Thursday, May 24, 2007

Evangelism for the Fainthearted

Evangelism for the Faint Hearted

By Floyd Schneider

(Grand Rapids: Kregel) 2000

There is no doubt that a vast majority of people in evangelical and fundamental churches (churches that actually have the gospel or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof) have never shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with other people. One of the most common reasons given is that they are scared. I remember when I first came to Grace, an older lady who had been a member of the church since the 50s expressed to me her unwillingness to counsel a child in the way of salvation. She was afraid she might say the wrong thing or give a wrong answer.

The truth is that she is not alone. It is doubtful that there are any of us that have never felt the twinge of cowardice when a door for the gospel opens. Even the apostle Paul prayed for boldness. For most, this struggle to share the gospel with others is not because they think it is unimportant (though some certainly do), but because they are scared. Fear overrules their knowledge of the obedience of evangelism.

To address these people Floyd Schneider has written an excellent little book (217 pages) that will be abundantly clear on the first read, but will likely take a number of reads to begin to understand and think in the manner he present.

In essence, this is a book of questions, good questions, questions that will form the basis of a good evangelistic approach. In fact, this book has more question marks than any book I have ever read. Now mind you, these are not the questions the author is asking you, but questions that the author is encouraging to you ask others.

In short, this is a book about apologetics that takes very little training. It encourages evangelization by encouraging people to find answers to questions in Scripture. Your basic role is encouraging people to ask questions based on what the Bible says, and then find the answers to the question in the Bible.

Three Major Propositions

The genius of this book can be summed up in three major propositions.

1. Relationships provide the foundation for fruitful spiritual conversation.

While Schneider does devote a section to Short Conversations with people whom you might never see again (chapter 8, pp. 103-116), the bulk of his book is built on the foundation of his first principle of witnessing: Become a friend before you become a preacher (p. 87). While some have objected to “friendship evangelism” because it seems to be more about friendship than evangelism, Schneider is clear about getting to the gospel. However, he believes (and with good merit) that these kinds of conversations are usually better received from someone who is a friend first.

He cites a Swiss missionary who says, “If people get to know you as a nice person and then they discover that you’re a bit odd about religion, they won’t mind. But if all they know about you is that you’re a fanatic about religion, they probably won’t ever make the effort to discover that you’re a nice person” (p. 28).

In stressing the need for a relationship, he encourages cultivating a genuine interest in something they are interested in and warns against viewing non-Christians “only as potential converts, whom you will cast off if they do not get saved” (p. 30).

2. Questions can demonstrate the absurdity of rejecting a belief system without evaluation.

Another major component of Schneider’s approach is the apologetic task of showing the absurdity of unjustified epistemology. (I just wanted to write that.) Here’s what it means: If you have never read the Bible, how do you know it’s not right? How can you so adamantly reject something you know nothing about?

He demonstrates the absurdity of moral relativism with examples that everyone will understand. He shows how people use in everyday life are rejected when it comes to their beliefs about God. As I read, I found myself smiling, even laughing, at the simplicity with which Schneider shows the absurdity of some people’s approach to faith, religion, and life, using illustrations from everyday life to show that people treat issues of religious faith totally differently than they treat other things that they must believe. Several of his ten principles (pp. 87-116) deal with getting your friend to question his current beliefs by asking him questions about why he believes what he does—how he justifies what he believes (his epistemology). He says, “You will have accomplished a lot if you cause a stranger to doubt his own viewpoints” (p. 116).

Questions have a way of provoking thought. Declarations have a way of provoking self-defense. With an unbeliever, you want the former, not the latter.

3. The Bible provides the authority by which one will be converted. Therefore, get your friends to read the Bible with you.

The third major proposition Schneider heavily emphasizes is the sufficiency of Scripture to bring about faith in the reader. He says, “God’s thoughts, as found in His Word, will do a far better job of convicting our unsaved friends than we can with our explanations of His Word. Therefore, we emphasize reading the Bible with our friends, not just giving them a gospel presentation” (p. 22).

Contrary to most evangelism approaches that I have seen, Schneider does not present a canned conversation with leading questions to get people to a point of decision in a few minutes. In fact, Schneider is adamant that you not give answers (principle 9, p. 100). If you do, you will become the source of authority. He does not encourage debating with people, or trying to “argue them into the kingdom of God.” He invites people to sit down at a table and begin in John 1:1 and see what God says. If the reader has questions, let God answer them.

To demonstrate this approach in action, pp. 172-205 contain an extended discussion of John 1-6 (focused mostly on John 1) that demonstrates the kind of questions that could be asked of the text while you are reading the Bible with your friend.

Other Observations

Schneider includes a section on understanding Christ’s approach (pp. 34-46), preparing yourself (pp. 47-52), turning conversations to spiritual topics (pp. 53-73), witnessing to cult members (p. 120-124), and actually reading the Bible with someone (pp. 157-164). Each chapter closes with “Do It”—a list of suggestions for putting the chapter into practice. It makes this book very useable for a discipleship course in evangelism training.

The emphasis on question asking is a much needed emphasis, but it will take a photographic memory or several reads for most people to begin to grasp the mindset Schneider is suggesting. He recommends lots of practice by yourself, asking questions and anticipating responses (p. 87). Learning to ask question is an art-form in a way, but it can be learned. The great thing about what Schneider is recommending is that you do not actually have to have answers. The text will answer the questions.

Incidentally, I think the questions throughout this book have the potential to help pastors in their sermon preparation by helping us to think about the objections to Scripture and the false standards of belief that have been raised up that can and should be destroyed by preaching. It can help the pastor ask probing questions that provoke thought. And it simply has some great illustrations about scriptural topics.

Cautions

While Schneider heavily emphasis the authority of Scripture, one can get the impression that he is also dependent on his ability to ask probing questions. We must be aware of our dependence on cleverness to do the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does certainly use our witness, but it does not seem that he is generally given to cleverness. The danger of all apologetic evangelism is the danger of authority transfer from the simplicity of Christ crucified and proclaimed to the ability to persuade through cleverness and argumentation.

The use of friendship evangelism must also be carefully guarded to make sure that our evangelism does not become simply being different. Schneider does emphasize the evangelistic power of a changed life. However, we must constantly remember that a changed life is not enough. It did not please God through the amazement of changed lives to save, but rather through the foolishness of the message preached. As Schneider points out, becoming a friend before becoming a preacher is vital, but it is insufficient.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book. It will be great as for an individual or for a discipleship class or group study. It will not be a good book for those who like instant results. If your driving goal is to see a person pray during your very first conversation, this approach will not satisfy you. It will however have the possibility of actually seeing people saved after they have come face to face with the truth of Scripture as opposed to coming face to face with you. Schneider will not encourage to you take their hand, put your other hand on their shoulder and squeeze just right while looking them in the eyes from fourteen inches away. He will encourage you to get them face to face with the Jesus of the Bible.

Those who are scared that they do not know enough about the Bible can find great encouragement in this approach. All you need to know, really, is how to find the gospel of John, and how to ask questions. You do not even have to be able to answer them. Remember, one of Schneider’s main points in the book is that we should not answer questions. When we answer questions, it becomes our view and we are risking the appearance of asking someone to believe what we have said. It would be better to have them find their answers directly in Scripture.

This approach to evangelism will be difficult for those with the gift of teaching, since they like to instruct and give answers. It will also be difficult for those who think they have the gift of right answers. One of the main repetitive themes of the book is Ask questions; don’t answer them. You want the answers to be found in the Bible through reading. That way, you do not become the authority; the Scripture does.

So read it … and do it.

3 comments:

Patrick Berryman said...

I hadn't heard of this book before, but it's on my read soon list now. On the topic of unjustified epistomologies, does he address the question of whether we, as Christians are guilty of the same thing? I reject Islam, Mormonism, and Hinduism (to name a few) without having ever read the Koran, Book of Mormon or the Vedas.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

Larry, I finally ordered this book this morning. I am in a new job with a lot of unsaved people and am looking for ways to share the gospel. I really want the gospel to be a hallmark of my life but I don't know how to get into the conversations in a way that is not stilted and unnatural. I hope this book will help. I am convicted that much of Fundamentalism has become about fighting for the Faith and not about fighting to bring PEOPLE to the Faith!

Jon from Bucksport said...

I am about half way through the book and I am really appreciating it! Thanks for recommending it. I really like how he emphasizes friendship evangelism while stressing that it is really important to actually get to the evangelism part! Too many people espouse the concept but never get to the practical part.
I also like his emphasis on taking people to the word and not trying to answer all their questions. I have focused on trying to have the answer. This has been a good reminder that we need to send people to God's Word and let the Holy Spirit work on their hearts!