A Refreshing New Approach

Author: Randy Newman

I’ve always shied away from evangelism, even though Jesus makes it clear in the Bible that we (Christians) are to make disciples of the world. Yet . . . the “how” of that simple command soon gets mired in complexity, self-doubt, and downright fear. I’ve known people who go on “mission trips” that are suspiciously similar to exotic vacations, taking time off from their luxury experience to literarily go stand in a mall and yell condemnation at people. How does that help anyone? Does anyone ever respond positively to that sledgehammer approach? This has long been my perception of evangelism: a terrible task that makes Christians look rightfully bad and that we all dread.

Newman, however, describes a new perspective. Perhaps that old timey hellfire and brimstone isn’t what Jesus is calling us to. When we look at His example in the Bible, we rarely see someone preaching (although, of course, there is some of that.) What we do see is God engaging: giving us parables to make us think, asking more questions than answering questions, and establishing a changed way of life focused on relationship.

In part 1 of Questioning Evangelism, Newman explains his theory. He talks about why questions are better than answers, how questions and answers go hand in hand, and how engaging people’s intellects and encouraging them to think for themselves instead of spewing pat answers does more to win people to Christ than your straight up sermon ever will. The practice is simple: don’t always answer someone’s question. Instead, get to the heart of what they are asking, what they are thinking, what they really mean by asking them questions like: what do you think, do you believe that, why do you believe that, etc.

While I later read further books about the “questioning” approach to evangelism through my fellowship with the C.S. Lewis institute, this was my first dabble in this approach, and it opened my mind and heart dramatically. This kind of evangelism is conversational, curious, not condemning, and not awkward. It is relational. Respectful. It engages the other person and gives them a place to work out their own questions and ideas, shifting the burden of conversation to something that is mutually shared instead of the Christian always being on the defensive. This, with some work, I could do. This seems organic, natural, and more in line with Jesus’ great commission then pestering shoppers in malls.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The second part of the book somewhat loses the magic. Newman only spends a moment with the question-and-answer explanation before going old school again. He gives us some common questions . . . and then he answers them. While this is good (for example, some of the questions are ones Christians get a lot), it seems like part of a different book. What happened to using further questions instead of supplying answers? How do these answers tie into what we have just learned as part of the approach? I think they could tie in, obviously. You can’t tell people to NEVER answer a question, because in many ways that is just as bad as having a sermon-at-the-ready with no interest in truly engaging and relating to the questioner. But it’s not neatly tied in, making for a jarring transition. Newman’s answers, however, are mostly right-on, if a little obfuscating and wondering at times. Again, part 2 needs more of a brush-up, but the content is still valuable, if imperfect.

The third part talks about when both questions and answers are not enough. What makes people say no? Why do they walk away from what you feel is good news? When is it time to engage, and when is it time to respect the other person’s decision and shut up? It’s a good ending, although the transitions between parts 1, 2, and 3 could have been more organic, more seamless.

Overall, this is a great book to begin your exploration of evangelism. It’s accessible and takes what is a terrifying and, let’s admit it, often unpleasant chore and explains what is REALLY involved and why our approaches now are so hateful to us and everyone else. The end idea: it’s all about relationships and engaging one another respectfully. Questions let us do this and allow us to give the other person the time and attention to help them truly think about and articulate what they believe and why.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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