The aim of this post is to go through the book chapter by chapter and analyse the book, to try to work where it is and isn’t consistent with scripture. I will try to be impartial, and state where I believe it is consistent, as well as where I think it may be less scripturally accurate. However, to explain why I think that those sections may be inaccurate I will require more page space. I appreciate all the time and effort that goes in to writing a book, and I enjoy reading them. I get to look at scripture, and think hard about what I believe the bible says, so I naturally grow in knowledge and love of God. I would appreciate any comments whether you agree with me or not (either here, or on my social media pages).
If you are looking for a book recommendation or general idea on the basis for the book, see General Review of Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman. If you want to understand more about the formats of my book reviews, see How book reviews are going to work.
My suggestion for reading this post is: after reading each chapter, and thinking for yourself about whether you agree or not with the author, you read my notes on that chapter (some chapters are very short if there is not a lot of theology). You may end up agreeing with me, or with the author, or have your own ideas (which I would love to hear!). The aim is for post is to help us keep our reading of Christian books thinking about scripture, and relying on the bible as our ultimate authority. I hope you enjoy this format of book reviewing as much I have enjoyed, and been challenged, trying to write it.
Randy lays out the concept of answering questions with questions in this chapter. There isn’t a lot of theology here. He does state that Jesus often answers questions with questions, and this is true. He also suggests that Paul used a similar method, with reasoning, explaining and proving scripture to explain the gospel, which suggests a more involved and interactive process than simply presenting a neatly packaged gospel. This, however, is only ever implied by Paul and is open to interpretation.
This chapter uses Proverbs to help motivate how to converse with non-Christians. Proverbs is in the Bible to help us learn how to think wisely, and so make good decisions. Clearly, when we discuss evangelism, since there is no prescribed method beyond proclaiming the gospel, how we do this does require wisdom. The four principles that are taken from proverbs are: avoid an argument, recognise a fool, remember that people are people, and remember the power of the tongue. I agree Proverbs states these ideas, and that they are worth considering. My only concern with this chapter is that “recognising a fool” should not stop evangelism efforts. It definitely should not become some sort category whereby we choose who is and isn’t worth evangelising, because:
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:22-24)
It may be wise to stop a particular conversation which is becoming unhelpful, but I think it would be wiser to pray that the next conversation with them is more fruitful, rather than to stop all efforts until they are ready to seek God (because that won’t happen, see chapter 4 notes). God is powerful enough to save even the most hardened fool, and his timing is perfect, so don’t despair if someone seems foolish (we were all foolish once and only changed because God graciously called us).
This chapter covers challenging a non-Christian’s plausibility structure or in common English, what a person believes is possible. Again there is not a lot of biblical content in this chapter, so not a lot to say. I did found it helpful and useful to think about, just as a way of considering how to help converse with people.
This chapter is on why are Christians so intolerant? I definitely agree that, biblically, we cannot hold any position other than Christ is the only way to God:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
I also think it’s likely true that people don’t understand why we hold this view, because they don’t understand God’s holiness or man’s sinfulness, both of which are briefly helpfully described. My disagreement lies in the end of the chapter, when it is discussed what happens to people who have never heard the gospel. This is a topic that is really difficult for Christians, and even harder to wisely explain to a non-believer. Three conversations are presented, and by the end of the third it is clear where the conversations have slightly strayed from how the bible discusses this issue. The message that a person needs to have the gospel is:
- There is a loving, righteous, knowable God.
- There’s something about us that separates us from God.
- God has provided a way to reconcile us through Christ’s death on the cross
- They need to trust in that reconciliation themselves
The beginning of Romans is used here to outline how the everyone gets points one and two, but here is where I disagree. The book goes on to talk about only some people suppressing God, while others’ look up and say “Yes, there is something bigger than me, and I don’t match up.” Romans 3 states that no one seeks after God:
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:9b-12)
So this is a big problem, if you send a non-Christian off to read Romans, one chapter later they will question if the bible contradicts itself.
The trouble with suggesting that we choose whether to reject or accept God’s revelation in points one and two, is a matter for understanding sinfulness and grace. The root of all sinfulness is rejection of God, turning our backs and refusing to acknowledge points one and two. Grace is that, despite the fact that we reject points one and two, and the fair thing to do is judge us for it, God has still made a way for points 3 and 4 to occur, and gets some people there. Romans is a really great book for thinking through these ideas more fully (don’t stop at chapter 3!), but one way of seeing the problem in the argument presented here is: if you are able to decide whether you agree, or disagree, with points one and two, you can take a little bit of the credit for the process of your salvation. You were more righteous than the people who rejected (without even knowing the gospel you looked for Jesus and God). The bible would emphatically refute this idea, as it says, before we are Christians we are dead in our sins:
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:5-9)
Therefore, the quotes from scripture about seeking God cannot be applied to pre-converted Christians, as if your heart is made of stone, and you are dead spiritually, seeking God, who is spiritual, is impossible.
Therefore, what can we say about people who have never heard the gospel? We can definitely say that they get points one and two, and that they reject them. God may, in his mercy break in, and give them points 3 and 4, most likely by having someone tell them. However, this is not a matter of fairness. What is fair is that we are all held accountable, and that all sins are punished, because otherwise God is less than perfectly righteous and holy (if a new example conversation would help, let me know and I will try to rewrite it).
This was the hardest chapter for me to write about. I mostly agree with it, but I think it undersells the power of the bible when speaking about suffering. Please know that, as we talk about an incredibly difficult subject, I speak as someone who knows and understands suffering. I agree that when it comes to suffering and evil, some things belong to the Lord alone, they are a mystery to us:
29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29)
But let’s assert that we do have enough in the Bible to be confident, and remain faithful during every aspect of life. During suffering, I know we do not want to hear complicated arguments for why God allows suffering. We should just be there with that person, crying together and praying for them. Many of the things that Randy feels are barely more than half answers though, are a great source of strength to me in my suffering. So if a non-Christian or Christian asks, at a time when they are not in the midst of suffering, lets have a conversation. This way people will be armed to suffer well, and can rely on the bible (not human coping mechanisms), even if it isn’t the whole picture, taking refuge in them when suffering arises (for they are enough).
A note on talking to suffering people: I, too, take great comfort in the book of Job during hard times. One other thing we maybe can say when people are suffering, is that God feels the pain of suffering too. The shortest verse in the bible is: Jesus wept. He cries with Mary and Martha, even when he knows that he deliberately delayed going to them, so that Lazarus would die, and that he is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. God may have a purpose behind our suffering, and plans to fix it (as shown here), but know that he still deeply cares, and is heart broken when he sees suffering. Our God is not far away, emotionally unconnected to us, but there with us in the midst of it, despite seeing the bigger glorious picture of why the suffering occurs. We can, and should, take refuge and comfort in him; trusting that, while he doesn’t tell us why something happens, he cries with us, even though he sees the whole picture.
To those conversations that do not involve someone in the midst of suffering, we need to think about discussing the half answers we do have. We can’t just avoid giving wrong answers, like God isn’t perfect or God can’t help it, but we have to say what is true. People need to know that our good and loving God is in control of suffering and evil, yet he is not the author of it. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, mistakenly believe that good and evil are battling it out like in a movie. This is not a biblical view of evil and suffering. If someone thinks that is what is going in Christianity, I can see why they don’t care for it, what is the point of following Jesus (especially when it is hard), if good won’t win? We need to be assured that suffering and evil have been conquered, by Jesus on the cross, that he is still in control now, and therefore the future return of Jesus and subsequent glory will happen too. How can we expect people to believe in the cross or holdfast to the cross in their despair, if they aren’t confident in God’s character and power?
Knowing that God does allow it, and isn’t wringing his hands, I think it’s actually wise to discuss all “slivers” that Randy states. These are important to understand, because if we just say we don’t really know, or we avoid answering, people can feel like we are lying. Once we have all these slotted in, then the rest of the picture that we don’t know, we be confident to trust him with. I am the opposite to Randy, in that I rejoice in many of the answers we are given, even if we aren’t given the whole picture (that’s not to say there aren’t days I find it hard). Overall, we need to look at all these partial answers, then go back to the cross and say: God hates evil and suffering, he allows it now, for various purposes both known and unknown to us. One day though, it will end for those who trust in Jesus, there will come a day when God stops allowing pain and suffering and evil. We need to prepare Christians for suffering, and help non-Christians to understand the relationship between God, evil and suffering, or we aren’t building up people strong and sturdy, that will trust in the cross.
The difference between this, and only looking at Job, is that I think we choose our times; no, never be like Job’s friends cold hearted, not compassionate, and academic in the face of real suffering. However, I believe it is equally unloving not to equip people with the answers that God has provided us with, then point them to the cross as a way of understanding God’s determination to change the thing we hate most.
All of this sort of overlaps with the next chapter.
This chapter doesn’t have too much in the way of theology. It is correct that the bible says that Jesus dying on a cross is evil, and that God allowed it. God also thinks this event is a good thing. It is also true, that in looking to our future glory after Jesus returns, which will be eternal, shows that present problems are not worth comparing ie. finite suffering over say 80 years, doesn’t compare with our glorification which will go on forever (Rom. 8:18).
What we need to be careful of in this chapter is thinking that evangelising needs lots and lots of knowledge. I didn’t know the Hebrew word for the Red Sea is “Yam Suph”, and it doesn’t affect my ability to evangelise, as it is telling people the gospel (which I do know). Wisdom does not lie in being able to “one up” someone or put them in their place, but in knowing and submitting to God’s word. Yes, man is often foolish and unrepentant, but cleverly devised arguments are not going to convert anyone, only the gospel.
Let me be clear, I don’t believe Randy is trying to undermine the need for the gospel here, and I agree, Jesus often dealt with the Pharisees in a way that made them come crashing down off their pedestals. When we have the opportunity to help someone to think about the consistency of their own argument, then go ahead. However, I, personally, do not want anyone to feel that if you do not have a wealth of apologetics knowledge, and an understanding of complicated bits of the bible, you will fail at evangelism. We can all pray and proclaim the good news, and we all should be doing it. That is all that Jesus asked of us.
So this chapter is on the reliability of scripture. Much of the chapter is therefore motivation to get someone to read scripture at all, which is great, as it is the gospel which has the power to save, not apologetics. The biblical story-line is accurate, and I think from chatting to many non-Christians who believe that God is different between the Old and New testaments, and that there is no coherent story, this could really help.
With such a sensitive subject on the table, I am glad this chapter tries to address it with honesty, yet compassion. Scripture stands by these truths, and my only comment would be that in conversations, we need to be very careful about our choice of words, and language we use, so that we cannot be misunderstood.
Again I do not have a lot to say on this chapter, it definitely advocates the biblical position in that marriage is a good thing. I feel that some of the primary reasons for Christians to marry according to the bible are not explained here, but as the focus of the book is on evangelism, not marriage, this may be intentional. Those reasons that are given are ok. I cannot speak from experience (as a single woman) about the benefits of marriage, but I am sure that, as one of the primary intentions of marriage is to grow in the Lord, marriage should sanctify you. My only concern is that for the first two reasons, a Christian marriage should be primarily looking to Jesus for security and soothing. The person you are marrying/married is sinful, but I would agree these are both benefits over a relationship outside of marriage.
I actually quite like the way Randy dealt with the question of hypocrisy in the church as a way to clarify the gospel’s true message. There are often misunderstandings about what Christians believe with regards to sin and sanctification. I also liked that he explained that we need to have more care when talking to people, as often people who ask this question have been hurt themselves, and compassion is essential.
This chapter really challenged me, how much do we care? Almost certainly not enough. It isn’t about gifts, or whether we can pull in scores of people, but for the people we know, do we really care? Randy uses Jesus and the Apostles as an example of people who were compassionate for lost people, and warns us off being like Jonah. I think its wise that we don’t just condemn Jonah, but see our lack of compassion is often like his, and we too need to repent.
Chapter 12, 13 and Epilogue
I have stuck these together, as I think they form more wisdom than biblical arguments. I like the challenges made to us, and I am going to take the time to think about whether any/all of these need to be addressed in my life. I would say here, and all over the book, I would not just learn the phrases, but instead the concept (something which Randy suggests at the beginning of the book). In British culture for instance, I have a feeling that people would be less happy about being asked some of those questions. My suggestion is to think about how best to address the person you are speaking to, so it doesn’t come out sounding like you are insincere, or are prying.
Image courtesy of Randy Newman, who I would like to thank for this. In the effort of full disclosure, I bought the book myself and wrote both the general and in-depth review without Randy’s knowledge. I only reached out to him after publication of both parts, and he provided me with the image without reading my review. Therefore, Randy giving me the image does not mean he endorses or agrees with my review.
A note on book reviews: my aim behind book reviews is to try to think through the biblical aspects of the book, and whether they are consistent with scripture. It is in no way to upset anyone, I appreciate all the time and effort that goes into writing a book, and I love reading them. They help me to think through scripture, and challenge to keep looking at the bible, causing me to grow in knowledge of God. Please feel free to leave me a comment or get in contact, and if one day any of my reviews finds their way to the author(s), I would really love to hear from you too.