Don’t Give Them Answers: A Review of “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman

It was not a sincere question at all, but I still struggled with trying to answer it. As a freshman in college I had hundreds of opportunities to share the gospel with my floor mates, but this one individual was very difficult. He was a philosophy major who had done lots of thinking in his life, and I was somewhere between ignorant and idiot. I didn’t know the answer, but I tried to come up with anything I could that would satisfy his questioning. According to Randy Newman that was my biggest mistake.

In his book Questioning Evangelism Randy Newman offers us a different evangelistic method, one that does not focus on giving answers, but on helping people wrestle with their own assumptions and their own worldview. Newman sees a big difference between giving answers and asking questions, one that gets at the heart of many of our own personal evangelistic frustrations. He writes:

I realized that, instead of moving people closer to a salvation decision, an answer can push them further away. Rather than engaging their minds or urging them to consider an alternate perspective, an answer can give them ammunition for future attacks against the gospel. So I started answering questions with questions, and have gained far better results. (27)

The two biggest benefits that Newman lists in regards to questioning evangelism, over and against giving straight answers, are (1) that it “brings to the surface the questioner’s assumptions,” and (2) “It also takes the pressure off” of the evangelist. The numerous anecdotes he gives throughout the book illustrate this point well.

The book is one of the best that I have read on evangelistic methodology. In our post-modern age people don’t want answers anymore, and often the Christian’s strong convictions can strike the postmodern ear as arrogant. The method which Newman describes here forces people to think carefully about their own beliefs and as the wholes in their thinking appear it allows the Christian to more humbly demonstrate the strengths of the Gospel worldview.

It is not that Questioning Evangelism is pitting itself, necessarily, against classic evangelistic books like The Case for Christ or More Than A Carpenter. Such works, he says, have their place. And apologetics, he says, are certainly a tool in the evangelistic arsenal. But proving the reliability of Scripture, the historicity of the resurrection, or the existence of God is not the same thing as sharing the gospel with someone; and often giving them direct answers to their antagonistic questions about Creation does little to further a conversation about their state before God. By answering questions with questions and forcing the hearer to think carefully about their assumptions and about the key elements of the gospel can create dialogue.

I love this work so much that I am using it this semester as the main textbook for my Free Seminary class. It offers several major benefits over other texts: (1) It offers a focus on how to evangelize as opposed to a focus on what to say in each situation. It’s really a methods book. (2) It offers an approach that is relevant for our postmodern 21st century world. Light bulb evangelism, which was extremely popular in generations past, is ridiculous now. We need a method that wrestles with people in the skeptical, pluralist society where we all live. (3) It offers a real and a compassionate look at some of the legitimate and not-so-legitimate questions that non-Christians ask. Newman spent more than 20 years working on college campuses with Campus Crusade for Christ. He has shared the gospel with a lot of people and spent a lot of time with non-Christians. He gives us, in this book, the insights he has gleaned from all those years of experience. It is worth the price to read the book.

Newman points us constantly to the methods of Jesus in Scripture to demonstrate how questioning evangelism can be a real tool to our gospel-sharing. In a lot of ways this book is extremely unique in the market-place and very helpful in our real world.

Trackbacks

  1. […] on evangelism for our Free Seminary and the text-book we used encouraged the very same thing (See Questioning Evangelism, by Randy Newman). It seems that many pastors and theologians are catching on to this failure within the church. […]

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