About This Blog

Monday, May 29, 2017

"Questioning Evangelism" (Randy Newman)

TITLE: Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did
AUTHOR: Randy Newman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (280 pages).

There was a time in which evangelism is about declaring the gospel outright, spouting out the promises of faith and the perils of non-belief. Then comes the popularity of apologetics where the skills of defending the gospel take on a more prominent role. The ministries such as RZIM and Lee Strobel's Reason for Faith help to fill in the increasing demand for training in defending the gospel. Building upon these two core skills of declaring and defending the gospel in evangelism, author Randy Newman zooms in on a third core skill appropriate for a postmodern climate: dialogue. It is about engaging people where they are. It asks the tough questions of life and goes beyond mere defending toward greater understanding. It prompts people to know that even Christians ask the same set of questions. Legitimate questions are never bounded by faith positions. In fact, learning to ask questions and to respond to them well is key to engaging people these days, just like Jesus did during His days. Use these questions as bridges to foster dialogue and sustain meaningful conversations.

Newman shares about the power of questions even as he deals with basic words such as "God," "love," "sin," etc. We tend to be easily frustrated when we struggle with finding out pin-point answers to complex questions. We can learn from the way of "Rabbinic Evangelism" where we respond to questions with questions. It is not simply to give a logical, rational answer, but to open up the conversation for open learning by all. We learn about Solomon's four lessons:
  1. Avoiding arguments
  2. Recognizing a fool
  3. Remembering people are people
  4. Remembering the power of the tongue.
Evangelism is not about winning arguments. It is about winning souls. Even though questions may not give us answers, they can pave the way for meaningful responses. Newman gives us five principles and five operative questions to help us along. They cover a wide variety of possibilities which would open up the conversation. Through the process, we can also uncover important questions asked by many in the secular and atheistic culture:
  • "Why are Christians so intolerant?"
  • Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?
  • Why does God allow 9/11 to happen?
  • Why should anyone believe in an ancient book?
  • "Why are Christians so homophobic?"
  • "What's so good about marriage?"
  • "If Jesus is so great, why are some of His followers such jerks?"
  • ...
Many of these questions are also difficult for Christians to deal with directly. Sometimes, the best answer when we don't know how to respond is to admit we don't know. The final part of the book touches a little bit about that when questions and answers alone are no longer enough. It is good to be able to dialogue in the open, but there are journeys in which every individual would have to take and decide for themselves. Such questions include matters of the will rather than reason or in matters of the heart instead of the head. There is also a time where the best thing to do is to be quiet. Notice how Jesus refused to answer some of the taunts and jests by the religious leaders of His day? Throughout the entire book, Newman gives us examples of how Jesus had dealt with opposition and issues during His day. Jesus uses a host of skills to deal with threats and traps. He uses Rabbinic style of replying to questions with questions. He often points people toward the more eternal things of life. He does not mince his words when proclaiming truth. The author believes that the way of "Questioning Evangelism" is essentially the way of Jesus. Jesus adopts all forms of declaration; defending; and dialogue.

There are many issues addressed in the book. One of the main areas is how to respond to skeptics and critics in an increasingly hostile climate. One can respond to the hypocrite charge with a simple question, "Do you seriously think that ALL Christians are hypocrites?" One can seek to understand the reasons behind the charge through questions that open up bridges of understanding. There is no need to jump to any defense because truth can defend itself. When dealing with questions that have no immediate answer, we could approach it with compassion. One of the most moving parts of the book is in how we differentiate anger from contempt. Newman quotes Dallas Willard's brilliant take on the Sermon on the Mount:

"In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don't care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded."

There are many other examples on how to deal with our angry self and when we simply have no words to say. In our day and age, books like this will increasingly be relevant. No longer are people open to unilateral declarations of the gospel. They want their voices to be heard. They are not content to simply hear the gospel proclaimed but to deal with the bad news occurring all around us. They are more open to conversation with people who care to listen. This book paves the way for us to do just that.

Randy Newman is the senior teaching fellow for evangelism and apologetics at the CS Lewis Institute in Washington DC. After serving over thirty years at Campus Crusade for Christ, he started Connection Points to equip Christians on matters of evangelism. He specializes in helping people of diverse backgrounds on issues of faith.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications as part of their blog tour event without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment