Introducing the 8/60 best books on the gospel. A 62-week long series.
That was the year that was published by . Today it is September 13, 2012. Forty-six years later the book is still in print.
And if the blurb on the front cover is true there over one million copies in print.
That’s substantial testament to the popularity of the book. A popularity that is bred by the books pragmatism–it’s simple and useful. Full of relevant illustrations.
No surprise the books original audience was college students, a skeptical bunch indeed.
The Birth of the Book
The material for the book comes from tapes secured by InterVarsity of Paul Little’s talks (who worked with IVP for twenty-five years). This was back in the day when your only equipment was reel-to-reel, so transcribing the tapes would be a Herculalean effort. But everyone involved couldn’t agree more that the task was worth it.
The book that I read was an editorial update by Marie Little, Paul’s wife (Paul died in a car accident in 1975). By editorial I mean she changed out-of-date illustrations to appeal to modern readers.
Disappointing, I say. Half the fun of reading an older book is stumbling across those artifacts from the past. Alas, all to make the book easier to read.
And that’s my main concern for this book. I won’t say complaint, because I don’t think that’s fair language to use. Let me explain what I mean.
The book opens by defining the modern adult in terms of his desires and fears. The goal is to establish a criterion on sharing the gospel with people to whom it will seem alien (we will get to this later).
And then we quickly launch into practical matters: who should you share the gospel with? The answer, start with your neighbor.
The book’s purpose can be summarized in this paragraph:
Unequivocally, it is when we get involved personally with others that our evangelism begins to take off. Unless we stop theorizing and reach out and knock on the neighbor’s door, we’ll never get to the real nuts and bolts of witnessing. Lifestyle evangelism begins with talking to people who in some way touch our lives. It is not a superficial, quick relationship or an overnight coup. It involves time and sacrifice, and most of all it involves giving ourselves.
I’m down with that. My default behavior is to theorize. And theorize some more. And then put off the “nuts and bolts of witnessing” for the next day. Tomorrow comes and we repeat the process.
This book was a real kick in the pants.
A Quick Story
I have a friend. A very good friend. A very good friend who I am insanely proud to know.
He is a humble man of humble means. But he is a witnessing warrior. Within days of the Spirit getting a hold of him (at Mardi Gras, nonetheless) he had canvassed his entire neighborhood. Thirty houses? Fifty?
In comparison. One year I vowed to share the gospel with all of my neighbors in my subdivision. I even shared this promise with my pastor and two friends, hoping that public commitment would drive me to see my goal to completion.
By September of that year I’d witnessed to one family (I use “witnessed” loosely). By October we bought a new house in another area–and (wiping brow) I was released from my vow. I was smart not to make the same promise.
My friend, however, he’s relentless. He shares the gospel with everyone he runs into. At the YMCA. On the phone. A stranger wandering down his street.
It doesn’t matter.
Me, I see my neighbor in his backyard watering a tree. I knock on the sliding glass door and wave. He doesn’t see me. I shrug and think it was just not meant to be.
Why Give Away Your Faith Is Useful
So, this is where a book like How to Give Away Your Faith comes in handy. It’s a manual for the effective ambassador. For the introverted witness.
Chapter titles like “How to Witness” and “Hurdling Social Barriers” with step-by-step instructions–establish common ground and have a good joke ready. I can use that.
In the chapter “What Is Our Message?” you are even given five of the most common ways to share the gospel (think Roman Road and Four-Steps to God).
Like I said: it is practical. And why it concerns me.
My Concerns with Give Away Your Faith
Above I used the term pragmatism. Most people know what that means. They think practicality. Here’s how I meant it:
a philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value.
The problem with practicality is that if something doesn’t work you change it. Change it so it does work. Stretch that meaning out and you get this: if something offends, change it.
For instance, I saw this in action during a conversation with some folks behind an initiative with a HUGE international CHRISTIAN organization. I questioned the absence of a clear gospel message on some of their audience-facing material.
An evangelist from another very large CHRISTIAN organization coached them to avoid a clear gospel message because they might run their target audience away.
*sprays screen with coffee*
Yes, we must be practical. We must be useful. But never at the expense of the gospel message. Never at the risk of warping the original into an imposter because it is alien to non-believers. And neither should we ever be afraid of that message.
Would Baxter’s messages look different today? Owen’s? Alleine’s? Spurgeon’s? Would they curb it to attract more listeners?
I don’t think so.
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