Evangelism in a Skeptical World (Book Review)
Adrian Reynolds reviews a book on evangelism which goes one better than “yep, I could do that.”
When I was growing up, I vividly remember my grandmother – a working-class East Ender – subscribing to abridged books produced by Readers’ Digest. Each month they would send her a hardback book which contained four or five novels, all in abbreviated form. She read them avidly and then proudly displayed them like a set of first edition novels on the shelf in her front room. I learnt my love of reading from her and these short versions of longer classics. It was what made me go and read the longer versions.
I’ve recently finished reading Sam Chan’s excellent Evangelism in a Skeptical World and it functions in much the same way. Sam is a gifted Asian-Australian evangelist, much influenced by Sydney and John Chapman in particular, but able to carefully critique and adapt what he has heard in that setting.
His book is a mega-workbook of evangelistic methods and tips with chapters on preaching, personal testimonies, how to reach post-moderns, how to contextualise the gospel and developing strategies for telling friends about Jesus.
And – in a good way – it feels like one of my grandma’s compendiums.
Packs a Punch
Each of the chapters is direct and thorough and could be (and in many cases, is) a book in its own right. There are books on evangelistic preaching for example. But those longer books probably don’t give you much more than Sam packs into a single chapter. You don’t need to go elsewhere.
However, that produces a book which is extraordinarily dense. I’ve had a busy period and not had much time to read Christian books over the last eight weeks or so. This was my first one back and it almost finished me off! It would be better to read each chapter as an individual book – like Gran’s abridgements. Then stop, digest and apply.
Some books you read on evangelism fire you up and make you think, ‘yep, I could do that’. This book went a bit further. I genuinely finished each chapter thinking, ‘yep, I want to do that’ – a subtle but important difference.
The book is a US product, but because Sam is an Australian, it doesn’t feel so far removed from UK culture as some books do. There’s also the attraction of an online course that is referenced throughout the book with resources from Zondervan Academic. I particularly liked this idea but grimaced at the cost. Access for the twelve modules would cost me $120.
So, for example, in the chapter on hermeneutics, there is an option to see ‘six examples of how to contextualise a message for a particular culture or community, watch the videos available at ZondervanAcademic.com’. I really wanted to see them but thought the asking price a little steep. That seems a shame because the idea is a great one, allowing a reading to go further in particular areas where they feel a certain weakness. I guess I will just have to digest all that I’ve read and do what I did with Granny’s compendium: go out and buy the longer version.
I wouldn’t like to give the impression that the book was ultimately frustrating however. It was not. It was ultimately useful and I’ve made a note over the summer to go back and read each chapter in isolation rather than trying to manage cover to cover without a break. That’s where it will be most useful.
As Ed Stetzer writes in his commendation: “helpful for all.”