Randy Newman is Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at The C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington D.C. He was on staff for over thirty years in various capacities with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). Randy’s book, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did frames this interview.
Moore: Since we’ve known each other for many years, though I would probably do it anyways (!), let’s jump right in with the elephant in the room. Many/most? Christians in America who supposedly believe that Jesus is the only way to know God don’t share the gospel. I know you are quite aware of the various studies that bear out this sad reality. Why do you think this is the case?
Newman: I can think of two reasons right off the bat. The first is that we’re scared. (Note: I include myself in this group. I wouldn’t say I never share the gospel but I don’t evangelize as much as I should). There are a lot of legitimate fears we have. People may reject us. It might open up several cans of worms and it’s hard to feel “ready” for whatever people might ask. The second reason, for some, is that we’ve been told it’s easy. When we try to reach out and find that it’s not as easy for us as it sounds to people like Bill Hybels or Bill Bright, we quit and just say, “I guess I don’t have that gift.”
Moore: I took an evangelism class in seminary. The professor walked us through the New Testament prayers on evangelism. To our surprise, he said there are only three passages where prayers are explicitly offered for the salvation of the non-Christian (Rom. 10:1; Acts 26:29; and I Tim. 2:1-4). He went on to say that the majority of “evangelism” prayers are directed towards Christians: for their boldness, clarity, opportunities, etc. Do we need something of an overhaul in the way we pray about our gospel witness?
Newman: Actually, I don’t think it’s that extreme. We need to pray for non-believers to have their eyes opened come to faith and we need to pray for Christians to be bold. I don’t want to make too big a deal about that. We don’t have to have a “perfect balance.”
Moore: Your book does a great job of showcasing the role of good questions. As you well know, Francis Schaeffer was well known for asking questions that brought out the real motivations of the human heart. When and how did you become convinced that good questions are integral to sharing the gospel?
Newman: After reading Schaeffer! OK. That wasn’t fair but Schaeffer did influence me a lot. Some of it just comes naturally to me because I’m Jewish and, in Jewish culture, we ask a lot of questions. Why shouldn’t we? (That was an attempt at a joke. Did you get it? And now do you see how my asking if you got the joke involved you in the process? That’s what a question does. Doesn’t it?) I also worked on a lot of campuses in the Northeast and in cities where the typical Campus Crusade approach to evangelism just didn’t work. So I had to experiment and asking questions was part of that experiment.
Moore: Doing college ministry at Stanford University disabused me of the notion that winning a debate meant the non-Christian would take a knee for Jesus. I had various non-Christians admit that their philosophy of life was not altogether consistent, but they did not want to become a Christian to shore up that inconsistency. What do you suggest we remember when we have interactions like these with non-Christians?
Newman: The biggest thing I’d remind people of is that nothing is too difficult for God. He gets through to even the toughest skeptics. And I do think asking challenging questions could help the process. Questions like: “How have you come to that conclusion?” or “Are you open to considering a different perspective?” can soften people’s hearts. And then, sometimes, it’s best to just share how the gospel has changed you and given you hope or a clear conscience or a way of making sense of things. Sometimes the sharing of the good news cuts through a lot of objections.
Moore: The problem of evil, as you describe in your book, is a huge stumbling block for many. To this day, I must confess that some of the best teaching I’ve ever heard on Job came from an agnostic Jewish professor of classics. He was quite comfortable leaving mystery lie. What would you recommend as a few better ways to respond when we are asked about how we make sense of loving God with respect to evil and suffering?
Newman: This issue requires a lot of back and forth processing through dialogue rather than just one person doing all the talking. But, for the sake of this interview, I’ll just share what needs to be communicated. For me, what I want to eventually say is that there are only a few ways that people have ever tried to wrestle with the problem of pain. All of them fall short of a totally satisfying answer. But the Christian view is better than the others. Like I said, we have to arrive at this point gradually and dialogically. But Atheism is horrible at handling pain. Humanistic “Let’s work to make the planet free from pain” is slightly better but still has little hope in it. I won’t outline all of the views here. The Christian view, with the hope of the resurrection at its core, is the only perspective that makes enough sense of the problem and offer victory over the problem.
Moore: Jesus commands us to be both “shrewd and innocent.” I’ve asked many Christians if they have heard much teaching on this twin command and the overwhelming answer is no. How does your book model being both “shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove”?
Newman: I tried to address that throughout the book with sample dialogues. I especially went after it in the chapter on Proverbs and how we might apply those insights to the task of evangelism. For some reason, we’ve approached evangelism as just a method of conveying content. “Here are 4 propositions you need to know and agree with. There.” But it’s a very interactive, dynamic conversation. And it involves a total change of heart, not just an adjustment in thought. And sometimes we need to be more shrewd or challenging than we’d imagine. Isn’t it amazing how often Jesus modeled this for us and how little we follow his lead? (I asked another question there. Did you see why I did that?)
Moore: What are a few things you hope your readers will take from reading your book?
Newman: First, I hope they’ll feel encouraged to try to reach out. You don’t have to be perfect as an evangelist and you don’t have to know exactly how the conversation is going to go. Ask questions, listen carefully, and ask God for wisdom along the way. I also hope they’ll think something like, “Golly. I need to buy lots of copies of this book to give to a whole lot of my friends.”