Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Speak or Stay Silent?
How would you respond if a friend said to you, “Religion’s a private matter, we don’t need anyone to evangelise.”? Would you stay silent? Perhaps you’d be tempted to launch straight into rebuttal, ready to fire off your points about freedom of speech one after the other. Or could you respond by simply asking a question? Could you keep the conversation going by asking warmly, “Why do you feel that way? I’d love to hear more about why you think that - Are you religious?...”
If you’re wrestling with the title, this isn’t a book wondering if we should give up on evangelism - quite the contrary. This is a helpful book that seeks to move the conversation on from the ‘sales pitch’ of traditional evangelism toward a more nuanced, personal and interactive approach. It includes lots of example dialogues and as you might expect from the title: lots of questions, many of which are left open. Newman is not trying to give you a script to follow but more a window into the kinds of diverse conversations he has had with people on US College campuses, in coffee shops and in his own home as he kicks around big questions of faith. The effect is to build confidence in the Christian reader and trust, that the life-saving message of Jesus is robust enough to handle a few knocks and be teased out in conversation with the real people in your real life.
Three Skills to Master: Declare, Defend & Dialogue
Newman sees the task of evangelism as requiring three important skills: Firstly, there’s the ability to declare the gospel clearly and simply. This is often aided by the use of a tract or simple gospel explanation and may include the sharing of your personal story or testimony. Newman preferences testimonies that focus on the daily difference being a Christian makes to your life over the how I became a Christian ones. I found that a helpful distinction - people want to know what difference knowing Jesus makes to you right now. I’ve written before about the helpfulness of tying your story to a part of scripture that has made a difference to you and I think that’s a valuable inclusion here. (https://www.equip.org.au/bookclubfeed/2016/07/equip-shorts-engaging-with-muslims-by.html?rq=muslim)
The second skill is the ability to defend the gospel or apologetics. Newman argues that part of being prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (Peter 3:15) is being prepared to defend Christianity and the Bible from common attacks. We’ll look at some examples in the coming weeks, but I found it refreshing that the book is not trying to give you a script to read from, but rather skill you up on how to think about an issue rather than what to think.
The third skill - and this is where Questioning Evangelism finds its niche - is the ability to combine the two skills of declaring and defending the gospel in a relationally sensitive and tailored way. Newman calls the third skill dialoguing the gospel:
Often neglected, difficult to master, but absolutely essential, this skill of giving and taking - asking questions and bouncing ideas back and forth - might be just what our postmodern audience needs. We need all three skills if we're to be Christ’s ambassadors in the twenty-first century. p.15
The Times We’re In
Speaking ‘Christ’ into the world we’re in is hard. A shift in the status of Christianity and traditional Christian norms in society has occurred in a relatively short amount of time.
According to American writer Aaron Ren the tide has turned in the US in as little as thirty years from a world where Christianity was once a status enhancer (pre 1994), to a more neutral position (post 1994), to a negative world (2014 onwards). “In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways is seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.”
Certainly in Australia, the shift in attitude to the message of Jesus is something we can all see. Recent events such as the postal vote have made that hardening against the Bible’s teaching very clear.
A New-Style Conversation
A new context demands a new-style conversation. Too often I forget that I don’t know where people are coming from and that one of the easiest tools at my disposal to find that out, is a question.
This book was published in 2004 and a lot of the sample conversations go in a positive direction that seems a little ‘unreal’ for me sitting in my chair in 2018. Even so, this is a very helpful book to encourage a new-style conversation between thinking Christians and wider society, and that conversation begins with you and with me.
The Bible doesn’t tell us to stay silent or take it easy when Christianity is attacked. Quite the contrary. Philippians 1:27 urges us to stand firm and contend for the gospel.
In Australia, still enjoying the many religious freedoms we have and fighting for those that are being threatened we simply must seek to put the gospel in our conversations - if we don’t, who will?
It’s been said we live in times of fear, suppression and hate. The Bible has a lot of things to say on those topics. And many people would be surprised to find a message of love, freedom and hope. Even unexpected celebrities, like Russell Brand in an extended interview for Relevant,(https://relevantmagazine.com/feature/the-second-coming-of-russell-brand/) have got in on the action, declaring that Jesus may just have the answers to our innumerable problems, providing an antidote to the greed and evil that seem to infect our every interaction. “My personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.” says Brand. And I want you to know, that sort of thing, making a bold statement like quoting Brand, is just what Newman loves to do in his conversations.
Where to Next
In the coming weeks we’ll look at the secret to great conversations - good listening and prayerfulness feature highly. Using hooks - dramatic statements of the Russell Brand variety. Not delivering all the goods - leaving people wanting more. And the importance of having a life that matches up with the message you preach - also known as having integrity. We’ll also explore the place of facts and emotions and how compassion drives evangelism and how anger kills it - this might make you think of the story of Jonah.
Winning people for Christ is ultimately God’s work. But, as followers of the King, it is our responsibility and great privilege to think carefully and creatively about how best to share this life-saving message. We’ve got a fabulously practical book to dig into this month, and I pray that we might take hold of its tools to have ‘Cross-ward’ conversations.
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie is a lover of books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church and loves being part of the inner west community of Sydney. This year she commences a new job teaching the Bible at two local High schools. She would greatly appreciate your prayers for this endeavour.