Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Book Review - Questioning evangelism

Questioning Evangelism
Randy Newman
Kregel Books

Randy: How's the weather down there?
Grandma Belle: How could the weather be in Florida in the middle of July?

Randy: How's your family?
Aunt Vivian: Compared to whom?

In this way Randy Newman starts off his book on evangelism. Responding to a question with a question was the daily routine for Newman as he grew up in a Jewish home. Yet he points to Jesus, the master evangelist, as the supreme example in this. For Jesus answering a question with a question was the norm; a clear concise direct answer was a rarity. Take the rich young ruler for example - if ever there was a great opportunity to demonstrate how to explain the gospel this was it. Yet when asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?", Jesus responds, "Why do you call me good?"

Newman argues that so often we are too quick to answer, and that as we answer with our perfectly accurate answer, they aren't listening anyway. His point is that we need to engage their minds as well as simply present the truth. He says, "Answering a question with a question… brings to the surface the questioner's assumptions. It also takes the pressure off you… this is important because as long as we're on the defensive, the questioners are not really wrestling with the issues. They're just watching us squirm."

I came across this book while listening to some DA Carson talks. He recommended it as one of the best books he had read on evangelism. I think he's right. Certainly, it is extremely useful.

Throughout the book Newman illustrates with excerpts from his own work as a college evangelist over the last 20 years. With great openness he shows, not only the times he got it right, but also the times he got it wrong, and the lessons he learned from each occasion. He also gives practical suggestions throughout for questions you could ask, as well as giving dialogues to show how a conversation might go. These illustrations go along way to making the book practical, applicable, and easy to read. There is also a gentleness throughout the book that is extremely winsome. His way is not a triumphalist approach to evangelism, seeking to display wisdom and crush the opposition with knowledge, but a gentle way, seeking to understand the questioner, and seeking to provide real answers.

The book is divided into three sections, each full of useful content:

Part 1 - "Why ask questions?" - deals with the rationale and principles behind asking questions.
In Part 2 - "What questions are people asking?" - Newman shows how to, and how not to, answer questions like, 'Why are Christians so intolerant?' 'Why are Christians homophobic?' 'Why does a good God allow suffering?'. There is a lot of practical wisdom packed into these chapters.
The third part - "Why aren't questions and answers enough?" - turns the focus towards ourselves and deals with our lack of compassion for the lost, the problem of when our disgust at sin becomes disgust at the sinner, and how we can fail to listen.

Newman speaks about recognising the 'fool' of Proverbs who shouldn't be answered, of how and when to ignore questions, he speaks of asking questions to discover what really lies behind the original question, of grasping the hurt that someone has been through that may be disguised in a casual question.

As well as providing a useful method for evangelism Newman also conveys a lot of useful facts on a variety of topics that will strengthen the believer in their faith. This is a great book that will equip you for evangelism, and give you a way of thinking that will be much more useful than simply learning a set of rules or facts.

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