Book review: Making New Disciples

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Mark Ireland and Mike Booker, Making New Disciples: Exploring the Paradoxes of Evangelism (London: SPCK, 2015)

by John Darch, Ellesmere

At the present time new books on evangelism are not exactly notable for their novelty value, meaning that any new entry into this crowded marketplace needs to have something distinctive to contribute; this book certainly does. Having previously collaborated on Evangelism: Which Way Now? in 2003, Mark Ireland and Mike Booker take a step back from the front line and view the evangelistic tools most widely used by parishes from a sympathetic but critical perspective.

In his insightful introduction (a brief essay in its own right), Archbishop Justin Welby makes the helpful distinction between books used as manuals (to be followed step by step) and those used as maps (providing the bigger picture and requiring decisions to be made). This book is very definitely a map; there is no “how to do evangelism” here but rather a carefully thought-out reflection on the options and current fashions in evangelism from the perspective of two highly experienced practitioners. Instead of a joint effort throughout the book, the two authors have (after the introductory first chapter) taken responsibility for separate chapters, and rather than repetition or contradiction, this approach brings freshness and immediacy (“I” generally works better than “we”).

The starting point is the example of Jesus and the primacy of prayer. In keeping with much contemporary missional thinking, discipleship, not conversion, is seen as the focus of evangelism. The authors cast a critical eye over the evangelistic and missional tools that are widely used today; MAP, Alpha, Christianity Explored, Pilgrim, fresh expressions and Messy Church are among those discussed. But the authors do not fall into the trap of assuming that all innovation is necessarily good and, following Davison and Milbank, examine the wide evangelistic opportunities open to the traditional parish church. The helpful concept of the “common good” is explained and discussed together with outworkings of this concept such as CAP, Street Pastors and food banks.

The book’s strengths are:

  • A deep understanding of both the practice of, and research into, evangelism;
  • A realistic understanding of the society the church is called to serve in the UK;
  • A critical examination of current evangelistic practice, particularly the “off the peg” tools that are widely used;
  • A clear belief in the missio Dei and in the making of disciples as the most appropriate focus of evangelistic activity.

Here is an ideal book both for students of contemporary approaches to evangelism in the UK and for local Christian leaders who have both a desire to engage in effective evangelism but also an open mind as to the best methods to use.

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