“Purple Fish” by Mark O. Wilson

 TL;DR: If you need another kick in your Jesus-sharing pants, or if you’d like to read some examples of evangelism from the “more Pentecostal” side of the church-spectrum, it’s worth a look.

As the third book on evangelism I’ve read this year, Purple Fish seemed to depend more on pithy quotes from other writers than the previous books. The outline for the book was also less clear than what I’d read previously.

Fisherman’s Guide to Sharing the TRUTH

The title comes from the idea of hunting for purple shell-fish — the ingredient used in the ancient world for purple dye, an expensive commodity for emperors and senators.

Pastor Wilson urges us to view lost people as “purple fish” — just like Jesus came all the way to earth to hunt after his treasured children, we should go “fishing for men” with the same passion.

With down-to-earth humility and honesty, Pr. Wilson shares about his own spiritual journey, his stumbles and attempts at “evangelism”, and his experiences pastoring a Wesleyan church in the Wisconsin north-woods (which just happens to be my grandparents’ church).

Hayward, WI, happens to boast the Fishing Hall of Fame, complete with the famous multi-story statue of a muskie. Thus, Pr. Wilson connects evangelism to fishing. After all, Jesus called his disciples from among professional fishermen, and promised to make them “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).

Pr. Wilson shares his laughable failures at Jesus-salesmanship, and also some of the successes he’s had connecting to people when he puts their fears and needs before his own. I sometimes wonder if he should have taken the conversation further, but we must each listen to the Holy Spirit’s call on our own lives and follow Him, not follow somebody else’s journey.

Going Where I Fear to Tread

The singular note of caution I would give about this book is this:

In one of his stories, Pr. Wilson describes visiting an ill, house-bound man. In the process of anointing him with oil and giving him a prayer shawl (okay, outside my experience, but not unthinkable) he expressly says that he prayed for this man to receive God’s forgiveness.

Praying on behalf of someone else, in their stead, is something all my other evangelism training has avoided, and which my pastor firmly denounces.

I’m not entirely sure what Pr. Wilson means by this (the sick man was non-verbal, so might have been silently participating) but since he doesn’t back up his actions with any Scripture, it left me leery of this particular action.

My “Keepers”

The style of this book was a little hard for me. It seemed a bit enamored with witty spiritual catch-phrases, preferring to quote some pastor’s pun rather than Scripture. (You know those pastoral puns and apostolic alliteration — see what I did there? In fact, a lot like those irritating Twitter feeds that look more like galleries of inspirational posters than an actual person’s thoughts — I digress.)

However, I did appreciate Pr. Wilson’s plain honesty, even to the point of confessing experiences where he failed to obey or act in the way he was supposed to.

It was also very encouraging to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit that does the work in people’s hearts, and we are just “along for the ride”.

To use his imagery, we can bait our lines, cast our bobbers, and sit on the water all day long…but unless the Spirit moves in the fishes, nothing will bite.

Unaccustomed Leading

The last chapter was also very interesting. Pr. Wilson shared about a study group he participated in where students would pray to be shown who they were supposed to bless that day, then head out with a buddy or two to follow the “clues”. Like the student who felt he was told “Crispy Creme Donuts” – only to take his group there, and meet a woman who really needed their encouragement and care.

Or the group that was told “single mom” and “groceries”. One of them also felt called to give away an amount of money they’d recently received. On going to the grocery store, they found a single mom to give the money to.

Maybe you’re like me, and the straight-laced, materialist Baptist inside you is recoiling back into its chair right now. But testimonies like this show that God works in all kinds of ways, with all kinds of people.

If I were to pray for a “clue” about who I’m supposed to bless today…what would happen? Would I have the faith to act on whatever image or leading I received?

Dare I find out?

Dare you cast out your line?


Purple Fish is available on Amazon.

Disclaimer: The author pastored my grandparents’ church, and I have met him. That fact did not affect this review in any way.

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