Christianity is a proselytizing religion. Jesus commanded us to ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel. . .(Matthew 28:18-20). Moreover, if we really believe that the gospel is good news–that in Christ we have abundant life, everlasting peace, eternal salvation, and daily communion with God–then we ought to share this news with those around us. Unfortunately Christians like me who grew up in the church are sometimes embarrassed by the evangelism of the past several decades. Christians have come across as judgmental and only concerned with life after death. We have a reputation for telling others what we believe but being non-listeners and intolerant of their cherished beliefs.
Dale and Jonalyn Fincher have written Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk to help Christians share their faith in a winsome and inviting way. The Finchers have plenty of strong theological convictions about who Jesus is and what he came to do. They think we should be bold in our witness of Christ to others, but they don’t think that means we should be rude and intolerant. In fact, they suggest seven manners that ought to govern loving discourse (this is the subject of chapter two):
- Mutual Respect
- Step into the other person’s shoes
- Wrestle through ideas and difficulties for yourself (don’t just grin and believe it)
- Never judge a thing by its abuse ( don’t judge other religions, denominations, creeds, beliefs by hypocritical adherents).
- Update your opinions of others (allow for them to change their minds)
- Share your own personal experience
- Allow others to remain unconvinced (you don’t have to convert everybody!).
These seven manners pave the way for a fruitful dialogue with people of a variety of beliefs. What the Finchers offer in this book is not a formula for converting your friends, but game rules for sharing your faith without alienating everyone else. I know older evangelistic methods (Evangelism Explosion comes to mind), showed Christians how to steer the discussion to a gospel presentation. Certainly the Finchers give advice about not letting side details distract you, but there is no formula. They simply share their experience of sharing their faith (or talking about Spiritual things) with others.
The book is divided into three parts. In the first part the Finchers share about how to engage in spiritual small talk. This includes the ‘manners’ described above, but also avoiding phrases and attitudes that alienate others. Part two is about ‘restocking your (Evangelistic) tools. In this section the Pinchers talk about properly interpreting the Bible, retooling language that is lost on twentieth Century non-Christians, address where Jesus is misrepresented in New Age literature, and call into question the prevailing notion of tolerance and ‘thin secularism.’ The final section focuses on the conversation, and objections people have to religious belief. Some insurmountable mountains which impede people coming to faith, are actually distracting molehills (they are side issues). Some ‘molehills’ are highly significant for people (i.e. homosexuality, Christian hypocrisy). Other non-believers struggle to understand what Christians mean when they talk about spiritual things, or the historicity of the resurrection. The Finchers offer wise advice on how to answer various difficulties.
This is a good book about evangelism. It demystifies sharing your faith for the average Christian. This isn’t the first book to do this or the best but it avoids the pitfalls of evangelistic books which presents techniques for controlling the conversation. The Finchers are genuine disciples concerned about sharing their faith with others, but they also enjoy listening and hearing what they have to say. When they address thorny issues like evolution, they deflect the notion that believing in evolution makes you a secular materialist (some Christians believe in evolution). When they talk about homosexuality, they take a conservative, though humble stance. They value their gay friends and admit that they could be wrong in their interpretation, but they hold firm to their reading of scripture. There approach allows people to demur from their stance but still feel like having a conversation. Nowhere in their ‘method’ do they give you a strategy for getting others to pray the sinner’s prayer (or a one-size-fits-all spiritual diagnostic question). I liked this about their book.
Personally I felt their approach encouraging and loved that they spent some time discussing how to read the Bible well (with consideration of context, genre and historical setting). This helps them deflect some of the cultural pictures of Jesus and the Bible by delving into what the text actually says. A generous but biblically rooted apologetic is a better alternative to the tyranny of tolerance.
I give this book four stars. I received this book from Zondervan through SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.