Evangelism in a Skeptical World

Sam Chan: How to make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable

Evangelism in a Skeptical World
How to make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable

(Zondervan, 2018)

WHO: Sam Chan, a public evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia.

HE SAYS: “God uses all our natural, mundane, and ordinary presentations as the natural means for his supernatural regenerating work. This should keep us humble about our abilities, generous to those who use different methods, and encouraged that, if God wills it, he will use our words to move someone from death to life.”

THE BIG IDEA: Many methods of evangelism don’t work as effectively as they used to. This book combines the theological and biblical insights of classic evangelistic training with the latest insights on contextualization, cultural hermeneutics and storytelling.

This text gets down to the basics from the start, examining the definitions of “evangelism” and “gospel.” Sam then goes on to layout very detail strategies on everyday evangelism, how to craft a gospel presentation and how to reach out to our most-modern society.
In the next section, the author offers contextualization for evangelism, gospel/cultural hermeneutics and storytelling the gospel.
Sam wraps up by taking readers step-by-step through how to give evangelistic topical talks and expository talks and then examines religious epistemology, apologetics and defeater beliefs.
Each chapter concludes with a helpful summary paragraph that details the main points. Throughout the book are numerous illustrations, charts and web address to download helpful information.

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In your experience, are pastors open to exploring new forms of evangelism, or do they want to stick with tried and true methods?

I think that every pastor is excited about evangelism. It’s in their DNA. Most of my friends who went into ministry did so because it would give them more opportunities to tell the good news about Jesus.

I suspect, then, that most pastors welcome opportunities to explore new forms of evangelism. We recognize that we’ve been given the timeless truths of the gospel, but at the same time, the world that we’re speaking to has changed. Methods that once worked well, say, 10 or 20 years ago, just don’t seem to have the same traction anymore.

But at the same time, it’s normal in our human nature to feel threatened by change. Change means more things to learn, try out, and possibly fail at. Or we might feel that change implies that we ourselves, and methods that we were once good at, are no longer so relevant.

Or, worse, we might confuse our old methods with the gospel message itself. In doing so, we not only miss out on trying out new methods that might have more traction, but we also confuse the method with the message, the form with the content, and orthopraxy with orthodoxy.

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Instead, we ought to see our ever-changing world, not as a threat to evangelism, but as an opportunity to explore new and exciting forms of evangelism.

Describe the role community plays in determining what we believe is true.

Whether we like it or not, we believe what our community believes. In other words, we adopt the “plausibility structures” of our community—i.e., friends and family that we know and trust.

For example, when my wife and I chose to name our child Cooper—we found out later that Cooper was a top 10 name for babies in our state. We thought that we were being unique, trendy and cutting-edge. But we were just doing what everyone else in the community was doing.

In contrast, facts, evidence, and data play only a small role in determining what we believe to be true. Instead, our “plausibility structures” will trump the evidence. Our plausibility structures determine how we interpret and explain (or explain away!) the evidence.

For example, if I told you a real UFO was in my backyard right now, most of you would not believe me, because no-one in your community believes in UFOs. And if you came to see the UFO in my backyard, your plausibility structures—which say that there are no such things as UFOs—would explain away what you can see and touch.

It’s the same with the gospel story of Jesus. Many of us believe this story because we belong in a community that also believes this story. But many of our friends won’t believe in Jesus, despite the evidence, because they belong in a community that doesn’t believe the story about Jesus.

So, if we want to evangelise our friends, we need to merge our universes—i.e., form new communities, where our non-Christian friends get to meet and become friends with our Christian friends. That way the gospel story won’t just be true, but also believable.

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That means, evangelism is not an individual task. We need to do it as communities. And we need to make it a lifestyle change. It’s not an event or task that we add to our life. Evangelism is something our life becomes, rather than something that we do.

This is what Paul talks about when he says to the Thessalonians, “You know how we [plural!] lived among you” (1 Thess. 1:5). Notice it’s Paul, not as individual, but as a community; and it was a lifestyle as well as an activity.

What advice would you give pastors trying to equip their congregations to share the gospel?

Begin with asking our congregations to experiment in creative ways to do hospitality.

I had never noticed roof racks until now. Growing up as an Asian kid, my parents didn’t have roof racks because they didn’t surf or go camping! But now that I’ve bought roof racks for myself, I notice that they are everywhere.

It’s the same with hospitality. Hospitality is everywhere in the New Testament. We’ve concentrated for a long time on “word gifts,” such as teaching and evangelism, but we’ve neglected hospitality, which provides the space for evangelism to happen.

But Jesus was always eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. And it’s time that we opened up our homes to our non-Christian friends. If we eat and drink with them, we provide the private and safe spaces where conversations about values and worldviews will eventually occur.

And when gospel conversations do occur, we can explore other biblical metaphors for sin and salvation.

For example, I’ve started using the metaphors of shame and honour. If I speak at a high school campus and tell them that they have disobeyed God’s laws and that they need to ask for forgiveness, they just roll their eyes and think, “Here we go again.”

But if I say to them, “There’s a God who loves you and made you, and he has given us good things to enjoy, but we don’t worship him. We don’t honor God the way we should. We have shamed him.”

Suddenly they get it. Somehow shame and honour have traction in our postmodern world, and maybe it’s something we can easily adopt in our evangelism.