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.

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.

The Miracle of Evangelism

I recently read Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Prompted by a passing comment by Don Carson on a Gospel Coalition video, I decided to dig in, motivated by the fact that Crossway had recently released a condensed one volume paperback of the former two-volume, 1200+ page highly acclaimed version. Call me lazy, but I was scared off by the larger item but drawn in to the shorter one. (Now that I’ve finished the slim condensation, I hope to tackle the longer original. The story is that gripping).

Here are a few things that stood out to me, which I hope will encourage you, whether you have the gift of evangelism or, far more likely, venture into evangelism timidly as I do.

  1. Whitefield’s story blends two complementary realities—the sovereignty of God and the diligence of people. You can’t read about Whitefield’s ministry without marveling at the way God worked. He fashioned a man with a flair for the dramatic (13*), one eye that squinted (creating an especially convicting expression) (15), and a booming voice that could be heard by thousands (48). In the early days of Whitefield’s ministry, before he became extremely busy, he immersed himself in the study of the scriptures for hours and hours every day. Dallimore remarks, “When we shortly see him preaching forty and more hours per week with virtually no time whatsoever for preparation, we may look back upon these days and recognize that he was then laying up a store of knowledge on which he was able to draw amidst the tumult and haste of that later ministry” (22).
  1. Sometimes, God works in unusual ways to bring about revivals. We should never tire of asking him to do it again. On occasion, Whitefield walked outside to an empty field and began preaching. Inexplicably, people started coming to hear him—by the thousands! One February, “the coldest in memory,” Whitefield preached to a crowd of over 200 on a Saturday, 2000 the following Wednesday, and 4000 two days after that (46). Soon thereafter, he was holding some “thirty meetings a week in and around Bristol” (47) at a time when there was no form of electronic amplification. Later, even skeptical Ben Franklin admitted that Whitefield’s voice could be heard by 30,000 people (76).
  1. The preaching of the gospel also prompts opposition. Whitefield was hated (107), accused of being “a scandalous idolater” (in numerous printed pamphlets) (121, 145), physically attacked (133), shot at with guns (134), “nearly murdered” (138), threatened with assassination in a letter (186), and mocked in a play written especially about him as the main character called “Dr. Squintum” (190).
  1. Whitefield teamed up with John and Charles Wesley for many evangelistic efforts but came into conflict over the doctrine of predestination. Wesley was so opposed to the doctrine, he published and preached a sermon “against Predestination” in which he said “it is a doctrine full of blasphemy… [that] represents God as worse than the devil” (63). Whitefield also rejected the Wesleys’ acceptance of the view of “sinless perfectionism” in sanctification. It caused a rift in their friendship that Dallimore calls “Whitefield’s darkest hour” (97). Nevertheless, when Whitefield became ill in America and knew that his time on earth was coming to an end, he insisted that John Wesley conduct his memorial service back in England (197).
  1. Toward the end of his life, Whitefield wrote, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not weary of it” (194). After crossing the Atlantic by boat some 13 times (201), preaching numerous times every day for weeks on end to crowds of thousands against fierce opposition, seeing revival-fueled results, we can certainly understand his sentiment.

Indeed may our sovereign God choose to bring about revival in our day and may we pray fervently toward that end. If you need encouragement in that discipline, Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield could surely help.

* These page numbers refer to the Crossway one volume paperback version of George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century.

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.


The Tension of Evangelism

One of the purposes of this blog is to help Christians proclaim the gospel well. From time to time I hope to post a question someone has posed and my response. Here’s my first attempt at this.

Question: How do you go about resolving the tension between, on the one hand, having a “dialogue” approach to evangelism and viewing it as a process, and, on the other hand, wanting to get the whole gospel into the conversation? I find that if I don’t get the whole gospel outline into the conversation, I feel guilty and anxious afterwards, because what if a) I don’t get another chance to talk to this person, or b) they don’t get another chance to hear the gospel? E.g. they get hit by a car next week (I realize that’s a bit of a cliche but you get the picture).

My answer: It is a tension, and I choose to live with it rather than trying to resolve it. Instead, I pray for wisdom to know exactly how to engage with a particular person. I rest in the reality that Jesus spoke to different people in different ways and that Paul varied his approaches depending on his audience. Sometimes they allowed the conversation to be incomplete, or, as you word it, they didn’t “get the whole gospel outline into the conversation.” (See, for example, Mark 10 or Acts 17:16-34).

I believe, for some people, the wise approach is to try to move them from a point of unbelief to a point of considering something they have previously rejected. They might need to consider that they may have been wrong about things for a very long time. I find that some people need to wrestle with that before they can consider “the whole gospel.” In other cases, the wise thing is to push it all the way to, “Can you think of any reason right now not to place your trust in what Christ did on the cross?”

I have to rest in the fact that God is the one who causes the growth and superintends the process of who he brings in and out of a particular person’s life. I realize this is counter to what many people teach but I sometimes wonder if my concern of “What if I don’t get another chance….” is more of a concern for my own comfort or a “clear conscience” than a concern for God’s glory or knowing “how to answer everyone” (see Col. 4:6).

I do think I need to resist the temptation to seek a kind of “comfortable evangelism.” For me, any kind of “comfortable evangelism” is too timid. In reality, it reveals my idolatrous longing for a hassle-free life or people’s approval of me or something with “self” as the centerpiece.

Randy Newman blogs at Integration Points.

Meditation 101

We all meditate whether we realize it or not. But it’s far better to choose carefully which thoughts get massaged into our hearts rather than default to whatever is floating around the airwaves or lurking in our subconscious.

I’ve just finished reading a challenging book by Robert Saucy entitled Minding the Heart, which, in some ways, puts into writing the meditations of a lifetime of theological study and reflection. At age 83, Saucy shares decades worth of intellectual research, systematic processing, and pastoral application about the role our hearts play in our becoming more and more like the Messiah.

At its core, the book urges us to develop the discipline of meditation because our mind can be employed to shape our heart and our heart shapes everything about us. The thesis statement of the book may be Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Tim Keller also encourages meditation as a crucial component in our prayer life. In his recent book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he observes, “meditating on the law of the Lord, the Scripture, moves us through duty toward joy.” Both Saucy and Keller found in their own practicing of meditation a source for transformation that prayer and Bible study only began to address. Deeper life-change came from meditation that incorporated the insights gained through Bible study and the application sought after through prayer.

Consider one observation pointed out in several commentaries on the Psalms. The first two psalms serve as an introduction or gateway to the whole collection of praises that follow and contrast good and bad meditating. Keller observes that “the first Psalm is not a prayer per se but a meditation—in fact, it is a meditation on meditation” (146). It tells of “delighting in the law of the Lord” and “meditating on it day and night.”

By contrast, Psalm 2 cries out, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” The two Psalms are linked together in several ways. One key way that gets lost in our English translations is that the word for meditate in Psalm 1:2 and the word for plot in Psalm 2:1 is the same Hebrew word—hagah. We can meditate on God’s word (which delightfully leads to fruitfulness and prosperity, depicted as a tree) or we can meditate against God and His Messiah (which tragically leads to experiencing God’s wrath and anger, depicted as pottery dashed to pieces). Either way, we meditate.

As I consider my own internal mutterings (that’s how some commentators explain the act of meditation), I see that sometimes I’m purposeful in dwelling on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I deliberately point my internal attention to a particular verse or phrase from the Bible. Unfortunately, at other times, I dwell on a complaint or a hurt or I rehearse a display of anger. Sometimes I repeat lyrics of some silly song I recently heard or replay a jingle from a television commercial. I’m tempted to say that I “mindlessly” dwell on nonsense, but the problem is that it’s not “mindless” at all. The words I hagah engage my mind and shape my heart whether I want them to or not.

What messages do you mutter to yourself? Where do they come from? And what effects do they have on your mind, heart, and life?

May the words of our mouths and the meditations (same Hebrew word—hagah) of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

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.

Music in the Life of the Believer

I’ve been mulling over and reading about the intersection of music and theology. To be more precise, I’ve wondered about how music can play a part in the life of a Christian to help him or her be more devoted to God, more transformed by the gospel, and more in love with the God who created us to love him with all our being.

Martin Luther said “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” From a rather different vantage point, Leonard Bernstein said about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony “Beethoven… leaves us… with the feeling that something is right in the world, that something checks throughout, something that follows its own laws consistently, something we can trust, that will never let us down.”

It seems that music serves as a powerful antidote to the pure naturalism that prevails in much of our world today. It’s hard to believe we’re just molecules surrounded by matter when we hear a Bach cantata, a Charlie Parker improvisation, or a Nickel Creek riff.

Biologist and philosopher Lewis Thomas was once asked what one artifact we should send out into space as evidence of human achievement. “I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again,” he suggested. Then added ruefully, “We would be bragging, of course.”

I am helped a great deal by Jeremie Begbie’s writings and videos. He makes a helpful distinction between thinking about music from a theological perspective (e.g., what does music tell us about God or about our relationship to God?) and experiencing theology through music. The first topic is probably what I’ve been talking about so far in this blog.

Here are just a few thoughts about the second topic—experiencing theology through music. Again, to be a bit more precise, these ideas are about how music can play a sanctifying or deepening role in the life of a Christian.

  1. Music can connect us to beauty, which could remind us of the way God originally created the world—good, without the ravages and damages of sin and the fall. Music can prompt deeper worship of the God who created all things merely by uttering words. (Note that God used sound to create!)
  1. Music can serve as a preventative against reductionism—the tendency to think of anything in just one dimension. For example, we can think of people as “just” alternatives to loneliness or solitude. We can think of work as “just” a means to a paycheck. We can think of praying as “just” a way to get God to do things for us. The complexities of music force us to see richness in other things—people, activities, tasks, etc. As we close our eyes and explore the whole of music, which is so much greater than the sum of its parts, we attune our minds to seek similar complexity elsewhere.
  1. Music can heighten our experience of tension and release. How this happens in music, I hope, is obvious. Certain pieces of music create a sense of “unresolvedness” and, in some cases (e.g., the final movement of Sibelius’ fifth symphony) extend so long that when the resolution finally comes, the exhale feels monumental. In a parallel way, the Bible creates a tension that is only resolved by the cross. It’s the tension between holiness (God’s) and sin (ours). We long for righteousness and goodness, and we resonate with it to a certain extent. But we also feel a tension because we also resonate with the notion that something’s just not right with the world and with us. That tension is only resolved as God’s judgment and grace meet at Calvary. God’s righteous requirement for atonement is satisfied. God’s love provides that atonement. He is both the just and the justifier. Listening to music that extends the tension and releases it can help us appreciate the gospel.
  1. Music can increase our longing for the consummation of the ages, the final stage of God’s four chapter drama of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation. When a piece of music ends by restating a theme it introduced at the beginning, we find ourselves at home. Yet, that “at-home-ness” seems even better for having been away. And yet, that “at-home-ness” leaves a longing that no piece of music can satisfy.

As C. S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

I hope to return to this topic again and again in future blogs.

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.

A Theme Verse for Thoughtful Faith

Proverbs 25:2 may be the leading candidate for a life verse for thoughtful Christians. The text reads, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” This shows the contrast between God and people but also the glory of both. There are some things only God knows or can know. People are not omniscient. But there are some things that people can know, should know, and would find great “glory” in seeking out. In other words, the very acts of study, inquiry, research, investigation, questioning, examining, and “searching out” are things of glory.

The primary contrast in this context is between God and kings. Thus, the first setting of application would be when rulers seek to know all that is going on in their domain.

But it is not unreasonable, given the poetic nature of proverbs and the vocabulary chosen here, to apply this principle to all fields of rulership, in which academic or intellectual study fits rather nicely.

But remember the contrast. Our “searching out” or “uncovering” things brings glory. It is something worthwhile, satisfying, and beneficial – not only to the one doing the searching but to anyone else who might benefit from learning what has been discovered. Thus, a student may be thought of as someone who serves others just as a king serves people (good ones do, at least) by ruling well with equity, honesty, integrity, etc.

The other part of the equation is that all our study and inquiry has limits. God has not told us everything and he will not reveal everything. (Meditate on Deuteronomy 29:29 sometime to fill out this idea). Commentator Allen P. Ross says about this verse, “Kings must make things understandable to people, but God’s providence is beyond knowing.” As we seek, uncover, study, and research, we must do so with a blend of zeal and humility – zeal that it’s worth all the effort, even when it stretches our intellect more than ever before; humility that, at the end of the day, we may never find some of the answers we seek.

7 New Year’s Evangelistic Resolutions

It’s that time of year to remember why you bought that exercise bicycle, what those charts of nutritional information are doing on the backs of food packages, and where you last saw your “Read Through the Bible in a Year” chart.

It might also be a good time to rededicate your efforts to reach out to non-believers God has placed in your life. For most Christians, steadfastness in evangelism does not come easily. And guilt works as a motivator for only so long (and does so rather poorly). Here are some of my suggestions to bring outreach to the front burner for the next year.

  • Don’t expect it to be easy. Evangelism is almost always a struggle for most of us. Don’t make “feeling compassion for the lost” the sole prerequisite for taking steps towards them. Take the steps first and ask God to give the compassion along the way.
  • Begin with a renewed discipline of prayer for non-believers. (Note: Paul says we need to be “devoted” to prayer in Col. 4:2. If there’s the admonition to be devoted, it probably requires effort.) Many people begin the new year with a new prayer journal. Make sure your new tool has a section for petitions for the lost. Brainstorm ways to make these prayers a regular part of your times with God.
  • Take stock of people who are new in your life since a year ago. Thank God he has sovereignly worked to have your lives touch theirs. Add them to your prayer list.
  • Brainstorm next steps. It’s easy to get stuck in a non-action rut with “outsiders.” You always wave to your neighbor (but never strike up a conversation) or you always email your unsaved friend about the same “non-spiritual” topics (but never go near the spiritual ones). A new year is a good time to change old patterns—even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Ask questions. (I once read a pretty good book on the topic.) Try inquiring about their new year’s resolutions. See if any of them have put “seeking out answers to big questions” on their list. Ask what books they might have read over Christmas vacation. See if they’d be willing to read one of your suggestions.
  • Read another book on evangelism. There are certain topics (prayer, basic doctrine, world vision, etc.) that require renewed input to keep the commitment front and center. Evangelism is certainly one of them. Reading another book on the topic, every year, is not a bad strategy. This year, my recommendation is Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath. I’ll write more about it in a future blog. For now, I can say that he realizes that most Christians are not apologists or evangelists and most non-Christians are not responding to the same arguments they used to.
  • It’s not too late for a belated Christmas present. In fact, now that the clamor of the “holidays” is past, they might actually have time to appreciate a gift. If you’ve had some pre-evangelistic conversations so far, perhaps a book that pushes things to the next level is in order. Or maybe any type of gift that expresses kindness (not necessarily anything to do with spiritual issues) can pave the way to deeper conversation.

Paul told a rather timid Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Note the use of the word “work.” Like so many other tasks, the “work” of an evangelist can be tackled in small incremental steps. It’s January—a good time to take some of those first steps.

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.

New Year = New Trend? Let’s Hope So

I’ve mentioned Stephen Prothero’s revolutionary book, God is Not One, in this blog before. I think his writings are worth noting, especially with the hopes that he could be signaling a change in the ways our culture discusses different religious views. At the beginning of a new year, it may be worth praying that a new cultural trend will accompany the new calendar.

Published in 2010, God is Not One sent ripples through Prothero’s academic discipline of Religious Studies. He is not a Christian but voices something Christians have been trying to say for quite some time – The major religions of the world do not teach the same things. The subtitle of Prothero’s book tips his hand – “The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter.” (Interestingly, the 2011 paperback edition of his book dropped the phrase “and why their differences matter.”)

A professor of religious studies at Boston University, Prothero has done what few academicians have been able to do – connect to both university and pop cultures, finding a platform in both The Chronicle of Higher Education and on Oprah’s couch. He writes winsomely and cogently and dares to say what few, if any, in his field have had the nerve to say. Truly, his book has an Emperor’s New Clothes feel to it.

He cites Huston Smith’s well-worn illustration equating different religions to different paths up the same mountain and says such a view is “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue” (p. 3). Smith’s book, The World’s Religions may be the most popular religious studies textbook of all time, selling over two million copies since its release in 1958. I’m sure you know that his sentiment holds sway in the minds of most people “on the street.” But what gets challenged in academic circles has the potential to trickle down and change popular discourse. One can only hope for that in this case.

Consider a few other observations Prothero makes:

“According to Mohandas Gandhi, ‘Belief in one God is the cornerstone of all religions,’ so it is toward this one God that all religious people are climbing. When it comes to divinity, however, one is not the religions’ only number. Many Buddhists believe in no god, and many Hindus believe in thousands.” (1-2)

“…the idea of religious unity is wishful thinking nonetheless, and it has not made the world a safer place. In fact, this naïve theological groupthink – call it Godthink – has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clashes of religions that threaten us worldwide. It is time we climbed out of the rabbit hole and back to reality.” (3)

“Faith in the unity of religions is just that – faith (perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism). And the leap that gets us there is an act of the hyperactive imagination. (3)

“If practitioners of the world’s religions are all mountain climbers, then they are on very different mountains, climbing very different peaks, and using very different tools and techniques in their ascents.” (12)

“One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that they plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not.” (24)

And Prothero takes on the popular notion that it doesn’t matter what different religions believe as dogma (usually used as a derogatory term) since all that “really counts” is how we treat one another. (I’ve often been bothered when non-Christians feel the freedom to declare what the “really important parts” of Christianity are and which beliefs “don’t matter”). “No religion,” Prothero says, “sees ethics alone as its reason for being.” (2)

His book is not without its flaws. I’ll share some concerns in a future blog. But it’s worth celebrating (and quoting) when he sees things the way we want others to. Part of the necessary, pre-evangelistic process of deconstructing people’s worldviews will be to disabuse them of the silly idea that all religions are the same. Once people get released from that straightjacket, they may appreciate how the Christian view of atonement is radically different from those other paths on those other mountains.