Essay / Misc.

John Teter Gets the Word Out

John Teter’s 2003 book Get the Word Out: How God Shapes and Sends His Witnesses is a great little introduction to evangelism. Teter is obviously very (veryvery) passionate, but he writes with a disarming breeziness. He develops his ideas through stories and personal illustrations, so by the time you’re done with the book (an easy read at 168 pages of biggish print) you’ve met a lot of interesting people and watched them in their encounters with Christ and each other.

Get the Word Out is insightful and informative, but also probably 40% motivational, which I’m discovering is about the right proportion for books about evangelism. Most Christians don’t need amazing new ideas about evangelism; they need encouragement to try it and to keep at it. This book is not just a pep rally — it’s got strategic recommendations (small-group evangelistic Bible studies), sobering advice (“It is not a good investment for witnesses to spend countless hours building trust, serving and teaching the Word to people who have no desire to change.”), and theology aplenty (“Witness is a gift of grace from God for the disciple…”). But if you’re out of pep and need to rally, just admit that a book of strong encouragement is the thing to read.

Where Get the Word Out breaks some new ground, however, is in Teter’s decision to develop the whole project as an interaction with the gospel of John. Teter’s central ideas are all straight from the theology of witness in John, and every major point he makes is drawn back to a story from that gospel. That makes Get the Word Out a kind of sermonic commentary on the Johannine theology of witness, and puts readers into direct contact with God’s word over and over.

Here Teter’s doing what he knows best: just as he recommends bringing people into small-group evangelistic Bible studies to let the word of God speak for itself, he followed his own best advice and wrote a book that does the same. “I began studying the Fourth Gospel because I was drawn to the imagery of water, bread and light. But as I went deeper, I discovered that John’s Gospel paints a picture of God’s supreme victory in evangelism and teaches us how God develops his evangelists.”

The best thing about Get the Word Out is that it makes me want to read the gospel of John again. I don’t mean that to be a backhanded compliment, either: I think I have dimly glimpsed the theology of witness in John, but Teter has looked harder, and has tested it in the laboratory of his life and ministry.

Hiding somewhere behind Get the Word Out is a polemic against any attempt to use fear, guilt, or duty to spur Christians to evangelize. But however much Teter may be pushing against some bad practices, he is relentlessly positive in his way of making his point:

God is not looking for burned-out, guilt-ridden evangelists to change the world. There are enough of those folks doing their thing in the world. Instead God is looking for people who are madly in love with his Son, experience him as the best joy in all the world and therefore cannot contain their joy in God. That is what it means to be sent as a witness. We are shaped by God’s love before we are sent. The order is important… Before God would have us launch forth into a hostile world to introduce his love to sinners, he would have us be people who are first consumed with that same love. He would have us give to others what we ourselves have experienced.

An aside: When I was a new Christian, I read Fritz Ridenour’s little book Tell it Like it Is: How Not To Be a Witless Witness. Ridenour’s schtick was that he was the buzz-cut straight-edge writer who knew how to talk to “today’s kids” (back in the early sixties) and had cartoons and slang in his books. I just looked through his book again and noticed that he made Teter’s decision: he developed his book on evangelism as an interactive commentary on the gospel of John. I’m sure these two guys made independent decisions to do this, and it looks to me like the two witnesses confirm the fact that John is a go-to gospel for an always relevant theology of witnessing.

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