Have you ever noticed that very often Jesus answered a question with a question? A rich young man came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18) The chief priests and teachers of the law came to Jesus and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2). Jesus answered, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism, was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Luke 20:3-4).
In his book, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did, Randy Newman takes this method of Jesus and applies it to evangelism. He’s not questioning evangelism at all! He’s very much in favor of it. His thesis is that when people ask us questions about Christianity, it is sometimes better to answer with a question. This is a good method to use when a person’s question is not really a question but rather an attack. For example, Newman tells the story of some non-Christians who came to his Bible study and rather aggressively asked, “So, I suppose you think all those sincere followers of other religions are going to hell!” Newman responded, “Do you believe in hell?” One of them responded, “Well, I do believe in hell. Do you think everyone who disagrees with you is going there?” Newman responded, “Do you think anyone is going to hell? Is Hitler in hell?” “Of course, Hitler’s in hell.” Newman then responded, “How do you think God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Does he grade on a curve?” (28). Newman concludes, “From there, the discussion became civil for the first time, and serious interaction about God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ atoning work ensued” (28).
This method might be fruitful with people who have turned away from Christianity because of the problem of evil in the world. For example, if someone says that they don’t believe in Christianity because a good God would not allow evil, you could ask, “What’s your atheistic explanation for the problem of evil?” (119). You could then admit that the Bible does not give us all the answers for the problem of evil, but it does give us some answers.
Of course, there are pitfalls to this method. The point of such questions is not to win an argument or to say “Gottcha!” Newman recognizes this. He emphasizes that the questions are not to be asked with sarcasm (59). The point is not to get into arguments but to engage in dialogue and pave the way for the proclamation of the Gospel.
Newman also recognizes that rational arguments will not convert people. Newman writes, “Paul and Jesus also grasped the real nature of unbelief. People do not reject the gospel primarily because they’re too thickheaded to ‘get it.’ Unbelief grows out of other soils besides intellectual confusion. Instead, people reject the Good News because they are enslaved to other kinds of news. They are in love with something unworthy of such devotion, and it won’t let them go” (216). These questions, then, do not replace the supernatural work of God when he changes people’s hearts through the Spirit to rescue them from the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of his Son (Colossians 1:13). Instead, these questions clear away superficial barriers so that the word can be proclaimed.
The book contains sample dialogues on topics such as biblical authority, homosexuality, marriage, and hypocrisy in the church. This is a very practical book which is well worth owning and reading for Christians of all ages. Newman presents important questions, some that Christians might have, some unbelievers might have. How might we talk through these matters with patience and wisdom? There’s much apologetic value to this, especially as Christians deal with a world increasingly hostile to faithful biblical teaching. This volume could serve as a good addition to a church library or for those with a special interest in engaging others with Scripture. It encourages all of us to have a heart of unconditional love toward others–just like the Master Teacher himself!
Randy Newman spent many years working with Campus Crusade. He has taught many seminars on personal evangelism. His other books include Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues About God and Life, and Bringing the Gospel Home. His website is www.randydavidnewman.com.