Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth was introduced to me as the ‘go-to’ evangelism training manual. Because of this, I expected a collection of means and methods, a bunch of how-to’s, and a book packed with mnemonics. What I found instead was a well-written book with gospel-centered content drawn from the experience of Metzger’s fifty-five year tenure as a campus minister.
By the time I came to the end of the book and the last two chapters that focused on the practical how-to’s of evangelism, Metzger had already illustrated what needed to be done, cultivated a desire to get it done, and shown the importance of doing it correctly. Metzger’s desire to make disciples who bear a faithful witness that glorifies God was demonstrated in his earnest effort to carefully and persuasively explain, and illustrate, the God-exalting doctrines of the gospel.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I diagnoses the state of the church’s evangelistic efforts. Part II is devoted to explaining the grace of God, that Metzger defines as the unmerited love of God and the sovereign regenerative work of the Holy Spirit that humbles the redeemed, draws out the motivating love of the evangelist, and brings relief to the witness as he or she is reminded that salvation is of the Lord. Part III discusses the barriers that we encounter when sharing the gospel. He recommends ways to start a conversation about personal beliefs as well as the personhood and work of Christ.
The book is moderately sized, with simple language and easy-to-follow theology. It provides practical wisdom and guidance for engaging those around us with the gospel. I recommend this book to any Christian looking to deepen the convictions that inform his/her evangelism. The call is for all. Metzger quotes American theologian Carl Henry who said, “a one to one approach initiated by every believer still holds the best promise of evangelizing the earth in our century.”
The Simple Gospel
Many Christians today proclaim a me-centered rather than a God-centered gospel—a gospel in which God is a friend who will help you, rather than a King who will save you; a humanity which is sick and ignorant, not spiritually dead and lost; an optional submission to Christ as Lord, and a response to Christ driven by the individual rather than the divine choice. The first four chapters of Tell the Truth examine the difference between mere profession and real possession, how the gospel has been reduced, and how the God-centered gospel may be recovered.
Metzger asks why it is that most conferences on evangelism concentrate on methods and not on the message. His diagnosis is that as a church we have bought into the idea of the “simple gospel.” This approach encourages us to think of the gospel as a pill that will cure all—condensed to what Christians across many denominations can agree upon—and easily dispensed to all. We need not worry about the patient’s symptoms; our objective has become merely to convince people to take the cure. They do not need to know the problem, just the answer. Metzger borrows the words of J. I. Parker to remind us that the gospel was a message of some complexity needing to be learned before it could be obeyed and understood before it could be applied. He then spends a significant portion of the book teaching the gospel, unpacking its content and unearthing its implications.
Mere Profession versus Real Possession
Metzger lays out an argument for conversion being a process rather than a destination, and that a lack of understanding of this God-led multi-stage process has led to confused counseling on the part of well-meaning evangelists and many false professions. He recalls a time when distinctions were made between an unbeliever, a sleeping sinner, and an awakened sinner.
Metzger warns that without a thorough understanding of the holistic approach to evangelism, such people who have never been converted may continue being deceived about their true state and thus become a hindrance to the church, or drop out, joining the ranks of the disillusioned who have become either numb or hostile to religion. This categorization is either one of the most helpful or harmful sections in the book. In the wrong hands, it could be used to justify seeker sensitive programs, but used correctly, it may help deploy slow, careful and patient discipleship. Metzger advocates for preaching a gospel that engages all of a person’s faculties, so that the heart, mind and soul of the hearer may be touched by the miraculous, transformative work of God the Holy Spirit.
Not only do we dispense a reduced gospel in the form of a pill and rush through the preaching of the gospel and discipleship, mistaking mere profession for real possession in the process, but we often preach a mild God who exists to benefit the individual, appealing to the carnal desires of success and easy happiness. We promise a life of adventure, thrill, excitement, and forget to mention taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus and being tried so that the proven character of our faith may result in the praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Metzer warns against the dangers of presenting a half-truth as a whole truth.
For example, unbelievers often hear that God is love with no mention of His holiness. I often hear the question “How can a loving God do___.” Metzger calls this an inversion of the truth—God is love becomes love is God, tolerance reigns, being nice becomes the aim of all religion, and God has to be a non-judgemental God who is obligated to save. Instead of these half-truths, Metzger challenges us to base our evangelistic efforts on the Bible, not on culture. He advocates for a message-centered rather than a method-centered witness.
Grace, Grace, God’s Grace
Throughout the book, the wisdom of God is juxtaposed against the foolishness of man. Metzger calls for us to recover a true, honest, and patient method of evangelism, informed by examples drawn from the Bible. Against this powerful and motivating call, the reader may be tempted to heap on themselves an expectation to get it right and that a God-centered, content-focused gospel guarantees results. It is at the height of this call that Metzger then pivots our attention to God’s grace. We are reminded that distinguishing our role from God’s role is crucial—namely, that the Father planned salvation, Christ accomplished it, and the Spirit applies it. Therefore, “no seat will be empty at the banquet table in the Kingdom. All are assigned with name cards in place, for they heard the call of compelling love and came to feast.”
Before he gets to the means and methods of evangelism, Metzger briefly discusses the three myths that obscure grace—the hearer’s belief in inalienable rights, human goodness, human free will—and offers up the biblical counterpoints of God’s creation rights, our utter and total depravity, and a will bound to sin. Through beautifully reimagined parables, with characters we can identify with today, Metzger illustrates the shock and scandal of the kind of grace the God-Man Christ Jesus extends to sinners. We are shown and humbled by the fact that it is God’s grace alone that makes salvation possible.
In the midst of a pretty insignificant story in the last section of the book, Metzger includes a quote from one of the students that encapsulates the reader’s experience through Tell the Truth: “When I came I thought you were going to teach techniques and force me to witness. All you did was just open the Bible and give us a big view of the majesty of God. Now that I see him, I want to witness.” Out of a heart for the lost, Metzger does in his book what he advocates for. Tell the Truth focuses on the content of the gospel; not only to bless the reader, but also to provide an effective model for personal evangelism.