Out of the Saltshaker

Out of the Saltshaker, by Rebecca Manley Pippert.

Leicester, England: Inter- Varsity Press, 2004. Paperback, 291 pp.  ISBN 0-85111-646-9

 I thought I would read this as background to the British Reformed Fellowship conference to be held at Bangor, Northern Ireland in late July of 2012, which was on the theme “Ye shall be my witnesses,” because I knew this to be an influential book on personal evangelism.

The title is based on the Biblical fact that believers are salt, and the author sees the local church as the saltshaker: we need to be out in the world witnessing, to reach outside of our comfortable ghetto in  the church to others.

The book is a real mixture. There are a lot of worthwhile points of which believers need to take note, but the underlying theology is also a mix of truth (God is sovereign) and error (he loves all men; Christ died for all men; God’s deepest desire is that no one perish; and you can become regenerated by asking Christ into your heart).

In chapter one Pippert rightly makes clear that our manner should not be offensive, and that we should not be hesitant for fear of offending.  But she fails to mention that the message always is an offence, because it basically states that all human beings are sinners and are living wrongly. She says we need to show sincere interest for  those we hope to influence, use questions to get to know them and what they believe, and establish a caring relationship. We need to be authentic. God can and should be a natural part of any discussion, and we should not be afraid to be transparent and even share our failings. Sharing the gospel entails sharing our lives (1 Thess.2:8). In support of this Pippert shows how our Lord Jesus related to others, exposing his vulnerability, e.g., when thirsty and when in the garden. She shows that she understands a bit of Christology by saying that the Lord was both radical in his identification with the world and radically different from it.

She is absolutely mistaken in alleging that Jesus loved the Pharisees, but she is correct in saying he was absolutely intolerant of false religion and in saying that he is the only one in the universe who can control us without destroying us. She rightly says that the only ultimately important things are God and people, but mistakenly thinks there is some of God’s image left in fallen mankind, and goes as far as saying something of Christ is in all men. She also correctly exposes the Pharisees for their hypocritical separateness from the people as opposed to Christ’s being a friend of sinners.

One of the rallying calls that evangelicals use in this sphere is the call to “share Christ’s love” with unbelievers There is no doubt we are called to love our brethren (Matthew 25:40), to do good to all (Gal.6:10) and to love even our enemies (Matt.5:44). But our love cannot accurately reflect Christ’s love, which ultimately is only toward his elect and is rejected and trampled on by the reprobate. In a later chapter she speaks of the primary means of pleasing God being through proper relationships, and in this she speaks truth (Jer.22:16. 1 John 4:21), although there is much more to it, such as our personal devotion to God and  public worship.

In another chapter she acknowledges the antithesis and speaks of Christ’s clear denunciation of sin, but writes that it is the work of the Spirit to convict, and that he resides in us. She speaks graphically of his ministry of the towel and the whip! Fear God alone.

Having said this, she states rightly the need for diligent and persistent prayer for those God brings across our path and goes as far as saying learning to care for others requires sound theology But then to her shame she quotes from Mother Theresa talking about the Roman Catholic mass and seeing Christ in every poor beggar!

In a chapter entitled “Practicing the presence of Christ” she states that “to let people inside our lives is a frightening, but essential ingredient in evangelism,” which I believe concurs with Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and 2 Timothy 3:10. She also rightly says we will be judged by our faithfulness and obedience rather than by our success. The reason for the book’s title comes to the fore where she asks how we can be the salt of the earth if we never get out of the saltshaker—the fellowship of Christians. In commenting about conversation she rightly says that the truth of faith may be above reason but it is not contrary to it. She also says witnessing is telling others what God has done for us (as Paul did in Acts 26:9–23). She also mentions that evangelism is a process; it generally takes time and various circumstances to bring a person to conversion. She rightly mentions the warning of not casting pearls before swine (Matt.10:14), and that we need to tailor our ecclesiastical vocabulary!

I think she is right in saying God has uniquely placed and gifted us to reach certain people. Can we arouse their curiosity so they will want to hear, as Christ did with the woman at the well? Generally we need to show love and care to “earn a hearing” for the gospel. She is dead right when she says that our workplace and personal interests should be our target zone for the gospel. She is also dead right saying sin is choosing self-rule rather than being ruled by God. But she is dead wrong when she encourages new converts to find a church where they feel comfortable! In presenting the gospel she calls God’s love of mankind the central truth, rather than the glory or holiness of God, but correctly lists preaching, prayer, worship, and living witness as the means by which the Spirit works.

Pippert contradicts herself on the subject of regeneration and conversion She states that transformation is the work of the sovereign Spirit and that conversion is beyond our ability to control, but she sees conversion as being the human ability of repenting and believing that precedes it. She does not believe any of the five points of Calvinism and takes Revelation 3:20, as so many do, out of context, implying our ability to influence regeneration, whereas we know we are wholly passive in what is exclusively God’s work. Even more dangerous and misleading is her encouraging converts to thank God for entering their lives after “praying the prayer.”

Here is a quotation: “One of the primary ways we block God’s Spirit is through being judgmental and critical of others.” Try telling that to Stephen (Acts 7) or to Christ in his denunciation of the Pharisees. However, she is right in saying we must ask God to find a way to break through the spiritual deception and self-deception of people, and that as God’s people we are called to be a close family that welcomes others into our midst. Hospitality is one means. Churches and Bible study groups should think of activities to which they could invite their friends.

Pippert disobeys the clear prohibition of Scripture every time she “preaches,” but she captures the essence of true worship when she says our worship life should direct people to experience the transcendent God and should be God-centered. She challenges churches to have an evangelism strategy in which every member sees evangelism as a way of life and ministers taking the lead by example. Finally, near the very end of the book she misinterprets Christ’s nickname of Simon Peter when he called him a rock rather than a stone! Her use of the Bridge Illustration is commendable, but it needs to be adapted to purge out its Arminianism. Overall the book is a worthwhile read for the tidbits of truth relating to our evangelism, but it is such a shame that the underlying theology is faulty.