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Book review: Yearning for the Vast and Endless Sea: The good news about the Good News by Chris Russell

by
15 March 2024

John Pritchard looks at the basis for spreading the gospel to others

ANY book on evangelism which has a commendation from Alastair Campbell (“We don’t do God”) has to be taken seriously. This warm, passionate, and gracious book would have to be taken seriously anyway, because its author is Adviser on Evangelism and Witness to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He should know a thing or two about evangelism, and he does.

The title comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who, in The Little Prince, writes: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” So this book isn’t a “how to” book that makes the average reader feel inadequate. It is a book to fire the heart and (almost) make evangelism seem natural.

The author is convinced that the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Good News is what draws people to faith, not the believer’s dutiful obedience and hard work. Our task is simply to be focused on Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, expose those attractive qualities to the world, and let God do God’s work.

Russell helpfully makes his case through the questions: what is the gospel? how is the gospel shared? who bears the gospel? when does the gospel take effect? where does the gospel come to us? who is the gospel for? and why evangelism?

It is clear from these questions, used as headings, that much core material is going to be covered through them. Here lies gentle theology that tackles the right issues, and pastoral wisdom that puts the hearer-participant front and centre. Yet, all the time the central player is God, the core message is Jesus, and the key agent is the Spirit.

The author writes in a lively manner, making perceptive and trenchant comments on the idols of our time and the cultural influences that easily misdirect us. You feel that you could enjoy talking to him and that conversation would range widely and deeply.

This is an encouraging book that could help a wide range of readers to believe again in evangelism at a time when other domestic obsessions in the Church have hidden its central calling to invite people into the Kingdom. There is much to ponder here, and important issues to examine include the embodiment of the gospel, inclusiveness, and the perennial objection of suffering.

Essentially, however, what we receive is a thorough examination of the groundwork of evangelism. If the result of reading the book is that the reader thinks, “Of course; why would we not?” I suspect Russell would be pleased.

May his conversations with Mr Campbell prosper.


The Rt Revd John Pritchard is a former Bishop of Oxford.

 

Yearning for the Vast and Endless Sea: The good news about the Good News
Chris Russell
Canterbury Press £16.99
(978-1-78622-517-7)
Church Times Bookshop £13.59

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