Evangelism In A Skeptical World – book review

It’s hard to find anyone in a Baptist church who doesn’t passionately believe in evangelism, and its equally hard to find a church that doesn’t have meaningful connections with their local community. Most churches I encounter invest significantly in community outreach and many church buildings serve as community hub. Despite this, it is easy to find people in churches who feel a sense of inadequacy when trying to relate the Gospel to others.

Churches have made giant leaps forward in stepping outside of the cocoon of church life and have plenty of meaningful connections and relationships outside the walls of the church. Despite these advances the many Christians have arguably become reticent to explain the gospel explicitly and call people to follow Jesus.

The cultural switch from modern to post-modern has made it even more complex for older believers (not so with millennials). Finding resources to help people negotiate the complex task of communicating the Gospel in various contexts can be hard. Into this mix comes Evangelism in a Skeptical World – How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable (Zondervan), by Sam Chan. Sam is a public evangelist with City Bible Forum based in Sydney, and a credentialed theologian with a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Sam’s book is essentially a text book for evangelism, and the best example of one I can remember. Before plunging into some practical chapters exploring various methodologies for contextual evangelism Chan first lays a theological foundation seeking to clarify exactly what we mean when we use the word ‘evangelism’. He explains and explores Kantian Noumenal-Phenomenal Divide (noumenal being the realm of God, ethics, values, and the phenomenal being the realm of facts, evidence, and data.)

This then provides the framework for Chan to examine how we cross the divide in evangelism in order to engage Postmoderns in conversations and enquiry around the noumenal realm. It’s not often that your everyday Australian will willingly initiate a conversation on matters spiritual, hence this book goes a long way in providing help to bridge that divide sensitively.

The book then moves on to explore ‘everyday evangelism’, namely that which you do with your friends and daily acquaintances. He then moves on to the theology and practicality of crafting a Gospel presentation (including some of the most popular methodologies), and then how to use metaphors contextually. Following from that he deals arguably with the most pressing questions that many churches have: how to present the gospel to Postmoderns.

The book also examines how to connect the Gospel with culture: “We find a neutral text and interpret it with the lenses of the gospel. And then we speak to the audience in their culture, using the language, idioms, and metaphors of their “cultural text”. Finally, we show them how Jesus fulfils their cultural storyline.”

Chan writes further:

“If we don’t use the language, idioms and metaphors of a person’s culture, then our message will be meaningless. But if we do use the language, idioms and metaphors of the person’s culture, we may be understood, but we also risk syncretism with their culture. I believe this is a risk work taking.”

Chan is of the view that “There is no form for presenting the gospel that hovers above a culture, devoid of culture. We have to pick a particular form that speaks to one culture, but may not be able to speak to another culture.”

Chan also explores storytelling the gospel and fleshes this out with examples, and also explores the methodology of giving evangelistic topical talks. This wouldn’t cut the mustard in plenty of church contexts so there is a chapter devoted to giving evangelistic expository talks. The final section of book turns towards apologetics and examining the reasons for disbelief and ways of addressing them.

As I said, the book is a text book, and it goes into great detail in each section, breaking down the theory and praxis advanced. You won’t get through this book in one setting, as each chapter is in depth and deserves much thought and processing before moving on. It is an excellent resource to give to people who are motivated to tell others about Jesus and would work very well as a small group resource, being discussed chapter by chapter.

The book won the top award in Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards in the Evangelism/Apologetics section. The book is listed on the site with this glowing reference:

“For every generation, or maybe even every decade, a book comes out that will become a standard reference for evangelism and apologetics. This book has the potential to become the leading manual for Christians engaged in outreach for many years to come. Chan discusses a wide set of issues ranging from the theology of evangelism to how to give evangelistic talks to the place of apologetics in evangelism, all geared to the mindset of our contemporary culture.” —Winfried Corduan, professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, Taylor University

I recommend any church investing in this resource. Some will no doubt want to pick a fight about the emphasis Chan places on the evangelism transaction occurring within the context of a relationship, or the minutia of his theology on what the gospel is. However, this the best evangelism text book I’ve come across and for an Australian audience it has the added bonus of being written by an Australian.

Sam authors an excellent blog called Espresso Theology which provides plenty of material showing how Sam uses pop culture topically to present the Gospel.

The book is also available in a DVD video resource that you can find here.

You can see Dominic Steele interview Sam Chan here.