You Don’t Have To Be A Bad Evangelist! a book review

If you are like me, you have a lot of mixed feelings about evangelism. I mean, there is Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), So I guess I believe evangelism is really great, right?  But there is so much bad evangelism. I know, I’ve done my share of it. I’m really good at bad evangelism.

978-1-63146-856-8There are lots of things that make evangelism bad. Some evangelism is bad because people don’t hear good news from the evangelist. I remember once listening as an open-air-evangelist berated a passerby for wearing his baseball caps backwards, “Your hat’s on backward! You must have your head on backward, or you wouldn’t be sinning!” Needless to say, that guy didn’t hear the good news in that evangelist’s message. Other attempts at evangelization miss their mark because the message is irrelevant to the listeners or too full of religious-insider-jargon to make any sort of impact.

Matt Mikalatos wrote Good News For a Change to help those of us who struggle with evangelism talk to others about Jesus. The double entendre title speaks of both the way the good news has been complicated by bad evangelism and the good news of transformation available to those who come to faith in Jesus (sometimes in spite of our bad evangelism). Mikalatos is experienced at sharing his faith, whether it is by leading atheist Bible studies, or leading student outreaches with Cru (the artist formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), or through his imaginative writing. I first became aware of Mikalatos through his brilliantly funny Night of the Living Dead Christian and My Imaginary Jesus, and his modern retelling of Jesus’ parables in The First Time We Saw Him. He is an engaging and insightful author. In Good News, he turns his attention to helping the rest of us share the good news of Jesus, with imagination, verve, and whimsy.

This book is helpful in several ways. First, Mikalatos reminds us that the gospel is good news:

With the gospel, we need to get past the sales tactics and high-pressure techniques because we don’t need them. A well honed sales pitch reveals that we’ve forgotten the gospel is, at its core, good news. It was good news for us, and it’s good
news for the people with whom we’re sharing (xvii).

Because we have good news, we don’t need to rely on sales pitches and scripts. Instead, we can share with people the unchanging good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as well as our own personal good news— the ways that a relationship with Jesus has transformed our lives and given us hope.

But Mikalatos doesn’t stop there. Much of Good News For a Change is dedicated to dedicating to listening to others, even as we share our faith with them. This helps us describe how Jesus is good news for them. Mikalatos translates the gospel into Brony (the language of My Little Pony enthusiasts) and shares stories of conversations he’s had with Buddhists and door-to-door salespeople. But he also challenges us to craft messages that speak to people (communicate well, avoid jargon and live lives cognizant of the good news of God’s welcome in Christ and gives us some tips on how to engage in conversation those who are antagonistic to our faith. One of the greatest things about Mikalatos’s approach to evangelism is how attentive he is to the people he’s talking to. Bad evangelism is often bad because of how tone-deaf it is. Mikalatos helps us to speak in ways that are responsive and engaging.

This book is both entertaining and helpful. In the end, talking to others about Jesus is just bearing witness to the ways we’ve experienced life in Him. Mikalatos encourages us to share our experience of Christ, and listen for and connect with ways that the Spirit is already at work in their lives. This is helpful, and like Mikalatos other books, a fun read. I give it four stars. ★★★★

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Jesus Comes to Somewhere America: a book review

This isn’t the first time I have read a book by Matt Mikalatos. A few years ago, I read The Night of the Living Dead Christian, Mikalatos’s take on the monster novel genre. He humorously used werewolves, vampires, mad scientists, androids and zombies to talk about human sinfulness and our need for spiritual transformation (and its possibility). His first novel, (My) Imaginary Jesus, explored some of the false images of Jesus we Christians present. Mikalatos cast himself as a character in both novels. 

The First Time We Saw Him is not really fiction, but a series of fictionalized retellings of the gospel story with commentary from Mikalatos. Jesus’ life and parables are retold in modern idiom and set in a contemporary American setting. The ‘prodigal son’ goes to Hollywood. The ‘Good Samaritan’ finds a beat up, left for dread truck driver somewhere along the I-5 corridor. Many of the stories about Jesus are not tethered to a particular geographical locale in these narratives. Sometimes I wondered if Jesus lived somewhere near Portland (where Mikalatos lives). Though his death-by-lynching (the closest modern equivalent) may suggest somewhere south east of there. 

Mikalatos is not a character in these stories, though he does share some of his own story of discovering Jesus as he tells his tales. Beginning with Mary’s annunciation (Miryam) and ending with Jesus’ (Joshua’s) post resurrection appearances and ascension, Mikalatos highlights some favorite stories from Jesus life and teaching.  The beauty of this book is it helps us hear Jesus through passages we’ve stopped listening to because we are pretty sure we already know what they mean. Mikalatos helps pull the scales back from our eyes so we see how remarkable Jesus is. 

Certainly Mikalatos is not the first author to revamp the Jesus story. Beyond Jesus Christ Superstar, there are also some thoughtful books which retell the Jesus story. Notably, Clarence Jordon’s Cotton Patch New Testament  casts Jesus as a poor white boy from Valdosta, GA.  Joseph Grizone’s series of novels revolve around Joshua (a modern day Jesus).  Mikalatos’s own efforts do not attain to the level of ‘great literature’ but it is well written and will give you a new window of Jesus’ life. The crucifixion/lynching scene is gruesome and heart-rending. The post resurrection account retains the magic.

There is still a sense of Jesus being lost in translation.  The gospel accounts make allusions to God’s larger story. Placing Jesus in somewhere-in-America removes his particular character and life. This is where Mikalatos  own comments and encouragement to explore the Jesus story yourself remain important. I give this book four stars. 

Notice of material connection: I received this book free from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.