There was a time when “evangelism” was all about getting some certain information across to people. It was the era of the tract – thrusting a message into people’s hands, or calling to them from a soap-box. In reaction to this, for the last two decades Christians have paid much more attention to building relationships, to incarnation (living in among), to demonstrating the gospel. If I hear Francis of Assisi’s quote “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and only use words if necessary” one more time … I’m going to tell the quoter to stop using words and go into a different part of the world.
Our reaction has become an over-reaction. Evangelism has almost become anything but putting a message across. We’ve become great at building relational and community connections, but never been worse at getting the message of the gospel across. I know it’s very difficult. Talking about Jesus is a taboo in our culture. It’s far more acceptable to talk about your sex life that to talk about your religion. But nevertheless, the gospel does remain “news”. It is information. More to the point, it’s an invitation. And as long as we simply hang out with and love and understand people, and keep the invitation to ourselves, we are doing less than evangelism. Jesus put it quite clearly: “If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9)
Given this very challenging task, it surprises me that we neglect a fantastic method for communicating the gospel: Literature evangelism. I’m not so much meaning tracts, I meaning books (and video and web resources).
Often we feel like we have to be the ones who communicate the message. And it’s important to be basically equipped to do so – to know how to share the elements of the gospel, your own testimony, and an invitation to someone to receive Christ. There are methods such as Two Ways to Live, Bridge to Life, etc, that help with this. But in our Jesus-taboo culture, and in the 60-second window I get with a person that open or interested, why would I try to sketch Two Ways to Live on a serviette when I could put a great Christian book in a person’s hand and say, “You might find this very interesting!”
There are a lot of advantages to this method: Firstly, unless I’m a very gifted evangelist, my gospel summary isn’t likely to match C.S. Lewis’, a master Christian communicator. Secondly, instead of 60 seconds with me, they spend 6 hours with C.S. Lewis. That’s a whole lot more information that gets across. And thirdly, it allows me to be a “third-person” in processing their response to the book. I can say, “What did you think of that?” and their objections will be with C.S. Lewis, not me directly. This makes an ongoing dialogue about the gospel far more likely.
It makes a lot of sense to read these yourself, and make use of occasional specials to stock up and keep a supply handy! Good books to give away include:
C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity (now a little dated, still good for modernists)
Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (great for post-modernists) a movie is in production
Francis Chan’s Crazy Love
Tom Wright’s Simply Christian (for thinkers)
What others have you found useful? And what has been your experience of literature evangelism?