Asking questions in response to the questions and objections raised by unbelievers can lead them to reconsider their ideas of what is plausible and probable, thereby paving the way for them to be more willing to listen to Christian answers. It can also help us to clarify what is really behind the questions and objections people raise so that we can respond most appropriately. For instance, the question of why the church is so filled with hypocrites may be motivated more by pain than by a desire to justify one's unbelief. Through asking questions we can stir the curiosity of those who have read very little of the Bible, inviting them to search its pages. Because people's familiarity with Scripture has declined so drastically, Newman says that "today's apologetics should encourage literacy before defending historicity. We must challenge people by asking, 'Why don't you read it?' more than, 'Why don't you believe it?'"
After making a case for asking questions being both biblical and beneficial, Newman devotes the second part of the book to seven questions Christians are bound to encounter in various forms:
- Why are Christians so intolerant?
- Why does a good God allow evil and suffering such as Columbine and AIDS?
- Why should anyone worship a God who allowed 9/11?
- Why should we believe an ancient book written by dead Jewish males?
- Why are Christians so homophobic?
- What's so good about marriage?
- If Jesus is so great, why are some of his followers such jerks?
"...develop a different way of thinking about people, their questions, and our message. And because of that difference, our evangelistic conversations will sound less content/persuasion driven and more relationship/understanding driven. They'll sound more like rabbinic dialogues than professorial monologues. They'll be an exchange of ideas that lead both participants to the truth of the gospel. For one participant, it will be the first arrival at that point; for the other participant, it will be a rediscovery and a new appreciation of the message of the Cross."In the third and final part of the book, Newman addresses two questions that Christians should ask themselves. A chapter titled "The Question of Compassion: 'What If I Don't Care That My Neighbor Is Going to Hell?'" addresses the sad reality that we are often apathetic about the lost condition of those around us. What's worse, our attitude is frequently contemptuous. Our emotional response (or lack thereof) to the sin-ravaged lives that confront us daily has more in common with Stoicism than with Jesus who was moved with compassion as he observed the aimless crowd.
"...some followers of Jesus have mistaken Stoicism for Christian maturity. They think that the healthy Christian is unflappable. They read the newspaper, listen to their neighbors, or watch television and remain emotionally unmoved. Their trust in God's sovereignty and their confidence in Christ's return put everything neatly in place for them. They don't get upset or angry (at least, not in a righteous way). They just 'praise the Lord,' knowing that they won't get left behind."Confession and petition for God to transform our hearts are the first steps toward our being "de-Jonahized," followed by our beginning to intercede for the unsaved. Newman also suggests trying to see things from the perspective of non-Christians as another means of fostering compassion.
The following chapter deals with our anger toward non-Christians, the subtle ways it expresses itself in our witness, and what to do about it. The concluding chapter discusses the importance of listening, why we don't do more of it, and how to do it more effectively. Newman is quick to note that while there are practices we can adopt to become better listeners, listening is not primarily a technique but an expression of Christlike character: "...gracious listening flows from a heart that has been humbled, stilled, and transformed by the power of grace. Listening is simply a form of serving, of putting the other person first, as Philippians 2 implores us." Jazz fans will appreciate the author's suggestion that we need to be "cool" listeners (along the lines of Miles Davis) rather than "be-bop" listeners (along the lines of Dizzy Gillespie).
The book includes a study guide with questions designed for group discussion and application making this an excellent choice for evangelism training in the context of small groups or Sunday School classes.
One of the ingredients I especially appreciated about this book was the author's sensitivity to the Bible's literary diversity and the communicative significance of such. In a beautiful and honest response to the problem of evil, Newman draws out the implications of God's giving us poetry such as the book of Job instead of philosophical abstractions. Concerning what he refers to as the Bible's "messiness," (its complexity and diversity of locations, languages, genres, and literary styles), Newman suggests:
"Maybe the Bible's messiness corresponds to our messiness, making it the perfect revelation to get us out of our mess. Perhaps its use of various genres corresponds to our complex nature - the intellectual, emotional, volitional, social, and physical components of our personhood. Maybe God inspired the Bible to suit our total being."Newman notes that what unifies this assortment of literary diversity is the biblical story which Newman outlines under the headings of Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Consummation. Like many others, Newman espouses a story approach to evangelism. "Rather than listing disconnected propositions, we should show that the Bible's story connects with our story at our point of deepest need." His reason for advocating this narratival approach is not, however, to simply cater to postmodern tastes. Rather, he believes that stories connect so well because they fit our "narrative nature": "Having a chronological beginning (birth) and end (death), we respond better to stories - which have a beginning and an end - than to ahistorical proclamations of dogma." Lest anyone fear that Newman has an aversion to propositional truth, rest assured. He doesn't.
"Proclamations do have their place. The Bible's inclusion of epistles and prophecies validates their importance. But we should read Romans and other didactic material in the context of the larger story line of God's divine narrative. In evangelism, we should declare the doctrine of Romans - the gospel - as narrative so that our message appeals to the whole person. We want to convert, not merely convince. Narrative evangelism does both."Using the analogy of a musical with its recurring themes, Newman says there are propositional melodies imbedded in redemptive drama. I like that!
I hope that something of my enthusiasm about this volume is evident. Randy Newman has produced a book that not only aids Christians in better understanding the times in which we live and how to converse with our unbelieving contemporaries but also helps us better understand the gospel and its implications. I heartily recommend that you read this one.