Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult

Nick Pollard, 1997, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Reviewed by Simon Bell

 

I remember when evangelism was something like DIY.  In the era of Popular Mechanics and Popular Woodwork there were a whole series of books and manuals on “how to convert unbelievers”.  Being a product of that era - in terms of my approach to keeping my vehicle on the road, my house standing and my Christian faith dynamic - I accumulated a number of those more useful books.  But, like all DIY, one always lacked that professional edge that separated the jack-of-all-trades from the masters.

 

I guess one of the best texts of the time was Paul E. Little's How To Give Away Your Faith (another InterVarsity Publication).  While it ran within the DIY mould, it went beyond the norm by challenging Christians to be less mechanical in their approach and more relevant to their context.  In many regards it set a trend that was foundational to the `new' approach of friendship evangelism.

 

Nick Pollard's Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult is clearly of the new approach.  I was immediately warmed by his humanity in the opening chapter - yes, evangelism is frightening for many of us and the DIY version scared us witless.  The real emphasis of the book is based upon the premise that most of us try too hard.  That we think that if we had just the right approach and enough force (read assertiveness) we could be wonder-evangelists.  Pollard moves us beyond that mis-assumption to the idea that evangelism is about a prayerful approach to be relevant to people's lives in a manner that is not forced or mechanical.  Really that evangelism flows from our naturalness and humanity.

 

The book is rather cleverly divided into four sections:

 

1.       Helping people who don't seem interested;

2.       Helping people who want to find out about Jesus;

3.       Helping people with difficult questions;

4.       Helping people who want to become Christians. 

 

Pollard is working from the simple assumption that people are not all in the same place when it comes to the Christian faith. In a post-Christian era there are honestly people who are not interested in issues of faith in general and Christianity in particular; there are people who know nothing about the person and work of Christ; there are people who are interested, but have so many relevant questions that need to be dealt with before they will even consider becoming a Christian; and there are those who are simply just waiting to be told how to become a Christian.  By adopting this approach, Pollard is forcing the reader to recognise that people's views and place in life needs to be respected.  We need to recognise the humanity of others and commit ourselves to them irrespective of their views of our faith.

 

For me, at least, the first section of the book seemed the most useful.  In it Pollard has a brilliant discussion, in everyday terms, on post-modernism.  It is really a philosophical discussion on why people at the end of this century are not interested in Christianity.  The hub of the issue is relativism and the depreciation of Christianity in a global society.  Here Pollard does a systematic debunking of relativism and a well formulated defence of the Christian faith in a manner that removes the aura from philosophy and touches at the heart of people's understanding of reality .  In the process he reflects upon his own humanity and the simple fact that we all make mistakes.  His point being that evangelism involves our humanity and our willingness to be real - a point too often lost in the DIY approach.

 

The second section of the book has a very neat presentation of the Gospel that is contextualised in the full narrative of Scripture, rather than the usual collection of proof texts.  As Pollard notes, post-modern culture is far more orientated to narrative or stories, than it is to propositions (proof texts).  In order to effectively communicate the Gospel we need to begin to move into stories that are relevant to the types of questions people are asking.  It is actually a joy seeing this re-emphasis on narrative, because in a sense that is how most of Scripture is written and is primarily how Jesus communicated who He was.  Here Pollard's challenge to the reader is to become more focused on the story of people's lives and to learn to communicate the person of Jesus Christ through historical narrative.

 

Pollard starts the third section of his book by recognising that part of our modern society is geared towards debate and discussion.  Part of the impact of that shift has been the adoption of a more discursive approach to teaching (preaching).  The author then outlines a number of key principles for dealing with questions, many of which revolve around the issue of respecting other people's opinions and learning to be honest.  I think what Pollard has recognised, yet again, is that evangelism is about communicating Jesus Christ in a manner which recognises that we and our listeners are human.  I think that one of the useful aspects of this section for me was the emphasis on recognising people's rights to have questions answered in a manner which is truthful.  Too often I have seen evangelism `done' in a way that is blatantly disrespectful of where the listener is coming from and forceful in the manner in which the discussion is lead, to the extent where questions are constantly shelved as irrelevant.  We need to acknowledge that people have real questions that they want real answers to, even if the answer is `I don't know', if we want to win the right to be heard.  Pollard touches on the issues very well and communicates his point effectively.

 

Finally, in the fourth section of the book, Pollard discusses the nuts and bolts of leading someone through the process of making a Christian commitment.  Amazingly he starts with the simply question, "Do they really mean it?" and ends with some very practical advice that abounds with sensitivity and faith.

 

It is plain that the central assumptions of the text, honesty and humanity, have permeated all the way through to the end.  This is one of the most honest books I have ever read on evangelism, and definitely one of the most useful.  While it will be limited by history, in that post-modernism will pass as modernism did, it has a good collection of basic insights that will make it a worthwhile text for a long while yet.  My sense is that it makes a worthwhile replacement or companion of Paul E. Little's How To Give Away Your Faith as we come to the end of this Century, and builds upon all the good qualities of that book.  It strikes the balance between being so well written that it deserves to be used as a College text, and so effective in its communication that it is suitable for popular reading.

 

 

 

 

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