Apocity: The Greatest Omission by George Alvarado
Lately at Gospel Spam we’ve been getting some requests to review books by the authors. As a guy who loves books I have only one requirement: send me a free copy and I’ll determine whether or not we want to review it here. One such request came from the author of Apocity: The Greatest Omission, George Alvarado. The book is published by Gospel Tract Planet and is available on their website (www.tractplanet.com) for $10.00. George is a street preacher from Colorado. He’s obviously very passionate about evangelism and I feel a bit of a kindred spirit in this brother since I’ve done some street preaching and also wrote a book about evangelism.
My first inclination was to give this book a pass and ignore it. However, after further consideration and looking at my notes, I think that bad books need to be reviewed. The street evangelism sub-culture that has sprung up since 2004 or so around Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master TV program has been producing its own literature (that’s what sub-cultures do). Apocity is the latest in the genre.
A couple of technical notes are in order before I begin the business end of the review. The print font used for the main text is fairly standard, but whoever designed the chapter and subject headings needs a course in basic typography. The font selection for these is absolutely atrocious. It appears to be a blend of Script and Papyrus, but it just doesn’t work at all. It’s worth the money to hire a professional editor who has experience in formatting.
As to the writing style of the book, it is quite hard to read. In fact, the only reason I would want to read the book is because of the fact that I’m already interested in street evangelism. While the grammar is technically correct, the writer’s style is not engaging, except when he writes something that is intentionally controversial. By the time he does that, I’m already struggling to push through the book. Although Ray Comfort’s own books follow a pot-boiler formula (pick any one up; they all go in the same direction and yet are ravenously consumed by his fan base), his books sell because Ray is an engaging and creative writer. Someone who is not already invested in the sub-culture is not likely to read this book.
Now to the meat of the review:
If you’re thinking, What in the world is apocity’? don’t worry, you’re in good company. No one had ever heard of this word until George Alvarado made it up. If you know anything about how the English language evolves, you know that in most cases it’s a slow progression of usage changes in the vernacular that make their way into print. You can see examples of this in the Oxford English Dictionary or any basic class on the history of languages. Alvarado finds justification for making up a word based on the origins of the word genocide. What sparked the coining of that term was the Jewish Holocaust of the 1930’s and 1940’s, a rare and horrific event which resulted in the wholesale slaughter of six million Jewish people. The term was invented because of the need to describe something that modern man had not seen on such a scale. It was coined by a man who was a lawyer from Poland who was Jewish and who also happened to be a trained linguist. The Wikipedia article on the man reveals that he could speak nine languages fluently and read fourteen.
Suffice it to say that if anyone was qualified to make up a word to describe the Jewish Holocaust, it was a Jewish lawyer from Eastern Europe who happened to be trained in linguistics, Raphael Lemkin. Suffice it also to say that when a street preacher coins a word to describe the sin of not evangelizing there is a word to describe that as well. It’s called presumption. If you want one that’s easier to remember because it is similar to the book’s title, try audacity.
I’m not surprised that we have descended to this level given the fact that street preaching has democratized ministry to the point that anyone with an internet connection, a computer, a credit card and a YouTube account can build a parachurch ministry. If untrained and unqualified men can preach the gospel on the streets, then why not let them become linguistic experts as well?
After reading chapter one, it’s evident that Alvarado has attempted to create a word that could actually be used in a wide variety of contexts and not just the context of evangelism. If you follow his breakdown of the new term, it means to separate from a call to action. While Alvarado would most certainly like to limit the use of the word to evangelism (a word that did not appear in any book title until 1850 or so’street evangelist, meditate on that for a while and work through the implications) that’s not how language works. If Alvarado succeeds in introducing a new word into the lexicon of English usage, it could be used of anyone who separates from any call to action, good or bad. Someone who separates from the call to vote could be an apocite. Someone who separates from a call to protest FOR gay marriage could be called an apocite, be guilty of apocity, etc.
That this is not the understanding of the author is evident on page ten where he states that an apocite is ‘characterized by their inclination to drift away, separate, or cease from calling, inviting, and commanding others to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. I’m sorry, where in the breakdown of apo-cit-y do the words repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation appear? Is it in the apo, the cit, or the y?
If it appears that I’m trying to make Alvarado’s effort to define a new word to describe the sin of not evangelizing ridiculous, it is because I am. It is more than that. It is absurd. Patently absurd. In fact, I cannot find a word to describe how ridiculous it is so perhaps I’ll make one up. [If you respond, that’s absurd then you get my point.]
In fact, if you realize the absurdity of what the author is attempting it makes the rest of the book very difficult to read because the result is reminiscent of someone dragging their fingernails down a chalk board every single time the author uses the word.
Why isn’t the Biblical word that we have for this enough? It’s the word disobedience. There is a reason why it’s not enough: you can’t sell a book to the street preaching sub-culture entitled Disobedience. Coming up with a new word is novel (meaning new) and anything that finds new ways to make Christians feel guilty about not evangelizing will sell in this sub-culture. It’s all about positioning ourselves as experts and positioning sincere Christians as cold, lazy, dead or false converts.
After chapter one, that is the theme of the rest of the book. If you’ve spent any time in this sub-culture, every discussion around the coffee shop after the evangelism event is laid out in this book. Every in-house complaint of the initiated street evangelist is put forward for any reader to see. Every ungracious thing we’ve ever said about our brothers and sisters in Christ–and some that are new to me’is enshrined in print for posterity and eternity.
For example: The goats within the church find evangelism so foreign, because it is indeed foreign to their nature, that the mere sound that someone is going out to preach, when they know it is a commandment of God, makes them scatter (page 171, emphasis mine). In the context of this chapter, he’s referring to anyone who doesn’t evangelize enough. Fellow church member who struggles with evangelism, did you know that the street evangelist in your church is very likely to consider you to be a “goat”? By the way, I include the word enough because elsewhere he says, Are You Saying That Every Person We Meet/Come into Contact with We Should Witness to? Yes! (74).
So, if someone does not evangelize in your church they are’ipso facto‘a goat? Really? Do you really want to take this to its logical conclusion? OK then, let’s run with it for a moment.
Way of the Master-style street evangelist, when did you start doing evangelism? How long were you saved BEFORE you started evangelizing? There may be some exceptions to this, but most did not begin a regular practice of evangelism until some time after their salvation. Does that make you a goat rather than a sheep? Were you saved when you started evangelizing? Does the work of evangelism save?
I ask the questions because our own attitude on the subject has muddied the waters of the gospel a bit.
Having been a part of this sub-culture for about ten years I can tell you that the testimony of MOST people who do street evangelism is that they were saved for years before they started evangelizing regularly. So why do so many street evangelists confuse this issue of justification and sanctification? In this sub-culture we have abused out of context quotes from men like Charles Spurgeon who said, Have you no concern for the lost? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that.
Does anyone reading this think that every member of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London during Spurgeon’s time evangelized every person they met on the streets? Does anyone really think that someone who did not do regular street evangelism or one-to-one evangelism was such a sinner that they needed to be church disciplined if they did not regularly evangelize? History reveals they were not. Why not? Spurgeon was not just a preacher, he was a pastor. As a pastor he recognized that while he needed to challenge his people to evangelize you will never find an example in print of him accusing them of being goats. He understood that people are being sanctified; set apart more and more. And if he ever did say such people were goats, he would be wrong to say so (yes, Spurgeon was wrong about things).
Do you see my point? What saved you? The once and for all, perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ or your street evangelism? The substitutionary atonement or passing out Million Dollar Bill tracts?
And if I am to share the gospel with every single person I meet, what about the people I meet while I’m doing sales at my secular employment? Am I sinning because I don’t give a gospel tract to every person I speak to? Even though the company I contract with would fire me for doing so? What about the sin of not providing for my family? The questions are rhetorical and don’t require an answer. They answer themselves.
Self-righteousness is so endemic and epidemic to the street preaching sub-culture that when George walks right up to the line of works salvation and puts his toe squarely on it while not crossing it (like the rebellious five year old who is told not to go into the street but puts his toe on the line between the grass and the road), it is missed by every other review of this book I have seen by others in the sub-culture. It’s missed because this sub-culture is not theologically or Biblically driven; it is driven by one-liners and gotcha statements meant to use guilt as a primary motivator for evangelism. Scour the New Testament as you may, you will not find guilt as the primary motivator for evangelism. You will find worship as the motivator. You will find a passionate love for Jesus and the gospel as a motivator. What do we see in the Book of Acts but a pure, sincere love for Jesus Christ that motivates the apostles to share the gospel in spite of threats of persecution? A love, which by the way, is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)!
Do you think I’m exaggerating? Lest you think I am, consider this quote from page 32:
The tragedy here would have been that despite what these men witnessed concerning Christ, they would have committed apocity in a manner so grave it would have been enough to condemn them to Hell. Their apocity would have been proof of their unbelief, and that they did not love God nor His commandments (John 14:15, 21; John 15:10; 1 John 5:3).
Who are these men he’s talking about? In context, he’s making a statement about the disciples. He’s saying that if the apostles did not carry out the Great Commission they would have gone to Hell. My question for the author is, How much evangelism qualified them for Heaven? How did these poor apostles make it to Heaven without a printing press to print their tracts on? When the Apostle Paul was selling tents to pagans, what evidence do you have that he gave each one a gospel presentation?
Forget apocity. The real issue here is apostasy. The street evangelism sub-culture which says that regular evangelism MUST be a part of every believer’s life or else they are going to Hell is a Galatian-style heresy which not only attacks the nature of justification by faith, it gives many false converts assurance of salvation when they are not saved at all. It betrays an ignorance of the countless false converts who have come through Way of the Master (and other) types of evangelism training who were no more saved than a rock. Many of these people were even more passionate about evangelism than Mr. Alvarado who are now Roman Catholic, atheist, or otherwise apostate.
The current street evangelism sub-culture needs to fall passionately and desperately in love with Jesus. It needs to have a clear understanding of justification by faith and the difference between that precious doctrine and the equally precious doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification, while it is proof of justification, DOES NOT JUSTIFY. We need to be clear about this and we’re not.
The sub-culture needs to understand that we have nothing that we have not received and therefore we should not act as if we had not received it ourselves. In other words, we need to learn to show grace to people who are growing in grace. We need to read less Ray Comfort and Mark Cahill and more of Romans and Galatians. We have been preaching ourselves too much and not Christ–who is also conspicuous by His absence in this book, except when He says something that can inspire more guilt.
This book is doing what street evangelism has done for years: creating a Pharisaical fence law around the law of Christ to protect that more holy Law from being violated. The law of Christ says, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). The Pharisaical fence law which will help us know that we are obeying this Law is Share the gospel with everyone you meet and prove that you love your neighbor and love God. It becomes Pharisaical and legalistic when we make it the standard of our love, and in the case of this book, the measure of our salvation.
We need a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit on our evangelism. We might know we’ve received it when the sub-culture stops advertising its own zeal with chest-thumping and braggadocio and starts quietly serving Christ for His sake alone, being content to share the gospel alone for an Audience of One and not the audience of the congregation that we’re trying to motivate to do as we do. Jesus said, Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. He did not say, Motivate laborers into the harvest using your best guilt-inspired tactics.
I don’t recommend Apocity. Although I doubt he will thank me for it, George should. I’m quite certain that calling this book out for its errors will only make it more popular in this sub-culture, which is an indictment by itself. After all, it’s a small world and those who know him will insist on the fact that he’s a nice guy, he’s orthodox, and he’s well intentioned. However clarity matters and no matter how well-intentioned George is, he’s muddied the waters of the gospel as many have done before him and will most certainly do after him.
//It betrays an ignorance of the countless false converts who have come through Way of the Master (and other) types of evangelism training who were no more saved than a rock. Many of these people were even more passionate about evangelism than Mr. Alvarado who are now Roman Catholic, atheist, or otherwise apostate.// Really? How do you know how many there are Jon? Can you give a list of the names of "countless false converts" and "many" who are now RC, atheist, etc.
@Patrick Hegarty Yes, I can give names. What would that accomplish?
@Patrick Hegarty @JonSpeedCountless means countless. Off the top of my head I can probably come up with somewhere between 50-100 and can probably go further if I had a list of names in front of me to review of people who have come through all of the major evangelistic ministries and outreaches where I've led teams over the last ten years.
The fact is, if only one committed street evangelist apostasized over a confusion between justification and sanctification, it would be too many. Those of us who have led such ministries on a national and international scale are not just talking about numbers, we're talking about friends.
@JonSpeed @Patrick Hegarty Of course, I agree with you that one is too many. I just don't think of 50-100 when I read the word "countless". Why not say "way too many" or "numerous"? As to the idea of apostatizing over confusion between justification and sanctification I guess I don't really see confusion as the root problem. That makes these people sound like victims somehow. Did you not make a clear distinction between the two while you were leading ministries on a national and international scale? Were your friends that apostatized unaware of the distinction?
@Patrick Hegarty @JonSpeed50-100 that I know about obviously does not count those I don't know about. I can only assume that there are others that I don't know of. That's the point of the word. Yes, my friends were unaware of the distinction. There's one name I don't mind giving you in this context: Jesse Morrell. We were on staff together at The Great News Network.
@Patrick Hegarty @JDSpeed@JonSpeedPatrick, what I am saying is that in the street evangelism world, I have seen very little distinction made between sanctification and justification. Men like Jesse Morrell did not make that distinction and began to assume that if someone's sanctification either did not measure up in the same way as their own or they cooked up a theology which stated that since 1 John 2-3 says that someone should not habitually practice sin then any sin in a professing believer becomes evidence of false conversion. This is what I mean when I talk about muddying the waters of the gospel. Eventually with people like Jesse (and many others) their passion for a gospel that sanctifies led to a denial of justification by faith. In most, it just remains an area that has been unstudied and we continue our bad habits by repeating popular statements from our street preaching world.
They've seeped over into the abortion clinic ministry world where now you can watch people say things like, "Abortion is murder. If you're not doing anything about it, you're lost." Just like we've heard, "People are going to Hell. If you're not doing anything about it your lost."
That's funny because I've seen people who were doing something about it and THEY were lost. This kind of man-centered gospel measuring stick is a ridiculously easy standard to meet. And it's works based.
I am leery of any identified subculture of Christianity. Anytime there is a subculture, someone has taken their focus off or added their own personal additions to the Gospel. Many are called to formal preaching. Some are not. All are called to spread the good news of the Gospel and maintain concern and love for the unbelieving. God works through believers to draw others to him. This can be via a sermon, a personal discussion or even the simplistic affect of seeing a believers fruit and the repentance that fosters that fruit. The latter is a perfect example of how Christians maintain secular jobs while successfully winning others to The Lord. As for the sin of not envangilizimg, some are being called by The Spirit along with the Word to address major sin revealed through Conviction before ministering to others. Correcting ones sin first provides credibility through testimony to the message before it is delivered. To say ones action to answer the conviction from God to address personal sin is a sin itself if that person is not formally envangilizimg to others undermines the premise and understanding that Christians can not earn their salvation.
Very enjoyable review, pastor Speed.
@TOBMOC Thanks for your reply. I appreciate it.
This makes absolute sense and it compliments Justin's articles regarding AHA very well. I totally get it now. After seeing many outspoken "abolitionists" (AHAers) sharing links to this book's Facebook page a long while back I am beginning to understand the seeming influx of unbridled fringe "street evangelists" that have thus plagued the streets and church lawns with pharisaical pietism. Kudos to you Pr. Speed.
@Terrence D. I was not aware that this book had a following amongst AHA folks but it makes sense. Thanks for the encouragement, Terrence.
Is it just me, or am I the only one that hates the term "sub-culture" and being defined and labeled by it? O to see the day when we will no longer hear "sub-culture" in relation to "street preaching", "street evangelism", etc; the phrase has been used 18 times so far on the blog post alone. Kudos to John Speed for being honest in his review, there are too many that say "AMEN" whenever something religious is said.
Two Things: Number one, I am curious; Are the sentences you posted above typical of his writing style throughout the book? Kind of clunky. Second, you just demonstrated why I would never send you a book for review. :)
@DamonRambo He has better writing in the book in terms of sentence structure than what I cited here, to be fair.
Posting this review as our first book review (that I remember, anyway) is a bit of a calculated risk. However, most Christian critique is so effeminate that it can't be called good critique. When Christians write things that are categorically bad they deserve a review that exposes just how bad the writing is. But I understand what you mean and don't expect to see any more freebies from the sub-culture. :-)
@DamonRambo You might not be able to send us a book for review, but publishers know that bad reviews are still publicity and bad books getting bad reviews is more PR than they would get otherwise. Roger Ebert was famous for writing reviews of bad movies the result was a people went to go and see the movies he hated.
Only in Christianity can we not recognize the value of honest criticism. Which is ashame because we should be able to do it better than most.