"Unlikely Converts" by Randy Newman (Guest blog 3 of 4)

From Randy Newman’s Unlikely Converts, pages 18 to 20:

Fifty years ago, Francis Schaeffer, the one-of-a-kind preacher and evangelist in postmodern Europe (before most people ever heard the term postmodern) told us, “Pre-evangelism is no soft option.” More recently, Russell Moore awakened us to the reality that “we can stop counting on the culture to do pre-evangelism” for us.

The fact that Tim Keller felt the need to write a prequel to his book The Reason for God illustrates my point. This earlier book answered questions some non-Christians ask. But Keller found that many outsiders weren’t asking any questions. In his preface to Making Sense of God, Keller says the former book “does not begin far back enough for many people. Some will not even begin the journey of exploration, because, frankly, Christianity does not seem relevant enough to be worth their while.”

We need to back up and start our evangelistic efforts with more fundamental discussions. I’ve heard people say the difference between Keller’s first book and his more recent Making Sense of God is that the first one provides answers for people who have questions. The second one poses questions for people who think they already have answers. The first is for someone already wondering if there are good reasons to become a Christian. The second is for someone who doubts that any good reasons exist.

My prayer is that Unlikely Converts will help you know what to say to people, whether they’re asking questions or not.

I’ve lived in the realm of pre-evangelism for quite some time. I came to faith in the Messiah from a secularized Jewish background after more than four years of gradually moving from “Are you crazy? Jews don’t believe in Jesus,” to “Hmm. Maybe I need to consider who that Jewish carpenter was,” to “Don’t tell anyone I’m reading the New Testament,” to “My Lord and my God!” I benefited greatly from patient Christian friends who trusted our sovereign God to move me incrementally at his pace.

I also benefited from reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, perhaps the greatest model of pre-evangelism ever. When Lewis was asked to put together a series of radio broadcasts to explain the Christian faith to BBC listeners during World War II, he opted to spend the first several episodes on how we know what we know. Long before ever saying a word about God or Jesus or sin or the cross, he camped out on “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.” These brief weekly broadcasts eventually became the written book Mere Christianity, which many have called the most influential Christian book of the twentieth century. We now read four or five short chapters one after the other in just a few minutes, but their original presentation allowed for a week’s worth of rumination after suggestive, pre-evangelistic, partial messages such as:

  • “Human beings . . . have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way.”

  • “They do not in fact behave in that way.”

  • “We have cause to be uneasy.”

  • “God is our only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.”

In a letter to the BBC producers, Lewis explained, “It seems to me that the New Testament, by preaching repentance and forgiveness, always assumes an audience who already believe in the law of nature and know they have disobeyed it. In modern England we cannot at present assume this, and therefore most apologetics begins a stage too far on. The first step is to create, or recover, the sense of guilt. Hence if I gave a series of talks, I shd [sic] mention Christianity only at the end, and would prefer not to unmask my battery till then.” I came to appreciate Lewis’s approach even more when I began evangelistic ministry on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. I served for more than three decades on East Coast urban campuses where the typical evangelistic strategies that worked so well in Mid-western and Southern America didn’t even cause people to blink. I had to learn pre-evangelistic strategies because my audiences didn’t seem to care one whit about having a personal relationship with God.

(To be continued…)


(From Stan: For further reading, besides buying and reading Randy’s latest book, check out his website, where he has a great blog addressing a range of issues helpful to Christians seeking to grow in Christ and be salt and light in our world.)