Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Review of the book "How to Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out"

As I am involved in leading a group in the Way of the Master series and am very interested in getting better (and braver!) about sharing my faith, I recently picked up the book How to Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out from my bookshelf in order to read it again. I bought it a few years ago after hearing the authors visit Janet Parshall's radio show while on their book tour. I found it an interesting comparison to the Way of the Master series. I thought it would be interesting to write a review here; I have also posted a slightly modified version of this review on Amazon.

I should start by saying that there's a number of things to like about this book. First off, any book that encourages believers to get out there and share their faith, personally (as in, one-on-one) is to be commended. Too many believers - myself included, too often - let "the church" do the hard work of bringing the Gospel to their unbelieving friends. That is, they invite their friends to the latest cool event at their church - the latest BBQ, pool party, Christian music event, etc. - and assume that somehow they are doing the person a spiritual favor by being their friend. In other words, the standard paradigm for most people taking part in "relationship" or "friendship" evangelism. Because, let's face it, a lot of us think we're sharing the Gospel when we're really just being friends with somebody and hoping that they'll bring up the question for us. I've had to face the fact that it's a lot easier to be friends with somebody than it is to actually share the Gospel with them.

So, this book offers a lot of encouragement to go out on that limb and share the Gospel. This is a very good thing. All the music events, outdoor parties, and skateboard exhibitions will not bring a person to Christ unless somebody steps out in faith and shares with them.

Another thing to like about the book is that it has some practical ways to approach somebody and have conversations with them that approach spiritual topics. As the transition between the natural and the spiritual can be difficult, I think we can use as much help in that area as possible. It even commends the use of tracts, which is a much-maligned area of Christian witnessing. Now, I'm not talking Jack Chick tracts here - there are actually good ones out there. That's a good reminder in a world that seems to think that tracts are a backwards-looking way of witnessing. (And they're certainly better than no witnessing at all, which is, let's be honest, what most of us do.)

Where the book really falls down, though, is when it gets to the actual presentation of the Gospel and, more importantly, what comes before it. In a word, the Good News of Romans chapter 3 makes absolutely no sense until you really understand the Bad News of Romans 1 and 2. And I am sad to say that here there is very little help provided. The authors might respond "of course not, there's lot of help available in that area." I strenuously disagree. In fact, I'd say the opposite is true. There's plenty of help available about how to be friendly and non-threatening - in fact, that comes pretty natural to most of us - but precious little help available showing us how to really share the Biblical Gospel, something that causes people's hearts to be converted.

For example, the idea of sin is barely even mentioned. The authors briefly mention the Romans Road and the 4 Spiritual Laws, but leave it at that; as if the presentation of sin were the easiest and most natural thing in the world. Now, I am not saying that these techniques are not useful structures to use in witnessing. They can give you a useful framework to help peg in your memory. However, again I contend that the discussion of sin and showing the person's truly lost condition is the hard part of witnessing, and the most vital part: all the talks and friendship in the world are a piece of cake compared to that sticky work. And this book does virtually nothing to help you out in that area.

It also presents the unfortunate theology of "Decisional Regeneration" - that it's the person's decision that saves them; until they make that decision they're vulnerable, but once they do, they're good to go, heaven-wise. This may seem like abstract, worthless nitpicking; but I submit that a person's theology makes a huge difference. For what is belief in Jesus but (at one level) a theology? Now, true conversion is a lot more than merely theology; it is a complete regeneration of the heart by God's grace that comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. But it is no less than theology. What I am saying is that a certain amount of theology is necessary for even coming to faith in Christ; and the theology of Decisional Regeneration starts people out with the wrong understanding. Can a person who believes in Decisional Regeneration be saved? Of course they can; but I would argue that it's in spite of that belief, not because of it.

So, in conclusion, this book is a good book to read. But it is far from the complete story on how to share the complete Biblical Gospel with people. In fact, this book might be a good companion to the (lamentably) few books out there that really talk about the full presentation of the Gospel, the presentation of that Good News as the antidote to the Bad News that must come first in somebody's understanding. Much written by John MacArthur or John Piper would be useful; the most useful of all (though not perfect either) would be the Way of the Master series by Ray Comfort and friends.

If you take this book for what it's good for, I do recommend it; but don't take it as anything like the complete way to share the Gospel with your friends. If you do that, then it can be more dangerous than not doing it at all, since they will think they've heard the Gospel when they really have not.


elenburg said...

I think we're on the same page about witnessing. The better you know someone the harder it can be to talk about the sin in their life b/c they probably know about the sin in yours! This is why Christians need to live holy lives. The reason many Christians don't witness to their friends is because their lives cannot support it. You have to walk the talk. Perhaps more personal holiness (without legalism) will help us all be better witnesses. I know I have lots of room to grow in the personal piety department.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

How right you are about the need to live holy lives. This is something I try to impress to my 15-year old son, with mixed results so far. He's a good kid, but I occasionally see him on facebook talking to his friends using language and talking about young ladies in ways that do not reflect well on his Christian testimony, or at least tacitly accepting their language. And I, too, am attempting to deal with my plank. However, having the plank should not stop us. I like what CS Lewis said, that when talking about sin it's most useful to talk first about the particular sin that's been plaguing you for the past week. Certainly Jesus knew that we would be sinful beings, yet still He told us to preach the Gospel to the whole world. So it's a balancing act, and one that I don't do perfectly well myself.