is love. The apostle John writes of Christ’s love as an eyewitness. When John wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:16), it came with memories of walking side by side with the Lord of love, listening to the teachings of love, watching love’s greatest action as Christ hung on the cross. (92)

In my opinion, this book belongs on the shelf next to other gospel-centered books such as Living the Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney and The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges. In his introduction to Marks of the Messenger, Mark Dever (himself the author of The Gospel and Personal Evangelism) describes how “reading this book is a lot like listening to [Stiles] talk – an enjoyable experience, where excitement and wisdom mingle freely.” Having read the book, I can attest that by the end of it, you feel you know Mack.

But so much more importantly, you feel as though you know God in Christ a bit better and want to share the message; that your boldness quotient in sharing the gospel has skyrocketed; that your apprehension of the gospel is secure; that there is nothing more important in life than guarding and sharing the gospel, letting its implications work out in everyday life. Those are the marks of a gospel messenger.

Available on Amazon

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