Review of Maynard-Reid’s Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model

Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model Book Cover Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model
Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid
Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1997
Feb. 1, 1997
176 pp., pb.

Reviewer: Robert P. Menzies teaches New Testament at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (Baugio City, Philippines)

Book Review: 3,353 words

Complete Evangelism: A Review Article

In Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model, Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid issues a passionate call for Evangelical Christians to see the evangelistic task as necessarily encompassing word and deed, proclamation and social action. As the Jamaican-born author builds his case, it is evident that he is reacting against models of evangelism which he has encountered within Evangelical institutions (including his own Seventh-Day Adventist Church), especially those advocated by church- growth proponents such as Donald McGavran and Peter Wagner. A student at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Missions, Maynard-Reid has had a ‘front-row’ seat from which he could view and analyze the various options. And his assessment is unequivocal: Maynard-Reid specifically rejects the notion, espoused by Wagner (and many Evangelicals), that proclamation can be separated from and given priority over social action.

I. Summary

Maynard-Reid’s thesis is developed in five major chapters. Chapter One offers an historical overview of Christian attitudes toward social action, focusing on developments over the past 200 years. Although the treatment is necessarily brief, Maynard-Reid skillfully captures the key characters and themes of the times. He outlines how the fundamentalist-modernist controversy had a large and negative impact on the Evangelical social conscience, but how this ‘great reversal’ began to be challenged in subsequent decades. Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published in 1947, clearly marked a watershed. And the statements on evangelism and social responsibility generated at the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelism in Lausanne and the 1982 Grand Rapids ‘Consultation on the Relationship Between Evangelism and Social Responsibility’ (CRESR) were important milestones along the way. The CRESR report defines the relationship between social action and evangelism in three ways: social action is a consequence of evangelism; social action is a bridge to evangelism; and it is a partner which accompanies evangelism. The conference stated that evangelism has a logical priority, but that the two are mutually supportive. This position was largely adopted by the church-growth movement and reflected in the writings of Peter Wagner. Yet, according to Maynard-Reid, the CRESR statement doesn’t go far enough. It still reflects what he deems to be an unbiblical dichotomy between evangelism and social action.

Chapter Two deals with hermeneutical concerns. Here Maynard-Reid establishes his intention to look at Luke-Acts as a model for addressing the key issues pertaining to evangelism and social action raised above. He appropriately stresses the theological value of Luke-Acts and the unique contribution this two-volume work has to make to our own theological understanding. In order to elucidate Luke’s perspective, he determines to analyze the way in which Luke selects, arranges, and modifies his material.

The fruit of this redactional approach is the basis for Chapters Three and Four. Chapter Three traces the evangelistic activity of Jesus and the apostles through Luke-Acts. Maynard-Reid suggests that the evangelistic enterprise in Luke-Acts consists of two elements: hope and challenge. It brings hope to the outcasts and marginalized; it also challenges the rich and powerful. Thus, evangelistic activity in Luke-Acts necessarily has a powerful social component. One cannot separate proclamation from from social action; for, on the one hand, evangelism is more than proclamation (actions also marked the evangelistic mission: healings, exorcisms, sharing of possessions, etc.), and the proclamation itself is a message that has significant social consequences. Ultimately, Maynard-Reid defines evangelism as ‘an invitation into the reign of God and an initiation into that reign – a reign that impacts all contemporary living, private and public, without ignoring the future eschatological dimension’ (p. 64). In what is surely the heart of the book, Maynard-Reid traces the way in which Luke skillfully crafts his narrative in order to highlight the social well-being of the poor and marginalized. ‘Luke’s wholistic evangelism affirms, embraces, and gives hope to the weak and lowly’ (p. 79). Luke’s narrative, we are told, also stresses that the gospel constitutes a challenge to the rich: they must share their possessions with others. ‘True evangelism holds out the invitation for the rich to accept the gospel invitation and share in God’s reign by relinquishing their earthly social power’ (p. 91).

Chapter Four seeks to bolster Maynard-Reid’s ‘wholistic evangelism’ thesis through an analysis of various theological themes in Luke-Acts. Here themes such as the present and future aspects of the Kingdom of God, the wholistic nature of salvation, the social implications of repentance, the radical nature of conversion, and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit are all explored. The treatment of these themes follows rather closely contemporary Evangelical thought. However, Pentecostals in particular will resonate with Maynard-Reid’s emphasis on healing as a witness to God’s concern for the physical world and his insistence that Luke ‘uniquely links the Holy Spirit to mission’ (p. 120). Maynard-Reid’s analysis, at this point, may not be novel, but he does bring together the various strands alluded to above in a compelling and challenging way.

In Chapter Five, Maynard-Reid develops the missiological implications of Luke’s wholistic paradigm for evangelism. In the process, he interacts with a variety of theologians and missiologists, critiquing any attempt to see evangelism and social action as distinct, separable entities. Evangelism is not simply proclamation: it is word and deed. And it encompasses all arenas of life: private and public; personal and political; and spiritual and social. He concludes by offering some concrete examples of ‘complete evangelism’ from Jamaica and the Northwest United States (where the author currently lives and teaches).

II. Evaluation

There is much here to commend. Maynard-Reid writes in clear, non-technical language, and the narrative flows smoothly. As such, the book is suitable for a wide-range of readers, not simply biblical scholars or missiologists. The author also highlights a number of themes that, while not necessarily new or novel, need to be reaffirmed and firmly rooted in our hearts and minds: the gospel does have dramatic social implications; the Church is called to live out the life of the Kingdom here and now as much as possible. The purpose of God’s mission cannot be relegated simply to the ‘saving of souls’; it involves the complete restoration of human beings (e.g., the resurrection), human society (our eternal destiny is life in community), and the entire created order. Evangelism is an invitation to enter into God’s reign and his Kingdom community – and this call, when heeded, necessarily impacts every dimension of one’s life. Furthermore, Maynard-Reid helpfully highlights the unique nature of Luke’s perspective and contribution. Luke does highlight the social implications of the gospel in profound and unique ways: he challenges those in his community to hold their possessions lightly, to use them wisely, and to share them freely. He emphasizes that there is no place in the Kingdom for the proud, but that it is the humble who will find their place there. As such, the life of the Kingdom, even in its present imperfect state, is to be marked by transformed lives and relationships.

Yet, when it comes to the book’s central thesis, I must say that I remain unconvinced.   Yes, the gospel has social implications. And I heartily agree that evangelism and social action are not mutually exclusive, but rather closely interconnected (the CRESR reports states the matter rather clearly). But, Maynard-Reid says more. He insists that evangelism and social action cannot be viewed as distinct entities and, therefore, they cannot be prioritized. Perhaps part of the problem is Maynard-Reid’s refusal to define with precision the two key terms. Evangelism is ultimately a ‘polymorphous activity’ (p. 64) which cannot be reduced to proclamation. (Yet this seems to run counter to his definition of evangelism as ‘an invitation into the reign of God’ – an invitation is generally spoken). And social action, for Maynard-Reid, involves everything from caring for the needy to political involvement which confronts sinful structures (p. 131). Of course this ambiguity is intentional. Maynard-Reid repeatedly suggests that to define these terms more precisely is to fall under the negative and pervasive influence of Western and Greek dualism (e.g., p. 132). Yet, in the midst of the confusing array of fuzzy definitions, one wonders if Aristotelian logic and Western dualism have not been given rather short shrift. Is it not occasionally helpful to make precise distinctions, to form sharp categories, so we can discuss matters clearly? I would argue that this is the case, even when the categories do not always perfectly fit the realities they seek to represent. For example, when Church leaders gather to determine how to allocate resources and personnel, they might correctly make distinctions between social ministries which feed the hungry (e.g., soup kitchens), care for the needy (e.g., orphanages), or minister to the sick (e.g., hospitals and clinics); and proclamation-based ministries which seek to share the gospel message with unbelievers, disciple new believers, and ultimately establish churches. While inevitably there will be overlap – hopefully there will be occasions for verbal witness in the hospital wards and opportunities to help the needy in the context of church planting – the specific focus and intention of the various ministries can be distinguished. Can we not make similar distinctions, limited as they may be, between proclamation and social action in Luke-Acts? And if so, what would we find? Where does Luke place the accent? Here is where we encounter the major difficulties with Maynard-Reid’s thesis. I will list three.

A. The Poor as Metaphor

First, Maynard-Reid incorrectly interprets a number of Luke’s references to the ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ primarily as socio-economic descriptions. A case in point is Jesus’ programmatic announcement in Nazareth: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Lk 4.18).[1] In a bit of circular reasoning, we are told that here the poor must be understood primarily in the physical, socio-economic sense, because ‘for Luke, as throughout Scripture, the poor first of all are persons without economic resources’ (p. 69). This judgment, however, ignores a number of significant studies which persuasively argue that in Luke 4.18 (and in other key Lukan texts), the term ‘poor’ is a metaphor which refers to those whose recognize their need for God. These studies point out that in numerous Old Testament passages, the term ‘poor’ symbolizes a spiritual attitude of dependence upon God (e.g. Isa. 66.2; Zeph. 3.12), particularly with reference to the people of Israel in need of salvation.[2] Most importantly, this is the conceptual backdrop for the crucial passages from Isaiah cited in Luke 4.18-19 (i.e., Isa. 61.1-2; 58.6). These conclusions are supported by the fact that the members of the Qumran community considered themselves to be ‘the poor’, although they were materially prosperous. Thus Thomas Schmidt concludes his own study of Lk 4.18 by stating: ‘we should not understand the passage as an introduction to the economic ethics of the Gospel.’[3] Yet, this is exactly what Maynard-Reid does. It is unfortunate that Maynard-Reid was not able to interact with any of these important studies. In fact, he shows no awareness of them. This omission is all the more glaring given the importance of this passage for his thesis.

B. Selective Exegesis

Secondly, Maynard-Reid may be chided for selective exegesis. There is always the temptation, in studies such as this, to focus entirely on passages that seem to support one’s case and to ignore important texts which might bring a different perspective. I shall note a number of key texts or themes which Maynard-Reid appears to have ignored.   Notice, for example, the rationale the Twelve give for turning over the administration of the daily distribution of food to the seven deacons: ‘We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6.3). Here the apostles establish a clear priority for their own ministry. Social work is important, but it is not their central task.

Maynard-Reid notes in passing the emphasis that Luke places in the book of Acts on the concept of ‘witness’ (pp. 60-61), but he fails to treat the subject in a significant way. This theme, affirmed at the end of Luke’s gospel (Lk 24.48) and again at the beginning of Acts (Acts 1.8), reappears throughout the book of Acts.[4] The nature of this witnesses is evident from passages such as Acts 3.15, where Peter declares: ‘You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.’ ‘Witness’ in Acts involves the proclamation of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ – all of which establishes that Jesus is indeed Lord and Messiah.   The verbal character of the apostolic witness is highlighted repeatedly, but perhaps no more powerfully than in Acts 4.19-20, where Peter and John reply to their persecutors: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ Although this apostolic witness may indeed constitute a challenge to those in power, surely it is possible to distinguish this activity (bold witness in the face of opposition) from what we normally define as ‘social action’. It would appear that the concept of witness in the book of Acts also supports the notion that proclamation should be seen as the central activity of the evangelistic enterprise.

Luke’s emphasis on the ‘word’ raises further questions for Maynard-Reid. Maynard-Reid correctly notes that the evangelistic mission of Jesus and the early church included the working of miracles as well as proclamation. Yet, while it is true that for Luke ‘both realities belong together in the missionary endeavour,’[5] it is also true that Luke is especially concerned with the ‘word’ or proclamation. Luke’s emphasis on proclamation is reflected in two striking ways.

First, Luke’s pneumatology emphasizes the primacy of verbal witness. Although Luke frequently presents the Spirit as the exclusive source (without reference to ‘power’ or other qualifying terms) of prophetic activity (inspired speech and special revelation), he never does so with reference to miracles of healing, exorcism, or marvelous deeds. This is the case although it means that Luke has had to alter his sources on several occasions.[6] Thus, Luke presents proclamation (verbal witness) rather than miracle-working power as the primary product of the Spirit’s inspiration.

Secondly, an analysis of Luke’s narrative reveals that Luke repeatedly inserts material referring to both the teaching and healing activity of Jesus into his source material (Lk 5.15; 6.17-19; 9.1-2). While this Lukan tendency certainly indicates that proclamation and miracles are, in Luke’s perspective, complementary, the fact that these references generally occur in the context of a miracle story suggests that Luke is especially concerned to highlight the significance of proclamation. Lk 5.12-16 represents a good example of this sort of redactional activity. Here Luke describes Jesus’ cleansing (healing) of a leper. Luke’s account follows closely that of Mark and is clearly dependent upon it (Mk 1.40-45).[7] Yet Luke deviates from the Markan account at a number of points and one alteration is particularly noteworthy. Mark and Luke both record the impact of this marvelous healing: in spite of Jesus’ command of silence, news of the miracle spreads dramatically. So much so, Mark tells us, that ‘Jesus could no longer openly enter a town’ (Mk 1.45). Yet Luke writes, although ‘great multitudes gathered to hear and be healed of their infirmities’ (Lk 5.15), Jesus withdrew to the wilderness. It is striking that Luke specifically notes that, as a result of the healing, people came not only to be healed (what we would expect), but also ‘to hear’ Jesus.[8]

Luke’s penchant for introducing miracle stories with references to Jesus’ teaching is also striking (Lk 5.1; 6.6; 13.10). Luke introduces the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5.1-11) with this descriptive phrase: ‘While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, [Jesus] was standing by the lake…’ (Lk 5.1). Again, Jesus is ‘teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath’ (Lk 13.10), when he encounters and heals a crippled woman (Lk 13.10-17).

All of this indicates that, for Luke, Jesus is more than a miracle worker, he is the long-anticipated prophet-teacher. And, his disciples, as a band of end-time prophets (Acts 2.17-21), follow in his footsteps with their inspired witness. In Luke’s eyes, word and sign are complementary, but they are not of equal significance. ‘The word’ is primary.[9]

C. A Matter of Balance

My third and final objection to Maynard-Reid’s thesis centers on his description of the evangelistic enterprise in Luke-Acts. According to Maynard-Reid, this enterprise has two dimensions: hope and challenge. The evangelistic mission brings hope to the outcasts and marginalized; it also challenges the rich and powerful (both human and demonic). Here, the over-literal interpretation of terms such as ‘the poor’ in Lk 4.18 and a selective reading of the text has thrown Maynard-Reid slightly off balance. The notions of hope and challenge I believe are suggestive and helpful, but I do not believe that Luke encourages us to see these elements of the evangelistic task primarily in socio-economic categories. Is it only the literal poor who need a word of hope? What then are we to make of Zacchaeus (Lk 19) or Cornelius (Acts 10) or Paul himself for that matter (Acts 9)? And is it only the rich and powerful who need to hear the word of challenge? It would appear that greed and selfishness are not limited to one socio-economic group or class. Indeed, as Thomas Schmidt notes, ‘for Luke…the evil of wealth consists not primarily in lack of care for the poor but in independence from God: the opposite of Gottvertrauen.’[10] Although certainly there are special dangers for those who have an abundance of resources, faithlessness is not a socio-economic category. The word of challenge, then, like the word of hope, must be directed to all without faith, irrespective of socio-economic standing. Perhaps this is really what Maynard-Reid has in mind, but his rhetoric and socio-economic reading of key passages point in another direction. In the final analysis, the word of hope and challenge ultimately centers on the reality of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. The socio-economic implications are secondary to and flow out of this ulitmate reality: Jesus is Lord!

III. Conclusion

Maynard-Reid is to be commended for producing an articulate, thoughtful, and provocative book. Although one might not agree with various aspects of his thesis, there can be little doubt that many of the themes he highlights accurately reflect the heart and soul of Luke-Acts. Luke does, in a very powerful and unique way, highlight the social implications of the gospel. And Maynard-Reid certainly challenges us to hear this message, even if at times his position appears to be overstated. The book would have been strengthened by more interaction with recent Lukan scholarship, particularly those works which challenge a socio-economic interpretation of terms such as ‘the poor’ and ‘the rich’ in Luke-Acts. And I do not believe that Luke supports the notion that evangelism and social action cannot in any meaningful way be viewed as distinct entities and prioritized: his emphasis on ‘the word’ and ‘witness’ suggests that proclamation is indeed central to the evangelistic task. Nevertheless, this book, focused as it is on the social implications of Luke’s theology, might serve to stimulate needed reflection in Pentecostal circles concerning the social impact of the Spirit of Pentecost. And, while Complete Evangelism offers an incomplete description of evangelism in Luke-Acts, it does challenge us to wrestle in new and fresh ways with the nature of this crucial enterprise.


[1] All biblical references in English are from the NIV, except for the citations from Mk 1.45; Lk 5.1, 15; and Lk 13.10 (in Section II, B), which are from the RSV (2nd edition).

[2] See especially D. Seccombe, Possessions and the Poor in Luke-Acts (SNTU #6; Linz: SNTU, 1982), pp. 67-81.

[3] Thomas E. Schmidt, Hostility to Wealth in the Synoptic Gospels (JSNTSS #15; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), p. 140. See also H. Kvalbein, ‘Jesus and the Poor: Two Texts and a Tentative Conclusion’, Themelios 12.3 (1987), pp. 80-87; and W. Heard, ‘Luke’s Attitude toward the Rich and the Poor’, Trinity Journal 9 (1988), pp. 47-80.

[4] See Acts 1.22; 2.32; 3.15; 5.32; 10.39, 41; 13.31; 22.15, 20; 23.11.

[5] L. O’Reilly, Word and Sign in the Acts of the Apostles: A Study in Lucan Theology (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1987), p. 217.

[6] Luke 4.18; 11.20; 12.10.

[7] I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 206.

[8] So also J. Nolland, who sees Luke here ‘correcting a one-sided attention to healing’ (Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 [Dallas: Word, 1989]), p. 228.

[9] This conclusion is also supported by the speeches in Acts, which form such a prominent part of this book.

[10] Schmidt, Hostility, p. 136.

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