Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life, by Jeff Vanderstelt
Reviewed by Daphne Sydney, Superintendent Australia
A Christian man once asked his pastor to please teach him how to evangelize. The wise pastor replied—tell me about the time you first met your wife to be. The man told his story with amazing detail of his first date, quite animated and joyful, and 20 minutes later… the point had been made. He was able to share fluently about the love of his life. He knew her so well, he did not have to stop and think about the words. His whole-hearted love for her flowed generously. This is the starting point for sharing the gospel—that we talk about what we love, or perhaps better put, we talk about Who we love. The author puts it this way:
People need heart change – not just once, but over and over again… What affects you greatly creates in you great affections. And those affections lead you to express verbally and physically what you love most, because you talk about what you love…
When you come to know and experience the love God has for us in Jesus; when you realize that God loved us so much that he was willing to suffer and die for our sins; when you meet Jesus and experience his pouring out his Spirit into your heart, filling you with himself and his love, you can’t contain it. (pages 95-6)
As the gospel shapes us, how does this “Gospel Fluency” happen in our conversation with others?
Vanderstelt likens it to the process of learning a new language. Anyone who has done this will be familiar with the process and the time that it takes until the language is truly understood and embedded. After some time of immersion, listening and learning, the words begin to flow with ease. This is analogous to God’s people needing to immerse themselves fully in the gospel message, from the beginning of Creation (Gen. 1:1)—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth”, to the Fall, Redemption and the New Creation. The “knowing her so well” in the earlier narrative resonates with our willingness to know Jesus so well, to take the time to prayerfully study, to read the Gospels or take up a course.
When we were learning Tagalog in the Philippines, one of the best experiences was living with a Filipino family for a weekend, where the hosts kindly said, “We won’t be speaking any English.” It was a total immersion into their language, hospitality and culture. We learned some of the basics very quickly!
Likewise, “Gospel Fluency” happens not just with formal training, but through immersion in a gospel-speaking community where we have the continual sharing of the life of Jesus in our lives, referred to as absorbing the gospel into oneself, then sharing it within our faith community, then bringing the gospel to others. This highlights the value of regular church attendance and fellowship, and also the possibilities of Connect groups during the week—where we have a shared life and we communicate to one another what Jesus is doing in our lives. This is fitting with our current focus on the Faith Avenue, where we are exploring more of the plans and purposes for connect-type groups.
Vanderstelt notes that the most important thing is helping people come to know the love of Jesus—“Gospel Fluency” is not just about talking, it’s also about listening, which requires love, patience and wisdom. In other words, it is about building relationships. Jesus shows us how to grow to be a person of understanding and able to listen well. When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, he began with a humble posture of receiving water from her. Vanderstelt comments on this:
I have found that starting with a posture of humility, standing in a place of need and having a heart that is willing not only to give answers but also to receive insight, creates a welcoming place for people to open their hearts. The more open we are to listen and learn, the more likely people are to be open as well (172)
The apostle Peter makes the point that when we are living out the hope that is in us, leaning into the Spirit, living the Jesus life, it may result in an opportunity to share the gospel message—and when it does, it is to be done with gentleness and respect. It is like our Lord engaged the woman at the well, gently asking for her help, drawing her out and listening to her. The gospel is, by its very nature, relational. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
There is much more to be found in the book, Gospel Fluency, and some parts we may not fully agree on, nevertheless, the book holds some very helpful points to ponder.