Monday, 7 January 2008

Book Review - Questioning Evangelism

Ahead of the forthcoming 'the God Confusion' mission I asked Phil Craig to review the following book. It's 'Questioning Evangelism' by Randy Newman published by Kregel Publications, 2004. Here's what Phil wrote.

Telling people about Jesus is a central part of the Christian life, but often we don't know how to go about it. We either don't know what to tell people, or how to answer questions, or we think that while most people might get it, our friends or family or colleagues just won't.

We know they need Jesus, but how can we tell them about him while remembering that they are real people with their own thoughts and concerns? I often assume that my friends will struggle with the same questions and issues that I do, and then they come out with a question that I'd never thought about.

It's all down to God, of course. He is in charge of all things. And so ultimately he determines how people respond to the gospel. But when it comes to understanding our part in this process, Randy Newman's book Questioning Evangelism comes in incredibly useful. Newman worked with Campus Crusade in the US for over twenty years, telling people about Jesus and encouraging students in their Christian lives.

According to Newman, there are three factors in telling people about Jesus. The first is declaring the gospel. We need to tell people the actual message!

There are some great tools to help people understand the basic message about Jesus. Nothing beats good knowledge of the Bible, but tools like Two Ways To Live (have a look at and The Four Spiritual Laws (see have been used for years by thousands to get the basic message clear in their own heads so that they can pass it on to others. At Christ Church Balham, we studied Two Ways To Live a year ago for just that reason.

The second part is defending the gospel, answering questions about it and defending its plausibility. An example of this might be when we ourselves get to know some of the history behind the New Testament and its reliability, or when the philosopher Bill Craig came to the UK last year and debated with some well-known academic atheists.

But someone sent me an email about evangelism recently. They said: "A few of my atheist friends have complained to me that sometimes they feel the 'religious' are always trying to shove faith down their throats."

Now, the atheist friends could have any number of reasons for complaining about their religious friends. But it highlights a difficult issue. How do we get from declaring and defending the gospel to relating it to the lives of our friends? Do we even need to think about it in that way?

This is where Newman's book comes in. Building on the first two factors, the third factor in evangelism is what he calls dialoguing the gospel. Newman writes: "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."

That's where the title of the book comes from. He questions our tendency to focus on declaring and defending the gospel without actually talking to people about it, and listening to what they have to say and asking questions about how they see the world. But more importantly, he's talking about evangelism that uses questions to work out the truth about things.

Most of the chapters are framed around specific questions people might ask, such as why Christians seem to be so homophobic, and why marriage is a good thing. While he criticises some possible answers and suggests a few others (many of which surprised me), throughout the book he encourages us to think about how we talk about the world.

For example, Newman pulls out four lessons from Proverbs. We should avoid arguments; spot when someone isn't actually interested in finding out the answers ("a fool" as Solomon calls it); remember that people are people; and remember how influential words are. "Ideas have legs," as Francis Schaeffer put it. His book is full of examples as to how we might actually apply these principles.

I think Questioning Evangelism should be read by every Christian who has already got the hang of the gospel message, as it builds on that essential basis. It is thought-provoking in its answers to big questions. It is inspiring in showing how we can share the news about Jesus in ways that respect people. I have actually found it helpful in thinking about how I relate to people in conversation, entirely apart from how I talk about those issues you might refer to as 'gospel matters'.

It's a very different book on evangelism to the majority on the market at the moment. This is clearest in Newman's own words: "My...fear is that some people might view Questioning Evangelism as a technical handbook. If so, they might be tempted to use its approach to evangelism in a cookie-cutter, mechanical way...I hope that readers will develop a different way of thinking about people, their evangelistic conversations will sound less content/persuasion driven and more relationship/understanding driven. They'll be more like rabbinic dialogues than professorial monologues. They'll be an exchange of ideas that lead both participants to the truth of the gospel. For one participant, it will be the first arrival at that point; for the other participant, it will be a rediscovery and a new appreciation of the message of the Cross."