Review: Conversational Evangelism

Title of Work:

Conversational Evangelism

Author of Work:

Norman Geisler and David Geisler


Pastor David Scharf

Page Number:


Format Availability:

Paperback, Kindle



Conversational Evangelism Resize CoverNorman Geisler is Distinguished Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary, Murrieta, CA.  He is author or coauthor of some 70 books and hundreds of articles.  He has taught for nearly 50 years and has spoken or debated in all 50 states and in 25 countries.  David Geisler is the founder and president of Meekness and Truth Ministries, Charlotte, NC.  He has been involved in church or parachurch college ministry for close to 20 years.   

Questions are a powerful witnessing tool.  “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11).  “Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?” (John 7:23).  Jesus is a wonderful example of using the power of questions in witnessing.  “In fact, the Gospels record over 200 questions that Jesus asked.  He was a master at asking questions” (26).

This book instructs the Christian in asking questions to build a bridge to telling people about Jesus.  It is primarily an apologetic pre-evangelism book for those living in a post-modern world.  The premise of this approach is that “when we learn how to ask probing but nonthreatening questions, it allows others to surface the truth for themselves, rather than us trying to tell them what they should believe” (35).  The authors’ stated purpose of the book is this: “In many ways doing evangelism these days can be much like riding a roller coaster.  You don’t really want to do it, and you certainly don’t expect to enjoy it.  Worst of all, through the ups and downs, you always feel like you end up where you originally began.  But what if evangelism could be different?…What if it can be something you enjoy doing so much that you end up doing it every day for the rest of your life?” (13-14).

Evangelism is described as planting seeds of the Gospel, while pre-evangelism is described as “tilling the soil of people’s minds and hearts to help them be more willing to listen to the truth” (22).  The authors’ begin with reasons why pre-evangelism is so important in our post-modern world.  Post-moderns reject moral absolutes, are skeptical and indifferent toward the truth, and have an increasing intolerance toward those who believe in absolute truth.  The rest of the book follows the outline of the four types of conversational evangelism as defined by the authors: “Hearing Conversations, Illuminating Conversations, Uncovering Conversations, and Building Conversations” (32).

“Hearing Conversations” involve learning the role of the musician.  “As we listen to others, we want to hear the sour notes they sing to us…in our conversations with our nonbelieving friends, we may hear things that just do not sound right.  They may sound like sour notes” (48).  We must really hear where people are coming from and understand more clearly their perspective in order to engage them in “Illuminating Conversations,” or as the authors put it, learning the role of the artist.  “Like an artist, we want to paint a picture by using questions to help people see more clearly what they say they believe….so that they begin to see that something is not quite right about what they believe, and the truth is surfaced” (67).  The third step is to engage in “Uncovering Conversations” or learning the role of the archaeologist.  “Like an archaeologist, we want to carefully dig into people’s history to discover their real barriers and how they came to be on their current path” (89).  After listing that there can be intellectual, emotional, and spiritual barriers, the authors then take us to the final stage of “Building Conversations” or learning the role of the builder.  “As a builder, we want to build a bridge to the Gospel” (104).  The rest of the book focusses on helping us find common ground and attempting to see life from their perspective so that we can cross the bridge with the message of the Gospel.  The authors do a great job of illustrating how to cross that bridge in a practical way by covering the most common objections that we face as evangelists.

Overall, the authors accomplished their purpose of laying a groundwork for showing that pre-evangelism in our culture is necessary.  They also did a commendable job in laying out reasonable apologetic strategies and showed that this work is enjoyable and vital.  I appreciated their realism in saying that these approaches take time and practice!  “Pre-evangelism is more caught than taught.  As you practice pre-evangelism as a way of life, you will begin to ‘catch’ how to engage people in ways that lead to more fruitful discussions and greater opportunities for direct evangelism” (38).  In addition to a plethora of practical examples, there were many wise encouragements not just to focus on what to say, but how to say it: “We must not come across as know-it-alls, but as one beggar telling anther beggar where to find bread.  We need to learn how to give an answer with meekness and fear” (124).  The emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work was also evident: “You can lead a horse to water by pre-evangelism techniques, but only the Holy Spirit can persuade him to drink” (98).  I appreciated the many contemporary examples of mis-guided thinking that the pastor runs into on outreach calls today.

That being said, this book should be read with a discerning eye when it comes to repeated references to decision theology (e.g. 17, 96, 99, 154, etc.).  When it comes to the discussion of the relation between faith and reason in chapter 9, the authors make statements that make confessional Lutherans squirm and that betray a misunderstanding of the nature of faith, natural depravity, and how the Holy Spirit works. I was also overwhelmed by the number of lists of things that need to be kept in mind (e.g. “8 things to remember, 12 steps in an apologetic outline” etc.), though many of the things on the list are intuitive and become natural with practice.

In addition to being a good pastoral apologetic resource, I would recommend this book as an Evangelism committee or a Church Council study.  There are helpful appendices at the end of the book which help to give the reader practice in the principles laid out in the book as well as reflection and application questions at the end of each chapter which could be used in such a study.  This book is useful for every size congregation as well as for the individual.

If you enjoy apologetics, you’ll enjoy this book.  If you’re interested in a similar resource, I’d also recommend the book “Tactics” by Gregory Koukl.  I concur with Ravi Zacharias’ appraisal of the book: “Anyone who wants to do evangelism in this age of graduate-level skepticism without losing the simplicity and sublimity of the Gospel will find this book a treasure” (12).  God’s blessings as you reach out through the conversations you have!