By Randy Newman, Evangelism Coach for Christianity Explored
Whenever I present seminars on evangelism, I talk about the need for pre-evangelism. Most people look confused. What do I mean by pre-evangelism, they wonder, and why do I think it’s so necessary? Perhaps most importantly, they want to know how to do this pre-evangelism thing.
I can think of no one more able to help us with this crucial task than C. S. Lewis. So I wrote a whole book about it. I won’t share all that I put in that book in this article. Then you would wonder why I wrote a whole book if an article would suffice. Worse still, you wouldn’t buy the book!
But let’s address one aspect of Lewis’ approach to sharing faith: pre-evangelism. Lewis knew that people needed to wrestle with important issues about knowledge, faith, belief, and unsatisfied longings before the specific components of the gospel could make sense to them. That’s why he began his very first radio broadcast (which later became the material for his best selling Mere Christianity) with a discussion about “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.”
Most people have a sense of what we ought to do and ought not to do. If someone takes a seat we had reserved for ourselves, we appeal to some kind of outside, higher authority and say “Hey, that’s my seat.” And we expect people to know what we’re appealing to. Lewis believed that kind of conversation was necessary before taking the next steps toward evangelism.
At this point, I should define my terms. Evangelism is a very precise term for a very precise action. It is the verbal proclamation of the distinct message of the gospel – that God took the initiative to send his son to atone for sins so that anyone who responded to that gift could be made right with God – for this life and for all eternity. Evangelism must say these non-negotiable facts about God, people, Jesus, and a response.
Thus, anything that paves the way for evangelism could be considered pre-evangelism. This could include a sharing of one’s testimony, offering arguments in favor of belief in God’s existence, support for the historicity of the Bible, evidence for Jesus’ resurrection or a million other topics. Our goal eventually is to evangelize. But sometimes, paving the way for the gospel must precede that goal. I am confident that many people today don’t understand our gospel presentations because they simply can’t make sense of them. Their preconceived ideas about truth or assumptions about morality or dozens of other presuppositions make reception as unlikely as a deaf person appreciating Mozart.
Some Christians resist this idea of the need for pre-evangelism. They think we simply need to proclaim “the simple gospel” (although they seldom articulate what “the simple gospel” means or includes) and leave the results to God.
I like the “leaving the results to God” part but I can’t escape the numerous places where Jesus or Paul didn’t just preach “the simple gospel.” For example, Jesus talked for quite a while to the woman at the well about water, thirst, and her failed relationships before he got to the part about his Messiahship. And Paul orated for quite some time about epistemology (how we know anything) to the Stoics and Epicureans on Mars Hill before he got to the part about Jesus rising from the dead. We need to understand why Jesus and Paul (as well as others in the New Testament) did what they did and adapt their methods for our pre-evangelistic conversations today.
One way to start developing our pre-evangelistic muscles is to brainstorm topics that we could talk about with non-Christians. After digging into the topic itself, we can transition to how we think about it as a Christian. We can point to God’s fingerprints to things that people might think of only in non-spiritual terms.
For example, we can talk about our family and why loving relationships are so meaningful, powerful, and beautiful (when they work!). Then, we can talk about why it is that we are relational people. At some point, we can speculate that, perhaps, we were meant for relationships because we’re made by a relational God. We can also explore why relationships cause such trouble—a possible lead-in to the topic of sin.
Or we might talk about why we’re drawn to natural beauty or art or music or engaging stories or delicious food or countless other displays of God’s common grace (see Acts 14:8-18 to see how Paul used this tactic) and speculate that, perhaps, a good God who loves us gave us such delights to enjoy.
If this sounds a bit intimidating, remember that God chose to use a rather unlikely proclaimer of good news—an Oxford professor of antiquated literature, who thought his books would all be out of print within five years after his death—to lead countless skeptics (like me) to faith in the One who rose from the dead. If God can do that (both the using of Lewis and the raising of Jesus), he can use us in supernatural ways. Let’s trust him to use us as we take steps of “mere pre-evangelism.”
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Randy Newman is the Senior Fellow for Evangelism and Apologetics at The C. S. Lewis Institute and an Evangelism Coach for Christianity Explored. He and his wife live in Annandale, Virginia and love visiting their children and grandchildren scattered all around the country.