by Gary D. Myers
Gone are the days of quick, “efficient” evangelism, asserts Will McRaney, author of The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus with a Changing Culture, released last summer by Broadman & Holman.
Effective evangelism today is a much longer process because people have fewer beliefs in common with Christians than in the past. McRaney says the believer may have to first win the lost person to the idea of one God before sharing the gospel.
“Today, when a person tells you he believes in God you know almost nothing,” he said. “When a person tells you he is a Christian you know only a little more.”
“Dealing with lost people is not convenient or clean,” he said. “If we are going to connect with people, we have to walk alongside them through their discovery.” If people today sense something other than value and respect, they will likely form a negative view of Christianity, he adds.
In the book, the former pastor and church planter—now associate professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary—underscores the ongoing imperative of evangelism amid a postmodern culture.
In the face of a radically-changing culture and static church growth, he suggests that new growth will take more than good worship services and dynamic programs or church-growth methods: the church must equip all believers to go into their communities and share their faith to see Kingdom growth.
“The big issue for me is how we can communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense to whomever we are talking to,” he said. “Some of our ‘modern’ approaches are not going to connect well with ‘postmodern’ people.”
Methods such as the Four Spiritual Laws developed by the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ worked well with people of the ‘modern’ mindset, McRaney noted, explaining that logic was the starting point for processing truth during modernity. Therefore the logical approach was effective.
‘Postmodern’ thinkers have a different starting point, the professor said. Instead of logic, they begin with feelings and emotions. Both groups are trying to discover what is real and true, but they approach their search from different starting points, he said.
Rather than responding to logical evangelistic appeals, he said, postmodern people need to see a consistent Christian life lived out before them to prove its reality.
“Now our testimony matters more—our life, not just our communicated testimony,” McRaney said. “It is harder for people today to distinguish between the message and the messenger. The credibility of the message is tied to the credibility of the messenger from the lost person’s perspective.”
While The Art of Personal Evangelism is not primarily focused on methodology, McRaney does include a section filled with practical helps and tips. The focus of this section is on communication and overcoming obstacles to witnessing. “The key skill for personal evangelism now is knowing how to ask good questions,” he said.
When someone shares a curious religious belief with McRaney he often responds, “That’s interesting. How did you come to that conclusion?” By asking such questions, he gets them talking about their beliefs. Often, people will realize the problems with their beliefs as they talk—and they actually can help the witness know where to begin in sharing the gospel, he said.
“This takes the pressure to have all the answers off of us,” he said. “We allow them to discover the holes in their own views and they are more receptive to what we have to say.”
Because of the confusion about what it means to be a Christian, McRaney also deals with the essentials of what a person must believe to be a follower of Christ.
While primarily written for seminary students, McRaney believes the book, as a thorough treatment of personal evangelism in a short, practical format, will be helpful for anyone serious about sharing the gospel message. “I think the approach offered in this book will give hope to some who have become discouraged and disengaged from evangelism and also give them hands-on helps so they can reengage the lost,” he said.
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