Book Review: Nothing to Do But Save Souls by Robert Coleman

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Why I Read Nothing to Do but to Save Souls: John Wesley’s Charge to His Preachers Three Times in Two Days

Earlier this year I went on a private retreat. I was intending to do some long range sermon preparation and devotional reading, so I brought a handful of books to flip through. One of the books I brought was Nothing to Do but to Save Souls: John Wesley’s Charge to His Preachers (Francis Asbury Press, 2006) by Robert Coleman. Many of you may be familiar with Coleman’s classic Master Plan of Evangelism.  What I thought would be a quick twenty minute flip-through turned into a complete reading of the book three times in two days.

The phrase “Nothing to do but to save souls” comes directly from John Wesley’s charge to his preachers. The book begins with this paragraph:

You have nothing to do but save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.

Here are the three main reasons why I became so engrossed with this book:

1. It is about a movement.

The word “movement“ is often discussed in modern Methodist circles. Or rather, the lack of movement. Coleman outlines why the early revival was able to move quickly. Many decry modern institutions as too systematic, but the early Methodists had plenty of systems in place. The key difference is that the early Methodist systems were focused on one key goal: directing others toward a saving relationship with Christ.

2. It is about experienced theology.

John Wesley was one of the most educated clergy of his day. You would think his theology would be highly systematic and complicated. Nope. Wesleyan theology can be best described as “experienced theology”. It was based on his personal revelation of love and assurance happening between God and the people He dearly loves. The early Methodists deeply experienced God and formed their theology around these experiences. People didn’t just recite numbers in the catechism or propositions—they were able to tell their own stories.

3. It speaks to the clear evangelistic focus of the first Methodists.

If Wesleyans want to move forward, we need to be evangelizing. Evangelism means bringing people into first time relationships with Jesus Christ where they can experience permanent transformation. Plain and simple.

While this might appear to be foreign territory for modern Methodists, it shouldn’t be. It’s our wheelhouse. It’s our briar patch. We are the best examples of Methodists when we are evangelizing. The contextual nature of our history allows us to look and act beyond questionable 20th century evangelistic practices. Evangelism isn’t about fanny packs full of tracts anymore. It is about discerning the particular evangelistic focus of the places we are called to.

In the process of writing this, I read Nothing to Do but to Save Souls again. Though reading it barely a few months ago, reading it today gave me a fresh perspective yet again. Stumbling upon this short volume was prevenient grace. This book will be a crucial part of my ministry from now on, and I pray you will give it a chance to impact you and your ministry in this way as well.

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Chad Brooks is a United Methodist Pastor serving in Louisiana. He has been married to Meredith for 8 years. Chad is currently serving St. Paul’s UMC in Monroe as their associate pastor.

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