The Power of the 72, John Teter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Summary: A description of the theology and practice of equipping ordinary people to join in the mission of calling people to follow Jesus.
John Teter is convinced that evangelism does not belong to the experts, but that Jesus plan is to work with and through ordinary people to call many to follow Jesus. That is “the power of the 72,” the unnamed group of people described in Luke 10 who Jesus sent out as his “advance team” to preach and heal in the towns Jesus would visit.
This book is divided into two parts. The first is centered around theology. Three key ideas are emphasized–first that witness comes out of relationship, second that Jesus sends his disciples to the poor, and third, that he prepares them for crushing pressure. Teter’s own ministry in the lowest income section of Long Beach illustrates the second of these points and it is inspiring to read how the church he has planted has loved its community, and how people have come to faith as a result.
The second part outlines Teter’s approach of process conversion. It may be memorably summarized under the rubric of 4-3-2-1.
Four benchmark events:
- Trusting a non-Christian (and presumably vice versa!)
- Experiencing God and the good news of the gospel.
- Hearing and understanding the good news.
- Receiving a clear call to follow Jesus.
- Connection or initial investigation–discovering spiritual background and where they are on the conversion timeline (above).
- Secular to Sacred–inviting them to prayer, study of God’s Word, and fellowship to explore Jesus and the gospel.
- Curiosity to cross–as a person comes to understand who Jesus is and his message, they understand the decision they must make to take up the cross and follow.
Two mission tools:
- Food–sharing food together, often being received into a person’s home establishes trust and deep bonds.
- God’s Word–where people encounter Jesus for themselves in the gospels and hear his call and experience his healing in their lives.
One line we help friends cross as we call them to faith.
Undergirding all of this is a commitment to prayer. Chapter 5 on “Earnest and Powerful Prayers” is a pivotal part of the book, as Teter not only outlines the priority of prayer in scripture. The seven Habits of the 72 in prayer (p. 103) are ones I’ve copied for my journal.
There are several things I appreciated about this work. One is Teter’s enthusiasm. He not only writes about the joy of seeing people come to faith, but that joy also comes through on every page. Second is John’s honesty about relationships that didn’t lead to people coming to faith, things that didn’t work out the way he hoped. Many of the positive stories are those of others he works with. Third is the clarity of approach that arises out of his immersion in Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts, and his conviction of a ministry that is Word-centered, prayer-focused, and Spirit-empowered.
At one time, evangelical ministries neglected service and physical needs to focus on proclamation. Teter, I believe rightly, senses the pendulum has swung too far the other way, a swing he believes in part to be motivated by fear. He writes:
“A quotation attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, ‘Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’ When I hear that, I wonder if Francis’s larger ministry context emphasized speaking the word over service and acts of love. If that’s the case, it’s an entirely appropriate exhortation to strengthen a weak area of ministry. In our era, I believe many Christians have given themselves over to fear. We must heed the most heeded exhortation in the New Testament, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and open our mouths to proclaim the kingdom. We must choose obedience” (p. 132).
While a statement like this is challenging, what drives this and is evident throughout the book is Teter’s excitement about seeing people transformed as they come to faith in Christ. In this regard, he sounds a note much needed in the atmosphere of self-criticism, fear, and general up-tightness about the practice of evangelism. He reminds us that witness is about loving people, depending on God, experiencing the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit, and above all, knowing the great joy that pervades heaven when people come to faith and are reconciled to God through Christ. He reminds us that experiencing the reality of these things is not the preserve of a few specialists, but rather for ordinary, everyday believers. That is the power of the 72.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.