Book review: Marks of the Messenger

Stiles, J. Mack. Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010.

In Marks of the Messenger, Mack Stiles explains what makes up the fertile spiritual ground for a messenger of the gospel. He examines the gospel, evangelism, and what it is to live for Christ. He explores what these areas should look like in a Christian’s life.

Stiles’ offers biblical teaching intertwined with true stories. The stories help illustrate Stiles’ points that show rather than just tell. This gives the reader a fuller understanding of how Stile’s biblical points work out in real life.

As an example of the book’s structure and tone, below is a story from chapter 4, Does the Message We Share Look Like the Message We Bear? The story below begins and ends the chapter with a teaching on the gospel in between. The story describes how Stiles sat with his pastor and two high-powered businessmen who were in a legal battle with each other. I still remember when I first heard Stiles, in his pastoral tone, tell this story at my church last year.

“Gentlemen, ” I said, turning to the man on my left, “I want to start by saying that we are gathered here to ask you, Mike, to drop your lawsuit against Robert. You understand 1 Corinthians 6: You are not allowed to take this case to a Muslim court.”

Mike looked down and fingered his legal papers, written in Arabic script.

Turning to the man on my right, “And Robert, though you are under no compulsion to do so, after Mike drops the case, we would like you to be generous beyond the obvious amounts this case would cost you.”

Robert’s face flushed: “He has no case at all. The three hundred thousand he requires is absurd…”

Mike growled, “I believe my lawyers will help you find out just how good my case…”

“Wait,” I interrupted, sensing I was losing control. “Before we go any further I want to say that it’s not the legal or financial issues that are of first concern here. It’s that we are coming together to sit at the foot of the cross and work this out.” (49-50)

Back in the living room with the two businessmen and my pastor, Mike said, “Well, if I cancel the legal proceedings what guarantee do I have that Robert will pay?”

“None, ” I said. “But we are not trusting in Robert. We are trusting in Christ.”

“Okay,” he said, softly. “I’ll do that. I can trust him.”

Touched with Mike’s willingness to lay aside the lawsuit, Robert leaned forward. “My board  has only authorized for me to pay fifty thousand, but Mike, I am willing to pay out my own pocket over the next number of months another two hundred.”

“And Mike, if you are willing to trust in Christ by following the principle of 1 Corinthians 6, then the church is willing to help from our benevolence fund, ” said Pastor John.

Mike’s chin fell to his chest…”Would you really do that for me?” he said. He began to weep. (58-59)

The book moves smoothly between the above type of narrative and biblical teaching. Though the book is only 128 pages, it tackles a lot of biblical issues. Stiles addresses issues such as pragmatism, easy believism, true conversion, gospel assumption and gospel boldness. He also contrasts the world’s love with God’s love offering biblical correctives to the views that pop culture has of God’s love. This sets up the reader for the end of the book.

The last two chapters offer the reader practical advice on demonstrating the gospel inside the local church and, finally, a “manifesto for healthy evangelism.”  Stiles’ advice will help those who feel like they don’t know what to do when it comes to evangelism. He offers advice to be used both inside and outside of the church.

Stiles is a friend. He is a guy who feels like a life long friend after spending ten minutes together. This book shows his heart for the gospel. I recommend it. It offers a healthy exhortation for evangelism in the life of all Christians.

(Note: This is one of the books that was given away at Together for the Gospel 2010.)

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