Having read a steady diet of popular church growth books, Dan Dunn’s Offer Them Life: A Life-Based Evangelistic Vision is different academic challenge.
It is not a book to consume in one sitting, but a great book for those who want to think deeply on the biblical theme of Life.
I love Dan’s passion for evangelism and it clearly shows through the book with a mix of scholarly wrestling plus how to make such insights available in practice. Dan’s cross cultural missions experience (a passion that I share personally) gives him tremendous insight into his study.
This book requires deep thought and this was a welcome refresher in an age of “theology lite” books I’ve read the last few years.
Reading it felt like an appropriate return to seminary. For me, that was a timely challenge that I appreciated.
Dan has made the effort to survey the scholarship and to synthesize their thoughts plus his own surrounding the biblical metaphor of life.
I appreciated Dunn’s scholarly approach. Rather than reduce the gospel to 3 propositional statements, Dunn looks throughout the scriptures at the theme of Life. He takes well-developed steps to map out a comprehensive picture of this metaphor throughout Scripture to show the centrality of this message in Scripture.
His thoughts would serve missionaries, pastors, and evangelism trainers like myself as they prepare their evangelism habits and teaching materials.
Main points of Offer Them Life
These are the two most important points:
1. A solid case can be made that “full, vibrant life” is the central theme of the Bible.
This is therefore what God calls us to enjoy in relationship with God, others, and creation. It is not only eternal life, but a full and meaningful life as one lives out God’s purpose and plan for which we have been created.
2. Portraying the full vibrant life that God intends to non-Christians is a central element of evangelism.
This what we should be inviting non-Christians toward. Sure, the offer of salvation includes forgiveness of sin, but it also includes the offer of “abundant life” here and now.
We should not stop using other biblical/theological language, such as redemption, forgiveness, salvation.
Dunn only asks that we add full life oriented imagery and vocabulary to our theological/biblical understandings and also our evangelistic communication.
Quotes I liked:
- Two perspectives underlie the current practice of evangelism in the U.S. American context. The first is one’s understanding of eternal life. The second is basing evangelism on the concept of kingdom.
- Christians, therefore, must continually discern ways of thinking about and practicing evangelism that honor the strong biblical theme that God wants God’s created humanity to experience life fully (abundantly, according to John 10:10), on this earth, prior to physical death.
- When evangelism deals with sin, for example, mutual emphasis could be given to the life-forever benefits of being forgiven through Christ (e.g., access to heaven) and to the life-now benefits of Christ’s forgiveness (e.g., freedom from bondage)
- These examples serve to illustrate that a great deal of material has been written on the theme of the already and not-yet character of the kingdom’s fulfillment. For my purposes, the most important factor to note is how the tension between the already and not-yet dimensions of kingdom fulfillment relates to the biblical theme of life, and then consequently how this relates to the theory and practice of evangelism
- I would now like to introduce a related yet different concept for you to consider: that we frame the relationship between life and kingdom in reference to ultimate goal or purpose, as distinct from the instruments or means that lead to that ultimate goal or purpose.
- Thus, Jesus’s primary goal in announcing the kingdom and inviting people to respond to it was not so that they could be counted as citizens of the kingdom for the sake of the king or the kingdom, but for their own sake, because it is through submission to the rule of King Jesus that they would receive new life in him.
- If creation of and participation in life was God’s original intention for creation, then God’s intention in Jesus is a restoration and re-creation of that same life: teeming, fertile, abundant, and good. This directly and powerfully impacts the theory and practice of evangelism, for it helps shape our understandings of what we are offering in our communication of the good news
- Evangelism begins with God, but God also intends, invites, and desires that God’s people be active participants in the evangelization process. The Scriptures vividly portray that God’s plan for calling God’s fallen creation back to God’s self includes people as integral ministry partners in this work. From the calling of Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, to young Mary giving birth to the Son, to the early disciples leading thousands of people to Christ—the Bible makes it clear that God wants to communicate the possibility of new life in Jesus to people through people. Therefore, though evangelism begins with God and is utterly dependent on God, God also envisions a vital role for Christians. Without question, God is the sole source of new life in Christ. However, this does not automatically mean that God is the sole agent in the process that leads us to this new life. God’s sovereignty in evangelism does not cancel out God’s intention for us to be used as God’s agents in evangelism. Rather, it is in God’s sovereignty that God has chosen us as God’s agents.
- How, therefore, can we portray (and invite persons to) an experience of full life in Jesus that appropriately calls them to center that experience in their commitment to and relationship with God?
- The answer is, yes, there is very good news for life now, and evangelistic theory and practice must make this a primary emphasis
- In whatever way we may choose to include the possibility of new life in Christ in our evangelistic vision and ministry, we must include references to experiencing positive benefits in this life, if we want to resonate well with non-believers
- This is the essential point I am making in relation to creation as the starting point for an evangelistic vision grounded in the biblical theme of life. We begin with God’s good and positive intentions. This provides a more appropriate biblical and theological foundation for theology and evangelism.
Dr. Dan Dunn has done what few can do. He has written a very academic and scholarly treatise delivered in a language we all can understand. His brilliant mind, disciplined academic pursuit and passion for helping others find life in following Christ has resulted in a book every Christian worker should include in their library, not as another dusty tome, but as a pattern for their life and ministry of evangelism. Every theological school which hopes to actually equip their graduates to do the work of the ministry should include this book in their curriculum.
Dan is a personal friend of mine and I have taught with him in the seminary he has founded in Venezuela.
I have gotten to know him over the last few years as we share passions for personal evangelism and a profound love for Latin America.
Even if I didn’t know Dan personally, I’d still recommend this book for your academic reading. Let it impact how you practice evangelism.
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