Randy Newman


Randy Newman

Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. He ministers on campuses and elsewhere in our nation's capital to students, professors and policy shapers. He is an honors graduate from Temple University and has a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is also engaged in doctoral studies. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and the books Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues about God and Life, both published by Kregel Publications, and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, forthcoming from Crossway.

To find out more, visit his blog, Connection Points.

Evangelism: When “Bad Efforts” Produce Good Results

As I interviewed the new converts for my research, I frequently found myself marveling at what “worked” in the evangelistic efforts to reach them. Some things should not have worked. Some lines were too corny or too blunt or too poorly worded for God to use. I’m speaking tongue in cheek, of course, but I did find myself wondering how such bad efforts could have such good results.

One young woman told me of her next door neighbor inviting her to a Bible study even though they hardly knew each other, did not share much in common, were of different ages, and did not first engage in light conversation. She was standing outside smoking a cigarette when her neighbor came out of her house, walked up to her and said, “Would you like to come to a Bible study?”

I asked, “Were those really the first words she said? Didn’t she first ask how you were doing or say what a nice day it was.”

“Nope. She just asked if I’d like to come to a Bible study.”

“How did she ask that?” I inquired. “Did she describe it as anything other than a Bible study? Did she call it something like a ‘discussion group’ or a ‘time when we get to know each other’ or a ‘safe place to discuss spiritual things’ or anything like that?”

“Nope. She said these exact words: ‘Would you like to come to a Bible study?’”

I thought “that shouldn’t have worked!” I didn’t say that to her. Instead I asked, “What did you say?”

“I said, ‘I would love to come to a Bible study’” and smiled as she remembered the moment.

I said, “Did you really say ‘loved’ – ‘I would love to come to a Bible study?’”

“Yep.”

“Why did you say that?”

“Because nothing else in my life was working. I had been reading the Bible on my own for over a year and I couldn’t figure it out. I figured a Bible study could probably help.”

Again, I thought about all the “research” I had read insisting we need to establish “trust” or “build friendships” or “earn the right to be heard” before sharing the gospel or doing something as direct as inviting someone to a Bible study. I thought such a blunt approach couldn’t possibly work.

But then I remembered that conversion is a miracle. Jesus said, “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). And Paul said that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins… but… God… made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:1–5). In other words, every time anyone comes to saving faith it’s a miracle! It requires God to do the impossible—raise the dead. When we meet someone who has come to faith, we know something supernatural has transpired before our first interaction with them.

Lesson 10 – Evangelism is a beautiful interweaving of human effort and divine miracle.

There’s something tremendously liberating about this, isn’t there? When we step out and ask God to use us in the spreading of his gospel, we use all the intellectual capacity we have, seek diligently to listen carefully, draw upon all our knowledge and wisdom to answer questions, and plead earnestly for people to understand what we’re saying so they can respond well.

We also get a front row seat to watch God do what only he can do—open blind eyes, soften hardened hearts, and make dead people come to life.

Please hear me carefully. I’m not saying we should be rude or insensitive or uncaring as we reach out to people. In most cases, developing friendships or building trust or getting to know a lot about people does pave the way for proclaiming the gospel. And there must be some unwise things we should not say or Paul wouldn’t have told us to “be wise in the way [we] act toward outsiders” and “let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:5–6).

But we also need to remember that we’re not alone in the evangelistic process. God superintends, intervenes, and translates our words and actions and uses them in ways we could never orchestrate, predict, or arrange. Let’s step out in faith and ask God to use us as part of his doing his impossible work. And let us marvel at the wonders he creates along the way.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


What Role Does Technology Play in Evangelism?

Does technology play a part in people’s conversions? That was a question I sought to answer in my research. But finding answers to that question isn’t as simple as asking, “Did technology play a part in your conversion?” I wish you could have seen the puzzled looks the students gave when I asked that. The silent stares were as loud as shouts.

Even when I elaborated with, “Did you read anything on the Internet or interact with people through email or Facebook or have any conversations through texting?” they said very little.

I do think technology plays a large role in all of our lives today and that must have an effect in journeys to faith. But that’s not really saying much. I could just as easily say that words play a big part in people’s conversions. The students I talked to interact with each other in a wide variety of ways—through face-to face-conversations, phones, Facebook, texts, tweets, emails, and probably other ways that I don’t know about. Here’s the key: I don’t think they make any distinction between the different vehicles of communication.

Students would tell me they “talked to” someone, and when I asked if that was “in person” or “through technology,” they couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter to them, and I wonder if it should matter to us.

Lesson 9 – Technology plays a part in evangelism but not as big a part as some might think.

Some may suspect that technology has harmful “unintended consequences” like deteriorating attention spans or declining compassion or loss of social skills. That may be true, but I’m not as negative about technology as some people are. To be sure, there may be some loss of interpersonal connection or abilities to think deeply about complex issues. (Once again, I hide behind that favorite line of researchers: “My findings are inconclusive.”)

But I also heard from the students about how great it is that “I always have my Bible with me on my phone” or “I googled that question and found some really great answers” or “I didn’t have to wait until the next fellowship meeting to find out how Christianity compares with Islam. I just went online and found a ton about that topic.”

I know. The Internet is full of crazy stuff, too. But I’m still on the “pro” side of technology because of the large volume of answers, the ability to connect with others who have similar struggles, and the ease of doing research on very deep levels. Technology may erode attention spans, but I didn’t see much evidence for that when I talked for almost an hour with thoughtful students.

Tweets may limit statements to 140 characters, but I met a lot of students who wrestled deeply with difficult issues. “Facebook may be making us lonely” and “Google may be making us stoopid” but when students meet with each other in Bible studies or hear God’s word preached in church or at conferences, their minds kick into gear appropriately.

I do think all of us should “take a fast” from technology on a regular basis or develop the discipline to keep our phones in our pockets when having face-to-face conversations or evaluate if we’re spending too much time watching mind-numbing television or consider if we’re being shaped by immoral images or challenge ourselves to read more demanding books. But I’ll save those suggestions for another blog.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


How Unasked Questions Keep People from Christ

Lesson 7 from my research was “There’s far more to evangelism than just providing answers to questions.” Lesson 8 explores why that is so. In some instances, the question asked is not the real question. There may be more substantive or more pressing questions behind the one that comes out of someone’s mouth. In fact, I think we would be wise to assume that is often the case.

Lesson 8 – Unasked questions may be more important than asked ones.

My conversation with Lawrence illustrates this point. Lawrence was a very intelligent, double major in his senior year at an academically rigorous university. He had left behind any interest in or respect for religion after graduating from high school. The faith of his mother was superstitious, weird, anti-intellectual nonsense that no thinking person should consider for more than a passing moment. Or so he said.

During his sophomore year he was invited to an event sponsored by a Christian organization on campus. Some intelligent guy was going to field questions from the audience—questions that had anything to do with God, religion, or faith. Lawrence decided to go for three reasons: 1) The girl who invited him was good looking. 2) There was going to be pizza. 3) He was sure he could stump the speaker.

After a short presentation by the speaker, Lawrence asked, “What about aliens?” The speaker asked for a bit of elaboration. Lawrence explained, “Doesn’t it destroy your whole religion if there are aliens on other planets? I mean, how do they get to know God where they are?”

The speaker probably could have attacked Lawrence for his lack of sincerity or offered an answer about God providing other revelations besides the Bible for other planets. He chose instead to say, “I really don’t know much about aliens. I’m sorry. I’m not the best one to talk about aliens.” But then he wisely added, “What I do know is that God gave our planet the Bible, and I think you might want to go to the 6-week Bible study of the Gospel of Mark that we’re starting next week.”

Lawrence decided to do just that, albeit with his attitude of “I can outsmart anyone” firmly in place.

When I asked him if there were any major questions he had during that 6-week process, he thought for a minute and then said, “Yeah. You remember that story where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs? Whatsupwiththat?”

I laughed and he did, too. I followed up with, “Did you ask the Bible study leader that question?”

“Yeah, I did. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m not sure.’”

I interrupted. “Was that bad that he said that?”

“No. Not at all. In fact, I thought it showed some humility. I liked that.”

“Ok,” I said. “Did he ever offer an answer?”

“Yes. He said, ‘First, I think the story teaches us not to mess with demons. They must be pretty evil beings, and we shouldn’t just laugh them off. The second thing is this: There must be a big difference between being a pig and being a person.”

I thought that was a pretty good answer—not award winning or tremendously compelling but not bad. I asked Lawrence if that was satisfying to him.

“Yeah. Actually, it was. But you have to remember my background. I grew up going to a church where they told me not to ask questions. ‘Just believe in Jesus, and you won’t have any more questions’ was kind of what they told me. And I always thought that was stupid. But when this guy answered my question about the pigs, I figured, there probably are answers to a lot of my questions, and it’s not bad to ask them.”

I was intrigued. I asked him if he then asked some of those other questions, and he said he didn’t. It was enough to know that some people respected his questions and there probably are answers for whenever he wanted to get around to asking them.

Two things stand out to me: The respect for the question and the respect for the questioner. To be sure, some questions are insincere, and we should identify them as such. But in a lot of cases, we would be wise to:

  • Treat the questioner kindly, regardless of the depth or sincerity of the question.
  • Admit when we don’t know the answer. Offering to think further or do research to find answers shows respect as well as humility.
  • Consider that offering an answer to the stated question may indirectly provide answers to many other questions or set people free to explore topics they’ve long neglected.

All this requires discernment, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading, concern for people, and careful listening. Evangelism involves far more than conveying the content of the gospel, providing answers, and asking for decisions. It is at least all of those. But it’s also a lot more.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Finding Faith before Finding Answers

My research about how college students become Christians included some investigation of their questions. What intellectual obstacles did they have to overcome before embracing the gospel? Were there frequently asked questions that Christian apologists should move to the top of their lists of roadblocks to belief?

This touches upon numerous debates about the role of apologetics in evangelism. Do “answers” really help people move from darkness to light? Aren’t we assuming a level of intellectual strength which conflicts with a belief in total depravity? Isn’t apologetics for believers, not for outsiders?

If I’ve gotten your hopes up for a resolution for these debates, I’m about to dash them. “My research is inconclusive for a satisfactory answer to those questions.” (That’s a line that many researchers hide behind, and I’m inclined to join them there. Sorry).

Here’s what I did find: Quite a few people did have questions they felt they needed to have answered and, when they heard a substantial answer, they moved quickly to a point of conversion. Almost as many people voiced a question they thought prevented them from believing, but somehow they came to faith without getting a satisfactory answer. In other words, they converted before getting answers or without getting answers.

It is this second group that intrigues me. In fact, as I reflect upon my own conversion, I believe the problem of evil (“Why did the guy down the hall from me fall to his death in a horrific accident?”) was the biggest obstacle to receiving the offer of salvation in the Messiah. But I came to faith without getting a satisfying answer. In fact, to this day, I still struggle with that issue—but as an insider of the family of God, not as an outsider.

 Lesson 6 – There’s far more to evangelism than just providing answers to questions.

I don’t think the questions people voiced were mere smokescreens. They were sincere in their request for answers. So I don’t want to dismiss all questions in that way. Nor do I want to see the task of answering questions as absolutely crucial for conversion to occur. The process is more elaborate and people are more complex.

A recurring theme I heard was that people sometimes just need to know that there are answers that others have found convincing. Or, looking from another angle, some people needed to see that Christians had considered these questions before and were not morons. Sometimes the shocking realization that Christians have tackled the very same question that seemed insurmountable to the inquirer was all they needed to cross from doubt to belief. For some, the realization that answers existed served like the breaking of a dam that allowed a flood of faith to wash over them.

What are some lessons we can apply to our evangelistic efforts?

  • We must equip ourselves with answers. We’re told that we need to “know how [we] should respond to each person” (Col 4:6). There’s no substitute for “being ready to make a defense” (1 Peter 3:15).
  • We should dialogue with people to find out their motive for asking. And we should try to discern the level and type of emotion behind their words. Some questions are attacks. Some are sincere. Some are merely curiosities. Some are packed with pain. I tried to address these dynamics in my books Questioning Evangelism and Bringing the Gospel Home.
  • We should not be afraid to urge people to embrace belief even without answers to all their questions. This requires balance and discernment on our part. On the one hand, we should not be dismissive of their questions, assuming they are all smokescreens. On the other hand, we need to remember that conversion is more than a cognitive experience.

So, keep reading your apologetics books and prepare yourself to answer questions. But remember that those evangelistic conversations take place under the sovereign hand of a saving God who works in powerful ways that transcend the question-and-answer exchange.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Weaving Evangelism into Small Groups

These blog posts center around the notion of “integration.” When I call myself an integrationist, I mean that I look for wholeness and seamlessness in all of life. One area where compartmentalizing (the opposite of integration) has hurt the church is the isolation of evangelism. Outreach has often been seen as a separate or unusual “program” in the church rather than a core component of its existence.

The recent coining of the word missional to urge churches and other ministries to pursue a more outward face shows the need for weaving evangelism into the regular life of a church or ministry rather than viewing it as an appendage.

One idea I would like to propose is the weaving of evangelism into the small group structure of a church or ministry. Small group emphasis is nothing new and something to be appreciated and emphasized. It is within the small circle of close-knit brothers and sisters that spiritual growth, supportive prayer, and rigorous Bible study can and does occur.

Why not have these very groups also serve as the encouragement and strengthening sources for personal evangelism?

Here’s how it can work:

In any small group, one person will serve as an “evangelism advocate.” (It is best if this person were not someone with the gift of evangelism. Those people tend to make all the non-evangelists in the group just feel guilty). The evangelism advocate is the one who makes sure that personal evangelism by all the individual members does not get ignored. They make sure, when people share prayer requests, that intercession for witnessing gets included. They also check up on what people shared in previous gatherings.

So, for example, the evangelism advocate could say things like this:

“Fred, you mentioned last time that you were hoping to bring up the topic of spiritual things with your co-worker Jack. How’d that go?”

“Doris, you asked us to pray that you’d get up the nerve to give your sister a copy of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. Any news?”

“Joe, you asked us to pray for your time with your next-door neighbor on that fishing trip. What did you find out about his level of spiritual hunger?”

“Sue, we prayed last time, that your ongoing conversation with your boss could turn to spiritual topics. How should we pray tonight?”

The result could be that people would see their evangelistic efforts are part and parcel of their spiritual well-being as much as their Bible reading, prayer lives, resisting temptation, and all other components that often get discussed in small group. They would also see that evangelism is a process that needs ongoing tending and, often, some prodding.

I think it’s worth a try.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Lament for the Loss of My Dad

I was driving in my neighborhood recently when I saw a car with some very unusual wheels. I’d never seen such odd shaped tires or such strange connections between wheels and chassis. I thought, “I should call my dad and see if he’s ever seen such a thing.” My father had a long career as an automobile mechanic and loved to talk about cars. He would know what I was looking at and could explain the physics, logistics, and cost of using those kinds of tires.

But I caught myself and realized I could not call my dad. He had died the week before.

A flood of tears clouded my vision and prompted me to pull over to the side of the road to allow the emotions to take their time to wash over me. I’ve decided to not see sorrow or grief as things to avoid. Instead, I want to view them as precious. They show me just how strong a bond I had with my father, how beautiful the ties of family can be, and how full our lives can be as we appreciate all the emotions involved.

My dad was 90 when he passed from this life. I am comforted beyond expression that he came to faith in Yeshua as Messiah late in life. In fact, he may have been past 80 before he came to that realization. He lived a long full life and breathed his last breath with minimal suffering. The fact that the Lord took him so gently and quickly continues to bring a certain kind of bittersweet joy to me and the rest of my immediate family.

I find myself feeling flooded these days – flooded by a wide range of emotions, flooded by so many memories (some which make me smile and some which make me reach for the tissues), and flooded by thoughts of what this experience of grief is all about.

There are so many things I could say. I could recount his life as a survivor of a dysfunctional family long before the word dysfunctional became a cliché. I could retell of his heroism in World War II or his long (66 years!) steadfast marriage to my mom. I could tell you stories of how my dad loved to laugh. (And I bet you’d start laughing when you heard them). Or I could tell you the beautiful story of how, after so many, many years of being angry at God because of all the evil things he had seen in his life, he came to faith in the Savior and saw God transform him into a kinder, happier man who admitted he did not know everything and, more remarkably, he no longer needed to.

But, instead, I want to focus on the unique dynamics of being an adult man who loses his father. I sometimes think we reduce death down to common denominators and, in the process, fail to grieve purposefully. Some non-Christians try to diminish a full appreciation of death because it’s just so hopeless and sad. If I did not have the hope of the gospel, I certainly would avoid the topic of death as much as I could. Some Christians also diminish the complexity and richness of the reality of death by merely wanting to know if the person was “saved.” If so, “there’s nothing to worry about.” On some level, that’s true but it fails to consider the complex nature of being human. (Why would the Bible have so many lament psalms and lengthy descriptions of the pain of losing someone to death if “all that matters” is whether someone is in heaven or hell?)

I’ve been greatly helped by grief counselor Helen Fitzgerald’s The Mourning Handbook. What a great collection of practical suggestions Fitzgerald has compiled for anyone facing the loss of someone they knew and loved.

The most helpful chapter for me was the one entitled, “Differences that Matter” where she shines a light on the distinct experiences of death in a wide variety of situations – loss of a child, sibling, parent, friend, etc. whether suddenly, after a prolonged illness, and so many other variables. Sadly, she admits, “little has been written on adult child grief,” the very experience I currently wade through.

Fitzgerald primed the pump for me by considering that when a grown adult loses a parent, several factors could be in play:

-       It feels like the loss of your childhood. “Who else cares that you teethed on a certain chair in your home except your mom or your dad” (p. 143). In my case, I could ask, “Who else wants to know what kind of car I rented recently when I was out of town or who else wants to discuss how smooth the ride was?”

-       It is the loss of unconditional love. “Parents often provide a kind of love that is not duplicated elsewhere in our lives.” (143). Even if there are some sources of unconditional love, they’re not the same or as lifelong as what we receive from a parent. Of course, no parent provides such “unconditional” love all the time. But if there ever has been someone “always on my side” caring deeply about every detail of my life (even to the point of asking how my gas mileage has been), it was my father.

-       It can feel like “the loss of a certain sense of security.” I find myself envisioning a roof being lifted off of me. I’ve moved to the top floor of some building and discovered there’s no protection from the outside world. I’m now “the oldest generation” to a certain extent.

I could go on. And, in fact, I will – but not in a blog. Some processing needs to be as private and as individual as the loss it’s grieving. I still want to dig into the distinct issues related to being a man who loses his father, a music lover who grows in appreciation for a father who always had music on in the background, and someone who loves to laugh for more reasons than finding some things funny. And I’d really like to figure out what kind of tires that car had.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Reaching out in a Morally Confused World

Ten years ago, sociologist Christian Smith coined the now famous phrase “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” (MTD) to summarize the prevailing worldview of today’s youth. He first attached this description to high school students, ages 13–17, interviewed by his team of researchers from 2001 to 2005. His findings are reported and interpreted well in his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Four years later, he reported about follow-up interviews with some of those same students in Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. In that second work, he stated, “MTD is still alive and well among 18- to 23-year old American youth” (Souls in Transition, 155).

When I interviewed 40 college students who had recently come to saving faith, I specifically looked for evidence of MTD in the testimonies I heard. Would these college students’ stories still echo the themes Smith reported almost ten years earlier?

The short answer is “Not really.”

Here’s a longer answer.

Lesson 6 of my 21 Evangelism Lessons:

We need to treat individual people as individuals and resist the pull to treat them all the same.

Smith summarized the “creed” of MTD as “something like this:”

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die. (Soul Searching, 162–163).

Here are some of my thoughts about Smith’s five points. I’ll use letters instead of numbers because I am not making a point-by-point response.

A. Smith’s summary is too monolithic. Some of the students I talked to would affirm some, but not all, of the points above. Some have not thought as clearly as even these rather vague statements would imply.

B. Smith’s statements are either too simplistic or too complex, depending on whom you talk to. Several students believed that life was about far more than just “being happy and to feel good about oneself.” Some might even be offended if their views about God were summed up by Smith’s statement #2. But others were just confused and very frustrated with that.

C. Smith’s statements seem to imply settled conviction and relative happiness. I didn’t hear that from too many of the students I talked to. When they described their “faith” before becoming Christians, they showed a kind of paralysis in making thoughtful decisions about anything serious. Our culture’s drumbeat of open-mindedness has actually produced shallow thoughtlessness.

People who do research in the social sciences often confess that summarized descriptions of many people describe no one in particular. The very act of making a conglomerate description of different people’s experiences can distort or water down our understanding of those experiences.

It’s like the joke of the biologist, physicist, and statistician who went deer hunting. The biologist shot and missed the deer by 5 feet to the left. The physicist shot and missed the deer by 5 feet to the right. The statistician stood up and cheered, “We got him!”

If someone asked me to summarize today’s college students’ worldview, I would try as desperately as I could to decline the request. If pushed to support or reject Smith’s MTD slogan, I’d say that today’s students are moralistically inconsistent, therapeutically confused, and religiously so relativistic as to be hopelessly vague—and so indoctrinated in the importance of so-called “tolerance” as to be incapacitated to make logical decisions about faith. Thus, they are starved for a message that has any substance whatsoever and may be remarkably open to the gospel!

In other words, we need to be very good listeners who resist the temptation to pigeonhole people into neat acrostics of summaries of belief.

Some may hear about MTD and despair at how far we have fallen from a Biblical worldview. That would certainly be understandable. But that very same fall, I believe and pray, may set God’s people up to proclaim good news to people who will respond like parched mouths longing for springs water that well up to eternal life.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Evangelizing in a World Drowning in Sexual Problems

When people ask me what major lessons I learned while conducting interviews of new converts, my first thoughts go to the reality of pain. Many of these students talked about struggles, hurts, and wounds. And most of those difficulties pointed to sex. This generation has a lot of sex, watches a lot of porn, experiences a horrific amount of abuse, and can’t quite figure out how to think about this ever-present-but-seldom-joyous issue of sex.

Lesson 5 of my 21 evangelism lessons:

Evangelism today occurs in a world that is drowning in sexual problems, misunderstandings, and a hardening against the gospel as a result.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when people rebelled against the “traditional” view of sex (i.e., it was to occur only within lifelong, heterosexual marriage), people knew they were rebelling! They thought the old ways were constrictive, repressive, and boring. They saw their experiences as liberating, avant-garde, and revolutionary. But, somehow, they still considered their practices as non-normative.

Today’s college students are so far removed from that time, they think their hooking up culture is the norm. They can’t imagine why or how anyone would or could wait until marriage for sex. There’s no reason they shouldn’t take birth control pills, carry condoms, and know where to get an abortion if an “accident” should occur. The ones having sex on the first, second, or third dates (certainly no later than that!) think they are the norm and would feel guilty if they weren’t in bed that early in a relationship.

And yet the painful expressions on their faces, the shameful tones in their voices, and their bewilderment at how such a “natural” act has delivered such pain haunts me even a year or more after concluding my face to face interviews.

They had sex because they felt they had to, even if they didn’t always feel like they wanted to. A few men expressed profound disappointment that sex left them feeling “empty,” “lonely,” and “aching.” Women freely offered confessions of doing things they wish they hadn’t. Some said they now realize they were raped, even though they didn’t think so at the time. And several said they “wondered what was wrong with me” if they didn’t want to join in the “hook-up-with-as-many-people-as-possible” culture.

Both men and women told me they felt relieved when they became a Christian, met a group of peers who thought sex should be postponed until marriage, and didn’t feel pressure to repeat things they now regret. In a few interviews, I said they didn’t need to tell me things they didn’t want to and, in most cases, they said they felt better after confessing out loud what had haunted them for a while. Quite a few of my interviews required tissues.

How does this impact our evangelism efforts? Here are a few reflections, but I think the church needs to do a lot of brainstorming about ways to alter our pronouncement of the good news to an audience involved in, pressured by, and damaged by sex outside of God’s parameters.

  • The starting point of our preaching, teaching, and discipling about sex must be about the wonder and beauty of this God-created gift. Only after reflecting on the ways the Bible praises this most enjoyable part of married life can we then talk about “limits” that are prescribed by God as ways of protecting something precious.
  • Our discipleship should remind people that what God most cherishes the devil most hates. We shouldn’t be surprised by the schemes of the evil one. If sex is as profound, powerful, pleasurable, and protected as God’s word says it is, it’s no wonder that Satan would want to destroy it and make it the very opposite—meaningless, painful, alienating, and full of regret.
  • We also need to train new believers (and seasoned ones, too) to think Biblically about how our world will hate them. Jesus didn’t save such bad news for advanced lessons for only a select few. He spoke of persecution in Christianity 101 (e.g., the beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount). The Christian view of sex has always been mocked and considered ridiculous. It has mostly been the minority perspective. And the persecution because of moral “narrowness” has sometimes gotten quite intense. It got John the Baptist beheaded.

For a host of reasons, the church has sometimes thought shallowly about sex, going no further than “thou shalt not.” That hasn’t served us or the people we want to reach very well. We now need to reflect deeply about the beauty of God’s gifts and the power of cleansing offered through the gospel to those who need it so desperately.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Why Christian Books Might Not be the Best Evangelism Option

In this series of blogs I’ve been sharing some things I concluded after interviewing 40 college students who had recently come to saving faith. In this entry, I will discuss something I’m confused by. I simply don’t know how to interpret the responses I received to my question, “Was there anything you read that was influential in your becoming a Christian?”

In more than half of the interviews, the response was a blank stare, followed by an awkward silence, and concluded with something along the lines of, “No. Not really.” As someone who writes books, loves books, gives away books, suggests books, and has far too many items in my Amazon Wish List, I was rather disappointed.

When prompted with, “Well, how about the Bible?” only 22 out of the 40 said yes. I was relieved. But only slightly. Several remarked how odd it was that they were drawn to reading this “big book” they had never taken an interest in. One woman remarked how odd it was that she took her “big fat” Bible on a family vacation, having never read a word of it. She proceeded to tell me she read it “every day” on that vacation  and “really liked it.”

A few spoke of intense reading sessions (one lasting over three hours) where it all started to make sense. And a few remembered specific verses that helped them cross from unbelief to salvation—John 3:16, various stories from one of the gospels, and a few key passages in the epistles (2 Cor 5:21, for example).

But consider this excerpt from my interview with JJ (not his real name):

R (Randy, interviewer): In that timeframe was there anything that you read—books, websites, articles, anything written that played a part in the whole thing?

JJ: Not that I can remember. The only thing I can possibly think of that I possibly read was the actual Bible. I don’t think I ever like (pause) I’ve never read a book written by a Christian author. I can say that. I would love to and I have a few I need to go look into but nothing to sway me one way or the other. I didn’t read anything on the internet, or article from anybody to say yes or no. It was just kind of (voice fades off).

R: Okay. When you said about reading the Bible—what are the parts that you read on your own. Not talking about in Bible study or when someone is preaching a message. Just sitting on your own? Reading?

JJ: I think I just kind of started at the beginning. I said I’m just gonna start at Genesis and see where it takes me. Genesis is a long and sometimes scary book. That’s kind of where I started.

R: Just on your own? And how far did you get?

JJ: Maybe not even halfway through Genesis.

R: Okay. All right.

JJ: And kind of (voice trails off).

RL Any New Testament books?

JJ: I might have read the Gospels. I can’t remember and (pause) it was a year ago I should be able to remember.

R:That’s okay.

JJ: Maybe I just jumped around the Bible. I can’t really (pause) I never had a specific plan (pause) just open it up and see what it’s like.

On the other side of the spectrum was a handful who read a lot. One young woman said, “I read everything I could get my hands on.” Another read the entire Bible twice on her own, “mostly to try to disprove it,” but then found she couldn’t stop reading it for more positive reasons. Only a few could remember other books that influenced them and no specific book dominated the list. Three students mentioned Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. Two mentioned Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Two read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

But one young woman read most of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. One guy read J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. And one very thoughtful young woman read most of Grudem and Piper’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

If you don’t have a headache yet, consider that a few spoke of “non-religious” books that made them think about God, including George Orwell’s 1984. And one young man, who said he had “never” read anything that he could remember before becoming a Christian, has since read numerous works by John Stott, C. S. Lewis, and John Owen! Do you see why I have difficulty interpreting this data?

My tentative conclusions lead me to suggest the following applications for anyone reaching out to the lost:

  • Don’t give up on giving away books or suggesting them. But develop a varied list of materials with a wide range of intellectual depth and reading difficulty.
  • But don’t depend on books alone. Some people won’t read anything.
  • Some people don’t have the reading skills to understand the Bible on their own. But they will respond to group or one-on-one Bible studies.
  • Don’t let trends of the lack of reading discourage you. When God’s spirit awakens someone to the gospel, he may also be starting them on a path to a lifetime of the deepest reading imaginable.

Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Why We Should Avoid “One Size Fits All” Evangelism

The gospel is a rich, multifaceted gem—like a priceless diamond. We dare not reduce it to just one facet of its complexity. To be sure, the gospel can be presented concisely and quickly. But we must eschew the reductionism of our day by implying that’s all there is to it.

Several writers have explored the various terms used in the New Testament to express different dimensions of God’s saving work. They observe that Paul, for example, spoke of justification, redemption, reconciliation, and other words when writing about the cross. He and others used references to covenant, sacrifice, Passover, and other Old Testament truths to help us see how full God’s atoning work was and is. One of the best books to help us “grow in the grace and knowledge” of the gospel is Leon Morris’ The Atonement, a very accessible and readable rendition of his more scholarly work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Consider just the three words mentioned above—justification, redemption, and reconciliation. The first is a legal term pointing to our forgiveness and a right standing before a holy God. The second is an economic term that speaks of a rescue that returns us to a former status. The third is a relational term that brings us back together with God from whom we once were alienated.

The students I interviewed all eventually had to come to an understanding of their need for forgiveness. That is the irreducible core of the gospel, the non-negotiable hub that joins all the other spokes of the wheel. Please hear me clearly: we cannot present the gospel without a strong emphasis on Christ’s propitiating work on the cross. (see In My Place Condemned He Stood as both a worshipful appreciation of substitutionary atonement and a warning about straying away from that truth, as others have done in the past and are doing so again in our day).

Here is my point: While all the recent converts had to arrive at the center of the gospel’s message of atonement for sin, they began at various other starting points, all of which are part of the New Testament’s message of salvation.

Some students spoke of wanting to make sense of the world and their life in it. The presentation of the gospel that made sense to them was one that explained the overview of the Bible’s story line. Some felt alienated from God and responded to messages about a prodigal son coming home. Some felt hungry for purpose in life and delighted to hear of the woman at the well who was promised “a well of water springing up to eternal life.” A few felt empty inside and responded to Jesus who is “the bread of life.”

Four students spoke of the need to get cleansed from sin and responded to a sermon from Ezekiel 16. (Look it up and try to remember if you’ve ever heard a sermon on this graphically disturbing and yet beautifully redemptive message). They told me how convicted they felt as “spiritual adulterers.” Others spoke of their shame and how the gospel showed them how valued they were by God. Shame and guilt are close but not identical.

Again, I come to the place where I see there is no “one size fits all” approach to sharing the gospel. Yes, the core of our message is the same, but the route we take in proclaiming it can be as varied as the passages of scripture we explore or as diverse as the images and events in all of scripture.

If Jesus could speak of water, bread, the wind, a shepherd, the resurrection, a new birth, and many other ways to help us see “how great a salvation” he provides, so can we.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.


Complex People Desperately Need a Rich Gospel

The first lesson from my research about evangelism is that conversion is a communal experience. The second is that conversion is a multifaceted experience. Allow me to elaborate.

Many Christians think of conversion as primarily a cognitive experience. There is good reason for this. The Bible (a written book that needs to be read, understood, and applied—thus, implying a rather cognitive context for all aspects of our relationship with God) speaks about “believing,” “knowing,” “understanding,” and other words that all point toward our minds. But the Bible also describes a relationship with God in terms that are not primarily intellectual. We’re encouraged to “trust,” “seek,” “taste and see,” and other sensory endeavors. Jesus told Nicodemus that being born again is like the wind. “You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). This does not rule out the cognitive, but it doesn’t limit conversion to that realm either.

The students I interviewed spoke of their experiences as emotionally moving events or socially engaging experiences as well as intellectually educational realizations. Some of them had trouble finding the words to describe their experiences. Several got quite emotional while recounting their conversions. Using a technically refined computer program, I analyzed the transcripts of the students’ stories, categorizing terms and phrases as cognitive, emotional, or social. Within the “emotional” category, I placed the terms into over a dozen subcategories (e.g. joy, sadness, remorse, depression, relief, etc.). All forty stories included at least two out of the three dimensions—cognitive, emotional, and social. Most included all three with great variety of emotions.

On some level, this is not surprising at all. In fact, I can hear some of you responding to this with, “Well, duh!” But what strikes me is the discrepancy between the way the students described conversion and the way most evangelists present the gospel. We can imply conversion is only a matter of understanding and intellectual ascent. Some of us even downplay the emotions when we evangelize. We don’t want people to be ruled by emotions, but I wonder if we swing the pendulum too far in the other direction.

Perhaps a specific illustration will help. One young woman recounted how exhausted she was by the time she reached college. In her efforts to get accepted to college, she joined every activity her high school had to offer. She worked hard to get good grades, played several varsity sports, held offices in numerous clubs, and even volunteered outside of school. After her acceptance at her first choice, thanks to an impressive application, she began her freshman year with the same zeal to start building a good resumé for the job search four years in the future. By October, she was worn out. One night she heard someone (not the main speaker) at a Christian organization’s weekly meeting. She thought membership in a religious organization would look good on the resumé. The speaker read Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” She couldn’t believe her ears. Someone was offering rest! That’s exactly what she desperately needed. She became a Christian less than a month later.

Please hear me carefully. I do not want to downplay the intellectual component of evangelism. Proclaiming the gospel is primarily a cognitive event. People need to understand and believe the truth of our message. But we should also appeal to other aspects of our personhood when we tell people the good news. It shouldn’t just sound like a logical argument that people can either accept or reject. Our gospel preaching (over a cup of coffee, in small group discussions, or from the pulpit) can also appeal to their need for rest, their hunger for meaning, their desire for connection, their remorse over sin, or a host of other aspects of what it means to be whole people.

For Biblical support of this multifaceted approach to evangelism, see D. A. Carson’s article, Motivations to Appeal to in Our Hearers When We Preach for Conversion. He identifies eight motivations found in the gospels and Acts:

  • 1) fear,
  • 2) the burden of guilt,
  • 3) shame,
  • 4) the need for “future grace”,
  • 5) the attractiveness of truth,
  • 6) a general, despairing sense of need,
  • 7) responding to grace and love, and
  • 8) a rather vague desire to be on the side of what is right, of what is from God, of what is Biblical, of what is clean, of what endures.

People are complex. The gospel is rich. Our evangelism should seek to connect the two. I’ll explore this further in the next lesson in my next blog.


Reaching People Takes a Community

This is the first of a series of blogs I plan to write about evangelism based on the research I conducted for my doctoral dissertation. I interviewed 40 college students who had come to faith within the past two years. I think some of my findings and conclusions may be helpful for pastors, campus ministers, and any Christian interested in reaching out with the unchanging gospel to a constantly changing culture.

I’ve entitled this series “21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century” with a nod to a similarly titled chapter in Scott Burson and Jerry Walls’ book C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. Much of my thinking about evangelism has been shaped by Lewis and Schaeffer and this book helped deepen my appreciation for them. Burson and Walls’ book is a bit dated (copyright 1998), and you may not land where they do on several theological points; but it’s still worth reading as we try to adjust our outreach methods to people who connect with us less and less.

Lesson #1

Conversion is more of a communal experience than we may have considered in the past.

I do not mean that people convert in groups. The gospel must be believed and received individually. But some new Christians describe their conversion as the culmination of a series of interactions with many people, each one contributing in a distinct way. They first were attracted to the gospel (even if they couldn’t articulate it as such) by meeting a Christian down the hall. They then met more Christians who asked gospel-paving questions. They were given something to read by yet another Christian. They observed interactions between Christians at large gatherings. They heard a sermon preached by someone else. And the cast of characters just kept growing.

When asked, “What would you say were the most important factors that contributed toward your coming to faith?” the vast majority said “a friend” or “friends” or “community.”

This is no surprise to any of us who have been involved in campus ministry or other evangelistic efforts. But here’s what sounded different to me. The students made very little differentiation between the kinds of input they received. In other words, the late-night chat with Joey down the hall was just as important as a message they heard from a big name speaker at a conference. In fact, most of them couldn’t remember the names of those big name speakers, but they knew Joey’s name. Some even said that a conversation they had with a non-Christian influenced them more than anything they had read by a Christian author. (More about the role of books and reading in a future installment in this series).

Some even went further. They distrusted the experts (the pastors who preached sermons or the campus ministers who gave talks), but they accepted answers from peers. Credentials and polish were detriments. Sincerity and friendship trumped expertise.

There’s a lot we could say about this, but here’s just one application I want to promote: We need to do a better job equipping all Christians in the skills of evangelism and apologetics. Some of the things I heard from the new converts were vague, at best. The “answers” some of them received from peers were far from orthodox. If the most significant presentations of the gospel come from friends, we need to help those messengers understand, articulate, and defend the message with more clarity, more depth, and more support from the scriptures. There may have been a time when people had a pretty good idea what we meant when we said “a personal relationship with God” or “ask Jesus into your heart” or “give your life to the Lord,” but those days are gone (and those expressions weren’t all that good anyway).

Some aspects of our current world suggest resistance to the gospel or, at bare minimum, confusion about it. We should not be naïve and discount them. But behind closed dorm room doors or through Facebook messages or via tweets that link to URLs, many people may be more open than we think. We need to train as many Christians as possible to be prepared to give reasons for the hope we have. And the need for clarity has never been greater.


Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.