TELL THE TRUTH:
THE WHOLE GOSPEL TO THE WHOLE PERSON BY WHOLE PEOPLE
A Book Review
Marc E. Mullins
Metzger, Will, Tell The Truth: The Whole to The Whole Person by Whole People. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2002. 271 pp. $16.00
Will Metzger has been a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Christian InterAction at the University of Delaware since 1965. Metzger has introduced what some consider one of the best and most useful books on evangelism for ordinary Christians. In attempt to lay the theological and practical foundations for orthodox witnessing techniques and fundamentals that are scripturally sound, Metzger walks the reader through the whole gospel to the whole person, wholly by grace, and offered by whole people.
“It is said that some of the Puritans stained the floor with their tears as they prayed. Is there pain and unceasing sorrow in our hearts for anyone who is yet unconverted” (101)? For many who claim the title of Christian, we read a statement like this and wonder why don’t we experience this compulsion, why am I sitting on the sidelines and able to lay down at night with little mourning for lost souls? Metzger goes onto build the strong case for why Christians do or do not find the command to make disciples as compelling as some others. His argument is first rooted in the biblical and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Right out of the gate Metzger begins to define biblical evangelism. More importantly Metzger orients readers to steer clear of a couple things and remain focused on others during evangelism. Evangelism is first and foremost, centered on one message and one message only. The gospel message of Jesus Christ is the message of biblical evangelism. The gospel message of Jesus Christ has been reduced. He rightly contends that the gospel is God-centered, not me-centered (33). The very clear point made during the beginning of the book is that God gives the gospel because he is the source of the gospel, and the driving factor for why the gospel is needed. The only thing mankind brings to the gospel message is our own sin.
As the book progresses, Metzger gives readers four basic pillars to his call to tell the truth. Taking a difficult look at the hard truths of the Christian faith, Metzger leaves no stone unturned in addressing the difficult and hard to swallow doctrines that sometimes are omitted to avoid offense in Christian evangelism.
As we begin the book with the intent to define evangelism biblically, the first priority was to reorient readers and evangelists back towards God. The message is clear, the first priority of evangelism is God-centered, God magnifying and man shrinking, whole gospel truth. No omissions, no methods, no gimmicks, just unfiltered truth. When the truth is presented and man gets out of the way and lets God’s word and the Holy Spirit do the work, God’s plan will not fail. God’s plan has no need for human methods. God’s plan is to teach the law to convict us of our unrighteousness, promise God’s rightful judgment, and offer his saving grace.
Metzger also spends a significant amount of time showing the need to present the Gospel to the whole person, the mind, the heart, and ultimately the soul. This complete presentation to the complete person allows true spiritual regeneration and conversion to occur, not merely a mental acquaintance with God or an emotional response to man imposed guilt.
The highlight of the book is the great differentiator. This book tackles the hard question of God’s sovereignty and grace as well as the human will in evangelism equation. This is the elephant in the room for many evangelicals, particularly Baptists. What Metzger does is brilliant. He provides an overview of how man’s dire need for salvation is only met by his own rebellion and desire to flee the will of God. Scripturally and with several historical references to back it up, Metzger shows how grace wholly given by God to whom he chooses is the only way to revive a spiritually dead person, as death cannot revive itself (145).
Closing the discussion Metzger cleverly evangelizes the reader. He rebukes those of us who merely want to make a detached sales pitch for the sake of winning souls. We are not in a numbers game, but in the business of bringing people into a right relationship with God, and that takes relationships to do it. He does give us some brief examples of where short term relationships are in fact fruitful and wise to use in sharing the gospel, but the most part we are called to make disciples and teach. This takes time.
Rounding out the last bit Metzger, gives the reader a heart check. We are called to check our hearts numerous times throughout the book, but purposefully in the end, he calls us to evangelism as a way of life and not an event. He further asks us several questions to confront our inevitable reservations and questions. These questions are ultimately designed to ensure we understood and were changed by his message in the book, and ultimately His message in the gospel.
I am so excited about this book. It is hard to narrow down the strengths it has compared to the many books on the market about evangelism. A few things stand out that I want to highlight that I have not found to be commonplace in literature pertaining to evangelism.
As we see the initial launch into his book, Metzger declares his main thesis by showing where he finds the biggest problem in evangelism. Me-centered evangelism is not biblical, and not the objective we are commanded to fulfill in scripture. Metzger rightly shows in exquisite detail the very intricate differences between me-centered evangelism and God-centered evangelism. One is about message and one is about method (41).
Secondly, Metzger weaves this theme of me-centered and God-centered evangelism throughout his entire book. As we review the following chapters covering the gospel, Metzger points how the theological framework that makes up the “Wholly Grace” gospel is the only message that is God-centered. This position is beautifully articulated and defended with history, factual and biblical backup that points all of its hearers to God alone.
One more extremely strong point Metzger makes throughout his book and specifically in the section covering the “whole gospel” is the end result of this “whole gospel” message working out in the lives of people who God has showered with saving grace. We see that this book not only defines the difference in method and message, but spends significant time in the message itself that shows why God is center, and how that God-centered grace filled message impacts the teller and the hearer with deep and sound doctrine and theology that results in highly exalted worship of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Needless to say, finding weaknesses was quite difficult when reading Metzger. What I could find was a couple outstanding questions I would have liked to see addressed either in the book or as a result of the topic of evangelism.
As we discover anew in this book that grace centered gospel message is in fact the historic and biblical gospel message, what I would have liked to see explained or expounded on was some examples of specific language and techniques to avoid or recommended to use that keeps invitations God-centered. In many churches today the benediction and alter call with invitational music is commonplace, I still walked away wondering if this is recommended or to closely resembles a methodical act of decision instead of redemption.
Evangelism happens in many places, including mission trips, door to door in short and long term relationship contexts. I was not clear whether or not Metzger advocated or discouraged evangelism from the pulpit or whether he considers that a time for feeding the flock. This question hits home because churches vary and it is not clear whether the pulpit influences one method or the other. It appears it would but I would have liked to see Metzger spend a couple pages diving into that.
As I wrapped this book up I must admit this is by far one of the most comprehensive and profound books that attempt to show the compatibility between the Great Commission and the Doctrines of Grace. I am more convinced than ever that grace and the sovereignty of God are unable to be divorced from biblical evangelism without diverging into unhealthy territory.
I heartily recommend this to many of us in the Southern Baptist tradition who are skeptic of highlighting the major points of these theological truths in our preaching, evangelism and means of salvation. Metzger has strongly defended traditional truths that elevate God and his cause, his mission, his authority and his free grace and mercy as the central theme for God glorifying evangelism.