“A lot of religions have a message that sounds like…’You’re okay. This will help you improve.’ But Evangelical Christianity says, ‘You’re not okay…You have to believe it or you’re lost.’ That makes it a message that always sparks conflict.” Randy Newman writes in his book, “QuestioningEvangelism”, and he’s right. Telling people that Jesus is the only way to God and salvation is not a unifying statement. Quite often, accusations of intolerance are tossed at the offending Christian. What’s the best way for a Christian to engage with non-believers? Randy Newman suggests we simply start asking questions.
Published in 2004, Randy Newman’s book, “Questioning Evangelism” isn’t terribly new. However, the idea that we should start to get people to question why they believe what they believe is still as relevant today as ever!
In fact, the A Clear Lens team has written about the importance of asking questions here and here. At 253 pages (269 including the epilogue and study guide) it isn’t a short book, but it’s not one that will take weeks to finish, either.
Randy Newman presents his ideas in a very accessible way, relating his own experiences in such a manner that you can almost sense he is an old friend giving you advice. He gives great biblical advice on how to engage with skeptics in our current culture and emphasizes the relationship between apologetics and evangelism.
A Few Key Points
Almost right away, Newman suggests that we get to the heart of the matter. He writes:
“Often a good starting point when trying to help those who do not believe in God or accept Christ as Lord is to get them to deal honestly with the question: Would I like for there to be a God? Or, would I like it if Jesus turned out to be Lord? This may help them realize the extent to which what they want to be the case is controlling their ability to see what is the case.”
Mr. Newman goes on to state, “Not all unbelief, then, is intellectual at its core; therefore, reason alone will fail to sway such unbelief.” This is quite true. Some unbelief is anchored in past heartbreaks. For example, my father was a militant atheist for many years due to my sister’s untimely passing.
Asking this sort of question helps you to understand where they are coming from. If their unbelief stems from a past hurt, or simply a desire for God to not exist, then, reciting the ontological argument will do no good.
We’re also reminded that not everyone deserves an answer and that how we treat people matters. He states:
“We should not answer fools according to their folly (i.e., using their style of expression) in a derogatory, argumentative tone…The result would be a shouting match between two people who disrespect each other. Suchgodlessness is fitting for a fool, but not for a follower of a gracious God.
“Note how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees. I prefer His method over the sales pitch when dealing with people who are merely looking to justify their unbelief. Jesus had a good reason to warn us, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfeet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Instead, as Newman suggests, “Better than answering skeptics’ nonquestions would be putting them on the defensive, asking how they’d answer their own question. In other words, how do they, as atheists or agnostics or skeptics, explain the Holocaust, AIDS, or September 11.”
Randy Newman’s book is a great introduction to “Conversational Apologetics”. But more than that, he understands that evangelism and by extension, apologetics can be a bit intimidating. Because of that, he really does an excellent job of retiring the idea that you have to “sell” Jesus to people. He shows, point by point, why it’s so much easier on you and me if we just ask questions
A simple “How did you come to that conclusion?” or, “What do you mean by that?” can go a long way to not only diffusing a potentially confrontational situation but allow us to understand where a person is coming from and get them to scrutinize their own beliefs.
The only downside is that asking pertinent questions is a skill that must be developed over time. Which means, we have to jump into the game and start talking to people! However, Newman was kind enough to include a study guide at the end of his book.