Book Review: That None Should Perish
After working for several years in crusade outreaches with his brother-in-law, evangelist Luis Palau, Ed Silvoso founded Harvest Evangelism to assist the churches in his native Argentina in reaching the nation for Christ. The team of Harvest Evangelism, on which Silvoso now serves as director, has developed a prototype strategy to reach entire cities for Christ using prayer evangelism as the main tool.
Often, when believers reflect on the practice of prayer, they think about needs they believe must be brought to God for solution. Included in this list of requests is the prayer for the salvation of people in general or particular friends or family members. In preparation for revival services or special evangelistic events, prayer is usually concentrated on asking God to meet a need, typically, the need of the lost to be saved.
When believers reflect on the practice of evangelism, on the other hand, they often think of knocking on doors, handing out tracts, preaching by an evangelist once or twice a year, and using different tools to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, believers will excuse themselves from the responsibilities of evangelism because they believe they are not gifted in that area. Even when churches come together in groups to pray for revival services that will be evangelistic, the two events are compartmentalized so that some have the responsibility for praying and others have the responsibility for evangelizing.
The purpose of Ed Silvoso’s book, That None Should Perish, is to bring the two responsibilities together into one concept, prayer evangelism, so that friends and families are saved, and entire cities experience sweeping transformation through knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior. Silvoso writes from the perspective of personal disappointment and triumph as he shares how God changed his perspective and priority on missions and evangelism by making prayer the first and foremost resource and weapon on the mission field.
The book is divided into two sections: principles and strategy. The section on principles begins with a defense of the need to reach the cities for Christ. Most Christians will agree that God does not want any to perish. Many, however, harbor little hope of any significant change occurring in cities, where evil permeates so much of the culture. Silvoso provides a strong reminder to believers that the major cities of the world are part of the world-wide mission field that must be reached.
The principle of prayer evangelism is based on the concept of intercessory prayer. Silvoso argues that believers should be praying for the salvation of the lost, but equally so for the felt needs of the lost. He maintains that a non-believer’s greatest need is salvation from sin, though the non-believer is likely to prioritize other, felt needs. Furthermore, believers should pray for the salvation of non-believers, while recognizing that, often, God will become real to a non-believer when that person experiences the power of God through answered prayer for something tangible in his world.
From stressing the urgency of reaching cities with the gospel, Silvoso moves into a discussion of spiritual warfare in the heavenly places. In doing so, he provides an excellent reconciliation of two seemingly opposite positions. He understands the charismatic position, which tends toward a more offensive position in spiritual warfare, and he acknowledges the evangelical position, which is more inclined to be defensive in its posture. Silvoso argues that the two are not mutually exclusive but equally real and equally necessary. He argues that the cities will be won or lost on the battleground of the heavenly places, and as believers remain steadfastly defensive and at the same time aggressively plead for the salvation of the cities.
The second part of the book outlines a strategy for implementing prayer evangelism. The author systematically outlines a plan that resembles a battle plan being laid out in a war room. Silvoso speaks in terms of a military perimeter, or an outer boundary where defenses are set up. Establishing the perimeter is accomplished by seeking people across denominational lines and in various congregations who are devoted to praying. The perimeter is then secured by encouraging the unity of believers, developing a passion for the lost, and obtaining a deeper understanding of God’s grace, a grace experienced by the individual through honest confession and extended to others through heart-felt compassion. Not until God’s people have dealt with their own issues and secured the perimeter are they ready, then, to expand the perimeter.
Silvoso comes close to espousing borderline ecumenism when he encourages cross-denominational unity and asks believers intentionally to consider all local congregations a part of the city church. The expansion of the spiritual defensive perimeter for the city presumes that there is one church with many congregations in any given city, and Silvoso encourages communion among congregations and the sharing of pulpits as together they stand as one against evil.
The final steps in the process build on each other as Silvoso discusses infiltrating Satan’s perimeter, destroying Satan’s perimeter, and establishing God’s perimeter. These sections carry most of the hands-on practical application ideas for the church. He discusses prayer walking, prayer surveys, lighthouses of prayer, and several other activities that allow non-believers in the community to know the church is alive, well, and ready to help. He emphasizes the fact that prayer evangelism is not a program that has a beginning and an end. Prayer evangelism is bigger than any one church or denomination. It cannot be limited to a Wednesday prayer meeting. Instead, prayer evangelism must become a way of life for believers in the city if there is to be any hope of salvation for the inhabitants of that city.
Silvoso focuses more on city transformation than church growth. While many church growth models encourage activity that will draw people into the various congregations, Silvoso recognizes that all churches will benefit from city transformation. Therefore, in order for the city to be transformed, local congregations will have to work together and think beyond the realm of their own numbers.
The principles of prayer evangelism are readily seen in the biblical stories he identifies. He uses the enslavement of God’s people in Egypt as an excellent illustration of how Satan works to deceive and render humanity powerless. He boldly asks pastors to model prayer as a priority in their own lives and challenges them to pray together on a regular basis. He gives practical application on how to pray for city leaders and makes prayer much more personal than members of the church usually understand it to be. For instance, instead of merely praying for the leaders of the city, he suggests that pastors actually make contact with city leaders to discover specific prayer requests that will meet their needs if answered. He applies this same strategy to praying for non-believing friends and family members.
This book serves as a reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit, which is so often neglected in our prayer life. It also emphasizes a lifestyle and testimony that is consistent with God’s Word. Silvoso does a good job of discussing strongholds by keeping practical the methods for identifying them and helping believers understand biblical activity that will help them overcome.
As Silvoso tries to keep prayer evangelism from becoming a church program, his writing generates many ideas that will help a congregation get started in the process of becoming a church that prioritizes prayer evangelism. A pastor who carefully jots notes while he is reading will discover that he has outlined a plan to move his church in this direction.
In the second section of the book, the second and third steps in the strategy are to secure and expand the perimeter. The potential weakness in this section stems from an emphasis on unity that could be construed as ecumenism. The concern that comes to mind when reading through this section is the danger of doctrinal compromise. For example, are we to overlook a pastor’s or church’s health and wealth theology in the name of unity? Does this type of unity do the city any real good, or might it give the inhabitants a false security as doctrinal lines are blurred?
The only other concern is not necessarily a weakness of the book or the model, but relates to the pastors who are called to implement the strategy of reaching the cities. Does a strategy that calls for cross-denominational involvement really stand a chance in contexts where pastors are territorial and focused on their own kingdoms? Silvoso does an excellent job of issuing the challenge to pastors and, hopefully, all will listen and respond.
Finally, Silvoso, in making his argument about the necessity and difficulty of city missions, makes a somewhat misleading statement: “Jerusalem was the most difficult city in which to start a new religion” (58). He states his case well against the backdrop of Acts 1:8-9; however, believing Jews likely did not consider themselves to be “starting a new religion.” The disciples were not starting a new religion disconnected from the past. They were obeying the Messiah who had been promised in the religion of their ancestors. Believers today, in carrying the gospel to the cities, likewise, follow in obedience to that same Messiah.