We met Lindsay at a mall in New Orleans. My
students were completing an assignment to interview people concerning their
religious beliefs. Lindsay was a friendly, articulate female in her early
twenties, who was eager to share her views on spiritual matters. She had
traveled extensively as a daughter of a military family. In our taped interview
of Lindsay we discovered some of her beliefs. Perhaps a portion of the
conversation will help you understand her confusion . . .
"I believe in an individual absolute truth.
I believe God is everywhere and in everything.
I am smoking God.
To be straightened out with God it takes an extremely open mind and
Jesus Christ was a leader. He may or may not be real. I am not sure it
I believe in the so-called miracle. I believe resurrections can happen.
I grew up attending a Baptist church and most every other type of religious
I believe in the morals of the Bible."
Lindsay represents a group of people who are further from a biblical
understanding of God than any other group in the history of the United States.
Where do we begin with Lindsay? What do we say? Better yet, what are you to say
to those around you who are confused and skeptical? How can we effectively
share the good news of Jesus Christ with the Lindsays who live in our
communities and maybe even occupy some of the pews in our local churches?
In my book The Art of Personal Evangelism, I address these and
other tough issues in evangelism. At right are some of the subtle differences
between a modern or traditional approach to evangelism and a postmodern
approach to evangelism.
Proposition then story
Story then proposition
Giving lots of information
Asking good questions
More earthly benefits
Validation through evidence
More relational validation
Less percent of time harvesting
More percent of time seed planting
postmoderns place greater value on RELATIONSHIPS than on factual
Multiple encounters vs. Single encountersPersonal
evangelism in the past centered around one-time encounters with nonbelievers.
Because people are further from God in their knowledge and acceptance of Jesus
Christ and His church, evangelism has become more of a process than an event.
With Lindsay it probably will take multiple encounters with the gospel message
for her to surrender to Christ.
Listener centered vs. Witness centeredMuch of the
evangelism training in the last half of the 20th century centered on preparing
the witness to talk. The witness would focus on what to say. This is in
contrast to the postmodern method of training the witness to listen well to the
lost. We should ask ourselves questions such as: How is the listener responding
to the message and to me? Is the listener connecting with the message?
Dialogue vs. MonologueMost people who process life
through a postmodern grid will probably find an evangelistic monologue
offensive. Its important that we talk with Lindsay, not to her as if
we are trying to assault her with the gospel truth.
Gospel story vs. Gospel presentationChristians need
to communicate the gospel story to postmoderns, not just tell them gospel
facts. When people dont grow up in a Judeo-Christian environment, they dont
know the Christian story, symbols, doctrines or ethics. They need to hear the
story of Gods relationship with man throughout history. One way to show this is
to share your own story with your Lindsays.
Story then proposition vs. Proposition then storyIn
most evangelistic encounters propositional statements usually precede
illustration. The witness communicates spiritual facts and then illustrates or
explains the spiritual reality. However, in a postmodern context, the witness
should communicate the gospel story and then draw out the appropriate spiritual
truth. When people dont know or understand the biblical account of Gods plan of
redemption, we need to present the context of the story so that specific truths
can be brought to light.
Asking good questions vs. Giving lots of
informationLindsay needs information, but until the witness asks
questions and listens well, the witness wont know what information to give her.
When people have little background with the true gospel and also consider
themselves spiritual, the witness needs to ask a series of good questions that
are presented in an appropriate, inquiring tone. Questions demonstrate genuine
Community integration vs. Individual
isolationCommunity is a high value for postmoderns. But often
our evangelism has been separated from incorporation into a community of faith.
For Lindsay to trust Christ, shell probably need to be introduced to a group of
Christians who live out their faith in the midst of her confusion and
Soft vs. LoudAmong highly trained skeptics and
pluralistic thinking people, the volume of evangelism needs to be lowered.
Soft, calm, thoughtful words will resonate more clearly than high-decibel
words. A life lived in calm confidence in God is more likely to be noticed than
words shouted by a red-faced, Bible-waving stranger.
Consideration vs. ArgumentationTolerance has been
taken to new heights as a value of our society. We can stand firmly on our
positions and beliefs and come across with confidence, but in order to get a
full hearing, we cannot be perceived as trying to force our beliefs on others.
We can, however, skillfully ask Lindsay to consider our faith in light of her
beliefs. After all, our beliefs are biblical, and our loving God wants to
reveal Himself. The implications of the resurrection and Jesus claim to be God
are important doctrines to bring up when sharing with a lost person.
Guided tours vs. Ticket salesPersonal evangelism
usually involves a process. Its our job to provide a guided tour of what it
means to be a follower of Christ while at the same time presenting the claims
of Christ. The Christian cannot simply offer tickets into heaven. I recognize
that no informed Christian would take such an approach, but we dont want a lost
person to think were selling bus tickets to eternity. The spiritual seeker
needs to see the Christian on a spiritual journey himself. The lost want us to
walk beside them and provide answers to questions along the way.
More supernatural vs. Supersales (natural)Evangelism
is a frontal attack on the gates of hell. Therefore, we can expect to engage in
battles that involve spiritual beingsfrom God or Satan. People will be drawn
more by the supernatural movement of God than by the natural abilities of the
witness. Its God who desires to draw Lindsay to Himself. Ill be surprised if we
dont see an increase in the number of recognizable spiritual encounters.
Christians need to develop discernment as it relates to spirits, because not
everything that's supernatural is from God. Satan is a masterful
More earthly benefits vs. Eternal benefitsThe wise
witness needs to invest more time discussing the earthly benefits and costs of
following God, than discussing the eternal benefits. In the scheme of things,
the eternal benefits dramatically outweigh any earthly benefits. However, as we
listen to people talk about their marriage or finances or disappointments, we
need to recognize this offers opportunities to talk about how our relationship
with Jesus has made a difference in those areas of our lives.
More relational validation vs. Validation through
evidenceLindsay perceives truth (reality) in different ways than
people did in previous generations. I believe that postmoderns place greater
value on relationships than on factual validation. Evidence is important, but
there are still mysteries about God that empirical evidence cant address.
Postmoderns are more likely to be affected by how their friends are responding
or feeling about the message of Christ.
More time planting seeds vs. HarvestingA lot can be
learned from the laws of the harvest such as you reap what you sow, reap more
than what you sow, and later than you sow. With Postmoderns, we will need to
invest a large amount of time and resources in sowing seeds for the harvest. If
we don't sow seeds, we wont harvest.
As Dr. Chuck Kelley says, Southern Baptists are a harvest-oriented
denomination living in an unseeded generation. This doesnt mean that we can no
longer harvest, because without the goal of harvesting, there would be no
reason to plant. However, we must think of evangelism in terms and methods
beyond that of just harvesting.
Your Lindsays can be led to Christ. Look to God for wisdom in sharing
Dr. Will McRaney is associate professor of evangelism at
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and author of books including The Art
of Personal Evangelism. For more information about his teaching and conference
ministry contact him at email@example.com.
1 Thom Wolf in his oral presentation, Postmodernity
and the Urban Church Agenda, at the American Society for Church Growth Annual
Conference, Orlando, Florida, November 1997, made the case for asking the lost
person to consider the possibility of the resurrection and then the
implications for their life, if true.
C. Norman Kraus in An Intrusive Gospel? Christian Mission in the
Postmodern World (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP), p. 19, wrote, By
implication, postmodern presuppositions challenge traditional evangelism as
cultural arrogance. They throw suspicion on a service motivation as disguised
self-serving....Thus whether we agree with these postmodern implications or
not, they demand a change in attitudes, modes of communication and definitions
of witness and service.
I believe we can and should communicate directly with postmodern people
about the implications of a decision, but initially I recommend that we ask
them to consider how Christ can transform them and then back off and allow the
Holy Spirit to work.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC