Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan
Since the beginning, people have been storytellers. We love hearing a good story, sharing a story, watching a story. While over the decades, the mode of storytelling has changed, the fact that we love storytelling has not. As Christians, the most important story we could ever share is the story of the good news about Jesus. Yet it is the one I find that we get caught up on the most. We worry whether we are saying it right, whether we have all the details right and we worry how the person listening may respond to the story of God. Sometimes, the world even seems hostile to this story. So more often than not, we put this story on the shelf and instead of pulling it out to talk about, we hope that someday someone may see the cover of our lives and ask us to share the story with them.
This sharing of the gospel, termed evangelism, is a topic addressed in Sam Chan’s latest work “Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable.” (2018, Zondervan). As Chan says, “Evangelism is not a one-time activity that interrupts our normal lives. Nor is it simply an event that our church adds to its calendar. It no longer works this way because our friends have plausibility structures that are different from ours. They have a strong sacred-secular divide.” (p.61). It is this skeptical world that we are trying to reach with the gospel, yet we become easily discouraged when our storytelling doesn’t have the impact we were hoping and praying for; when only Christians turn up to our evangelistic event, or when we haven’t seen our friend, sister or spouse turn to Jesus. Chan unpacks the culture and provides suggestions as to how to navigate it in a meaningful, gospel-intentioned way.
Now, I’m going to be honest- the opening chapter is heavy going. While the chapter opens with a very user-friendly illustration about a stay-at-home mum Anne, the chapter appears to be for anyone but a stay-at-home mum. As a busy mum without a theological degree, I found reading it challenging. I strongly agree that each of us are called to be theologians (to study and meditate and understand who God is), however sometimes this is unpacked in more palatable ways than others. This chapter is jam-packed with content, theory, Greek and philosophy, which as the opening chapter may hinder readers. However, as I continued in reading, I found some pearls that have stayed with me. I also came to appreciate that the book needed to have readers all begin with an understanding of what evangelism is before the methodology of evangelism could be really discussed.
In Chapter 1, Chan unpacks an often-misunderstood element of the gospel - who is involved and what role people have in becoming Christians. The oft-quoted adage of “I let Jesus into my heart” becomes confusing, and as someone sharing the gospel with my friend, it can become frustrating that my friend just doesn’t do this. As Chan says, God and people are both involved in conversion and discipleship: “From God’s perspective, someone becomes a Christian because God regenerates them. Regeneration literally means “to be born again.” God gives an individual a supernatural new birth in which the new believer moves from spiritual death to a new life.” (Chan, 2018, p.26).
Yet God’s work of regeneration is brought about by “the natural means of someone hearing the gospel.” (p.27). This means that while God saves, he uses people just like you and me as his instrument in people hearing the good news of Jesus. Once people hear the good news, usually from a person telling it to them, God regenerates them and then they go about living in a way that exercises trust in this new truth claim. As Chan says, “Faith asks us to commit fully to what we believe.”
Another real strength of the opening chapter is that Chan explains there isn’t a single model of conversion, rather God works through a variety of ways to bring people into relationship with himself. Pastor Tim Keller explains that in Acts 16, at least three different models for evangelism are shown, which is a concept Chan expands on. In an easy to read way, Chan adds life to these passages, explaining how Lydia (Acts 16:13-15), the Slave Girl (Acts 16:16-21) and The Jailer (Acts 16:22-34) all demonstrate how different personality types respond to the truth of the gospel, when it is presented in different ways. Chan writes, “Cognitive thinkers are persuaded by a reasoned discussion. They need to think about the gospel. We reach them with a logical presentation of ideas. Intuitive thinkers are persuaded by emotions. They need to sense the awe of the gospel. We reach them with events and transcendental experiences. Concrete-relational thinkers are persuaded by stories. They need to see how the gospel works. We reach them with the example of our lives.” (Chan, 2008, p.37). This is extremely helpful for us, as it shows there is “no one-size-fits-all model for our evangelism.” (Chan, 2008, p.37).
Sam Chan’s book “Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable” is a book I recommend to anyone wanting to think more deeply about evangelism. It contains a lot of material for thought and calls us to step out in confidence as expectation as we share the gospel and see God save people. As D.A Carson says in his Foreword, “Sam has thought deeply about what the gospel is, but also about what makes contemporary culture tick. He has a distinctive take on postmodernism and can talk knowledgably about skepticism and plausibility structures, but he is driven by the gospel.” (in Chan, 2008, p.10).
Meet Emily Cobb
Emily lives with her husband David and three young children on the North Coast of NSW. She loves to write and reflect on who God is at her blog www.PursuitsofGod.com and aims to encourage other women to think theologically. In her spare time, she loves to explore her local area with her family and a picnic, pick up a creative project, or enjoy a nice cup of tea while reading a book. Emily is the author of Made for More (Matthias Media).