Randy Newman

Randy Newman
Campus Crusade and the C.S. Lewis Institute

Praying for Revival

The lofty notion of revival has taken center stage in my prayer life as of late. I’m sure I’m motivated in part by the disturbing stories that dominate our news. And God has guided me to some books that have underlined the need for such prayer.

Walter Kaiser’s book, Revive us Again: Biblical Principles for Revival Today, investigates numerous outpourings of God’s blessing that have been recorded in the Bible. Why such an approach seems so novel may indicate just how far we’ve slid away from spiritual vitality! Reading Kaiser’s commentary on God’s works of “refreshment” in the past is remarkably encouraging.

I also appreciated a hopeful comment in Ross Douthat’s otherwise disheartening book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. The book is well worth reading and helps put into perspective how we’ve gotten into some of the messes we are in. But without the belief in God’s ability to shake up his church, this book would be tough to wade through.

Here’s what Douthat wrote in his concluding chapter:

“It would be heresy and hubris to assume that a renewal of either [the church or our country] is inevitable. Christianity’s overall resilience hasn’t prevented particular Christendoms from decaying and dissolving, and Jesus never said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the United States of America. But to hope for a revival is every believer’s obligation. And perhaps, just perhaps, a more robust and rigorous American Christianity is something that even non-believers should consider hoping for as well.”

The best book I’ve read recently about revival is Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. Knowing that God’s people have faced even darker times than we see today and hearing how God poured out an unusual flood of evangelistic fruit, transformational worship, and anointed preaching can move even the most pessimistic saint towards expectant intercession.

I’ve written an article that explores how this might look on college campuses and beyond. I’ve entitled it The Next Campus Revival: A Prayerful Consideration and I’ve posted it here. I hope you’ll consider reading it and sharing it with others.

Music Is a Great Gift... But a Lousy "God"

Many books extol the wonders of music. Leonard Bernstein wrote The Joy of Music. Igor Stravinsky helped us see The Poetics of Music. Aaron Copeland instructed us on What to Listen for in Music. Aided by the recent advances in neuroscience, Oliver Sacks wrote Musicophilia and Daniel Levitan offered The Science of a Human Obsession. Duke Ellington even boasted that Music is My Mistress. The list goes on.

And why not? Music moves us in ways that no other art form can. At bare minimum we observe that music involves our minds, our emotions, and our physical bodies. For those of us who employ music in our worship, we experience unique modes of connection that differ from reading, studying, listening to sermons, and fellowship. (Note: I am not saying that music is better than these crucial means of spiritual growth. But music is qualitatively different than them). When we sing songs of praise, we reach out to God with thought, words, ears, and breath, connecting in holistic ways.

Music is a great gift. But it’s a lousy god. When we remember to keep music second, our first priority (God) blesses it in remarkable ways. When we make music primary or ultimate, it disappoints profoundly. I know. For years, I worshipped music. As a music student, I looked to it for sustenance, meaning, joy, and fulfillment. At one stage, I woke up every morning and listened to a recording of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps as a kind of devotional. As I look back, those times strike me as my first earnest attempts at daily worship. Self-centeredly, I thought that if I listened intently, regularly, and consistently enough, I would one day be able to play the great tune the way “Trane” did. (That wish was never fulfilled).

When God showed me what (or who) I was really longing for (Him!), music ceased to take center stage. But it never went outside my spiritual peripheral vision and I’m thankful that it did not. I find music to be a delight now that I don’t look to it as a deity.

And so I am always a bit saddened when I meet or hear of musicians and others who look to music for more than it can provide. I recently read Oxford emeritus professor Anthony Storr’s Music and the Mind and found it to be both enlightening and sad. Storr is no lightweight when it comes to scholarship. He has held academic positions in psychiatry and literature at Oxford and other prestigious institutions. His book examines music from psychological, philosophical, historical, aesthetic, and other vantage points. At points his prose is glorious and at other times he digs into the depths of science with the precision of a surgeon.

At places in the book that came close to considering any supernatural or religious connections to music, Storr resisted the lure. Commenting on some of Leonard Bernstein’s doxologies of music (e.g., “I believe that from the Earth emerges a musical poetry…”), Storr wrote, “Bernstein was a religiously inclined romantic…” Opportunities to identify something as higher or more ultimate than music were passed by or discredited.

And thus, for Storr, music is ultimate. Consider these statements from his final two paragraphs:

“Some people find that one or other of the great religions provides them with a belief system which makes sense out of the world and their place in it. Religions order existence in that they issue prescriptions for behavior, provide a hierarchy culminating in a deity, and give the individual, however humble, a sense that he or she is participating in a divinely-inspired plan. Religions differ widely from one another; but they all seem to be attempts of the human mind to impose some kind of order on the chaos of existence. Life itself may continue to be arbitrary, unpredictable, unjust, and disorderly; but believers find comfort in supposing that God meant there to be order, and assume that sinful human beings have frustrated his intention.” (Note his use of the word “supposing.”)

He goes on to argue that music also provides a sense of order in our chaotic world. He praises music because it “…exalts life, enhances life, and gives it meaning.” I wonder how music can give an otherwise meaningless, chaotic life meaning, but I’ll hold my greatest concerns for what follows. He concludes his book with, “Music is a source of reconciliation, exhilaration, and hope which never fails…[and] something for the sake of which it is worthwhile to live on earth.”

I am reminded of the observations many have made that people are incurably religious. If they do not worship God, they will find something to worship. For some, it’s music. For others, it’s pleasure. For many, it’s themselves. But contrary to Storr’s hopes, these idols ultimately disappoint. They offer hope… but cannot deliver “a hope that never fails.”

I finished Storr’s book and immediately reached for C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory and searched out one of my favorite passages: “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.”

Follow Your Passion? Maybe not.


A recent book questions the prevailing wisdom of finding a job where we can follow our passion as the key to success. I found the book a refreshing dose of “the emperor has no clothes.” We need something better than a passion to follow. Unfortunately, Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, offers something only slightly better than passion for a basis for a satisfying career.

Newport summarizes “the passion hypothesis” like this: “The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion” (page 4). He goes on to argue this hypothesis won’t work. We lose or change passions. Or we don’t really know what our passions are. And very few people find jobs that perfectly match their passions. He concludes, “’Follow your passion’ might just be terrible advice” (page 6).

Instead, his book’s subtitle suggests a better alternative: “Why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love.” Newport says we should develop proficiency, even mastery of a skill and then find a job where we can display that skill so well, people can’t ignore us.

As far as Newport’s suggestion goes, it’s OK. Skills probably do pave the way for success more than passion does. But people are looking for something more than job satisfaction and success. We want meaning, purpose, and a sense of fitting into a grander story.

Considering this topic through the lens of scripture, one has to wonder if finding a job that suits our passion or our skills is tantamount to digging “broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Our passions are the wrong place to find fulfillment or meaning. As C. S. Lewis put it in his insightful novel Till We Have Faces, “a passion which has for years been wrapped round the whole heart will dry up and wither” (page 267).

But it’s even worse than that. The Scriptures almost always talk about passions in negative ways. We’re to “put to death” our passions (Col. 3:5), not allow them to control us (I Thes. 4:5), “crucify” them (Gal. 5:24), lest God give us over to them (Rom. 1:26) leading to all the horrible results that follow (Rom. 1:29-31).

I agree with Newport that passion is a bad foundation upon which to build a career. But skill is only slightly better. We need a calling from God for a career. That assumes we’ve found our identity in him for more than just a job. He’s the one who is “the spring of living water” (Jer. 2:13), the One who made us in his image and offers to remake us through the cross. He’s the one who helps us find satisfaction in a job without allowing it to become anything more than just a job. Now that’s something we can get passionate about.

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.

Mystical Prayer vs. Biblical Prayer

I recently read an interview of a Christian leader that included this interchange:

Interviewer: “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Christian leader: “I don’t say anything. I listen.”

Interviewer: “Okay…When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?”

Christian leader: “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”

The account of the interview recorded that, at this point, the interviewer seemed “baffled.”

Then, the Christian leader added: “And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”

What do you think of that? Do you agree with and/or like the Christian leader’s answers to the interviewer’s questions? Do you think the Christian leader accurately portrayed what prayer is all about? Do you hold this view of prayer, that if you don’t experience prayer first hand, you can’t really understand it?

This interchange was quoted in two Christian books,* and I think, in both cases, the authors were lifting up the Christian leader’s understanding of prayer as a positive example. But I think the Bible has something different to say.

When Jesus was asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he did not say, “Well, for one thing, don’t use words. Just listen.” Instead, he told them (and us) to use words and, in one instance, he even gave us the exact words to say (Luke 11:2).

As we read the Bible, we find many prayers that include lots of words. Consider that we have the equivalents of transcripts of intercessions by Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, and many others. Note that all 150 psalms, in a sense, are written out prayers. Reflect on the fact that Paul tells his readers the very content of his supplications on their behalf. That such prayers have been recorded for us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, suggests a high value on the use of words in prayer. It is simply not an accurate portrayal of Biblical prayer to say, “I don’t say anything. I listen.”

To be sure, listening is an important part of prayer. Our entire prayer times should not be filled with our words. Stillness and quietness should be a part as well. (Although, to be honest, I can’t seem to remember too many places in the Bible that say things like, “When you pray be sure to include some times of silence” or “When the disciples prayed, they sat still and listened to the voice of the Lord.”)

And to say that God doesn’t speak to us when we pray…well, I fear that may imply that God doesn’t speak words to us at all, which undermines the important Christian doctrine of inspiration – that indeed God has spoken and his word, the Bible, should be read as the very words of a communicative, verbal God.

There is something very appealing about a kind of mystical, non-verbal prayer. It serves as a foil against a totally rationalistic spirituality that we find in too many places today. Simplistic cognitive approaches leave us dry, uninspired, and unmoved. If all there is to our faith is a logical set of propositions, we feel we’ve missed something crucial because we are not merely rational beings. We also have emotions and spiritual drives that long for something other than arguments, credal statements, and formulaic how-tos.

Granted. But to swing the pendulum to the other extreme is to replace one unbiblical mode for another. A totally rational prayer life may be shaped more by the enlightenment than the Bible. On the other hand, non-verbal mystical prayer may look more like Buddhism than Gospel faith.

Now suppose I told you the interview quoted above was of Mother Teresa and the interviewer was Dan Rather. Does that change your opinion of the exchange? Or of my critique? Did you like the fact that Dan Rather got baffled?

When I told my wife I was going to write a blog about the interview she asked, “You’re not going to pick on Mother Teresa, are you? People don’t like it when you attack their favorite nun.”

Well, I hope I’m not attacking her. But other than Jesus, no person’s life is 100% exemplary. We should be able to learn from flawed people’s successes as well as their failures and their good teaching as well as their mistakes. No one should be above a respectful critique. I think, in this case, Mother Teresa expressed a kind of mysticism that is different from what Scripture teaches, records, and models.

A study of the Bible’s teaching about and examples of prayer should shape our prayer lives far more than any other influence.** Our prayers should involve words and silence, speaking and listening, singing and confessing, gratitude and petition. And when curious outsiders ask, we can describe prayer in ways that explain as well as invite them to find out what they’re missing.

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.

* Quoted in Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There  (Thomas Nelson, 2005), 61-62; and Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Thomas Nelson, 2011), 114.

** A great study of Paul’s prayers that deserves close reading is D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Baker, 1992).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Reading C.S. Lewis (Carefully)

In some recent blog debates, some people have defended unorthodox theology, seeking support from C.S. Lewis. “Lewis believed some questionable things and people don’t reject him,” they reason.

It has caused me to reflect on why I like Lewis so much, even when I think he occasionally misses the mark.

I read C.S. Lewis for at least three reasons. The obvious one is that Lewis, like no one else, helps me understand things in ways I hadn’t before. Second, I find him to be a sheer delight to read. It is rare that I read Lewis without at least one chuckle along the way. But my favorite reason is that Lewis trains my mind to think in ways I would not otherwise think. It’s not just that he teaches me how to understand topics about which he has written. He helps me see patterns, principles, and insights about a host of topics of which he never wrote.

Lewis was spared the world of blogs, text messaging, Twitter, and the like. I can only imagine what Screwtape would have said about these modern wonders! But his insights about chronological snobbery or the priority of old books or the importance of keeping second things second shed light on social networking techniques and many other mainstays of the twenty-first century.

He’s not just a tour guide pointing out sights to see. Lewis gives me lenses through which to see.

The author of Mere Christianity taught me how to evaluate arguments against the faith, even ones he never addressed. The preacher of The Weight of Glory enables me to see joy in the midst of disappointments–even post 9/11 varieties. The educator who penned The Abolition of Man changes the way I read The Chronicle of Higher Education. And the dreamer who invented Narnia helps me rejoice in a world that, at times, feels like it’s “always winter and never Christmas.”

But he’s not perfect. And so, Lewis also trains me, ironically, to not accept everything any individual human writer offers. On some points, Lewis was just plain wrong–no matter how eloquently he worded it. For example, he suggests the possibility of salvation through other faiths–a position soundly rejected by evangelicals for many decades, even centuries. He sometimes relied on logic more than Scripture and that got him into theological trouble. So… his writings are not inerrant. I know only one book that meets that criteria. I read that book more than I read Lewis. He would approve. It’s an old book.

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 Evangelistic Power of “Maybe”

Years ago I heard a Christian speaker telling a university audience of evidence he had seen in our created world for some kind of intelligent designer. He suggested the intelligent designer was the god who revealed himself in the Bible. This all seemed fairly plausible to me but not too earth-shattering.

During the Q & A session, a professor from the university’s physics department raised his hand and said something along the lines of, “Well, your evidence doesn’t require a belief in a god. The design you’re talking about could also be the result of aliens landing here and setting up an orderly world.”

As I listened, I thought three things: First, it’s always amusing how people don’t ask questions during a Q & A session. They pontificate. Second, I marveled that a professor in the physics department preferred a belief in aliens to a belief in God. Third, I wondered how forcefully the speaker would dismantle this proposal. As a Christian, I hoped he wouldn’t laugh or use words like, “stupid,” or “ridiculous.” But surely, I thought, he was going to pounce on the absurdity of a belief in creative aliens.

The speaker simply said, “Maybe,” and paused a few seconds.

He went on to say, “You’re right. It could be aliens. But I think it’s more plausible to believe in some kind of supernatural force or a god. And I think the god who is portrayed in the Bible seems a lot more likely than aliens producing a world of order and beauty.”

Then he took the next question. After considering his tactic, I think it’s brilliant. Rather than expending a lot of energy marshaling arguments against a belief in aliens, he pointed the attention to where it should be. In the process, he indirectly weakened his opponent’s argument by showing a much better possibility.

I also think his approach had the advantage of melting his adversary’s hardened attitude. A frontal assault often strengthens the opposition. “Maybe” can do the opposite.

I wonder how much energy we expend (waste?) on trying to counter arguments against the gospel. To be sure, that is necessary in many cases. But I’m not convinced we always need to do so. And we certainly do not need to be sarcastic or insulting of alternative theories no matter how bizarre. No one likes to be called stupid or hear his or her beliefs ridiculed. Saying “maybe” actually shows a level of respect for some arguments that goes beyond what they might actually deserve. But I think it’s better to err on the side of “gentleness and respect” (see 1 Peter 3:15) than to resort to other, sometimes popular, approaches.

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.

Applying the Gospel to Parenting

I’ve reached the age when discussions of family move quickly to updates about our grown, adult sons. People my age compare stories of “having survived” our children’s adolescences and we now look forward to spoiling our grandchildren as revenge.

It’s not long before we all admit some level of shortcomings. We all made mistakes and hope our children are saving adequately for the psychotherapy they’ll need to undo the damage we caused. Inevitably, one of us utters the mantra, “I did the best that I could.” Sometimes someone adds the modifying clause, “with the knowledge I had back then.” I don’t remember any bestselling book boasting the title, “I did the best I could,” or some famous person making it their motto. But that slogan, “I did the best I could” (herein abbreviated as IDTBIC) has become universally accepted and relied upon by parents of a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, financial statuses, and any other demographic I can think of.

We all did the best we could! So, why are our kids so messed up? Or why is the world in such trouble? And would our kids evaluate our parenting careers with the same passing grade? Would they reward us with a blue ribbon for our parenting efforts?

Not too long ago, I watched a televised interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had just published his memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, and was making the talk-show circuit to boost sales. The interviewer had to inquire about Arnold’s now-infamous affair with his family’s housekeeper and his fathering a child with her. Everyone watching the interview knew this moment would be coming. Surely, Arnold anticipated the question. (Perhaps he went back and reread that portion of his book to remember how he explained his actions there). But the man who had played the Terminator and other powerful characters on film stammered weakly as he looked for words to respond. He offered quite a few attempts that began with, “well, I” and “Y’know…” and “no one’s perfect.”

And then he said it. He uttered the same line I had used countless times: “I did the best I could.”

I don’t often talk to my television set. But I found it impossible not to blurt out, “Really? You? The best you could?” I thought, “He gets to use the IDTBIC line?” The best he could do was have an affair, father a child out of wedlock, lie about it until cornered by the evidence, and say it really wasn’t as bad as people thought? (I think that came later in the interview). Surely, he could have done better, I reasoned with smug confidence.

And then it hit me. I did not do the best job I could as a parent. I wonder if anyone can ever use that line. By God’s grace, I did a lot of good things. But I did quite a few bad things as well. I did harmful and insulting things. I said words that I wish I could erase from my sons’ memories. On occasion, I treated them harshly when they most needed tenderness. I won’t even diminish the intensity of these acts by calling them “mistakes.” They were sins. I sinned against my sons and the God who blessed me with them. I am humbled beyond measure that they and God forgive me. No wonder Jesus died on a cross. Nothing less could atone for such behavior.

It is important for me (and any other parent who did not do the best he or she could do) to acknowledge it. Only then do we rely on the grace of God for the cleansing of our consciences and the wellbeing of our offspring. Only then do we stop trusting in our performance as the richest resource for them to draw on. Only then do we stop taking credit for our kids “turning out OK” or beating ourselves up if they didn’t.

As long as we cling to the IDTBIC line, we aren’t really clinging to the cross. Applying the gospel to all of life must include our parenting. To do so is to realize that, “we are saved by grace, not by works” and therefore, our best efforts in all areas of life have and always will fall short.

But our God is a gracious savior whose shed blood covers all our sins, including the ones we committed in the privacy of our homes – perhaps, especially the sins we commit there. To God be the glory – He did the best He could.

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 wordhagah. 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.

Ten Reflections on Hearing Forty Testimonies

As part of a research project I’m conducting, I have just completed listening to 40 college students who say they have become Christians within the past two years. I have interviewed each student for 45 minutes or more to probe, gain insight, and learn what “worked” in their journey from unbelief to salvation. I hope, as a result of analyzing the transcripts of these interviews (and writing a little thing they call a “dissertation” towards a PhD in missions), to offer insights about how the church can be more effective and fruitful in evangelism.

Here are ten initial thoughts by way of observation and concerns:

- Nothing can thwart God. I know that sounds like a cliché but the stories highlighted just how powerfully God can break through to those who seem the least likely to respond. There were many moments when I marveled at how relentlessly God pursues the lost.

- So many of these students come from terribly messed up backgrounds. Their parents’ divorces, alcoholism, and irresponsible lifestyles have had devastating effects on them. And they connect the dots from their parents’ divorce or other problems to their own self-destructive behaviors. At times, it was difficult to listen.

- The social experiments of the 1960s (so-called “free love,” “easy divorce,” “gay pride,” and more) have proven to yield disastrous results. This generation has not benefited from the self-expression their parents thought would be so healthy, freeing, or better than the “repression” they rebelled against. During the interviews, I often reflected on which social experiments we’re launching today that may yield even worse consequences.

- The hookup and porn cultures are not as much fun as they’re portrayed to be by irresponsible television shows or other culture-shaping outlets. The women feel abused by a system that insists upon conformity to sexual pressures. And some men are near suicidal in their loneliness.

- This generation has imbibed mammoth quantities of alcohol and drugs. It was deeply disturbing to hear of blackouts and forgotten weekends (behaviors often associated with people much older and with longer dramas of addiction) from people only 19 or 20 years old.

- Most of them don’t read. Personal relationships and conversations with friends clarified the issues for them and helped them find answers to their questions. Happily, many of them became serious and diligent readers after conversion. But for those of us who write or want to write evangelistic books, this was a sobering finding.

- The so-called “new atheism” is real and growing among this age group. But most of the converts out of this background admit that, for them, it was more of a persona than a deep intellectual conviction. Compassion from Christians and friendship during crises pointed them to God more often than philosophical arguments.

- The questions have changed. Christians used to feel the need to defend the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, the historicity of the resurrection, and the uniqueness of Jesus to unsaved inquirers. Today the questions are:

“Why are Christians so homophobic?” (iterated in a variety of ways as the biggest objection to responding to the gospel!)

“If I believe what you believe, do I have to become judgmental, too?”

“Why are Christians so weird?”

“Do I have to be against science, evolution, abortion, and gay marriage to become a Christian? If so, I’m not interested.”

- A loving community of Christians who seemed to “have a purpose,” “be accepting of others,” “express love,” and “not be cynical” was a common thread through most of the stories. For some, coming from unloving, dangerous, or blatantly harmful home situations, the church provided a refuge beyond their wildest imaginations.

- We, the church and all our outreach ministries, need to do a better job with clearly articulating the gospel message. Many students had moving emotional experiences or made firm commitments to stop certain behaviors or felt loved by a community of believers in ways that healed painful wounds of their dysfunctional families’ messes. But I’m not totally sure they were regenerated by the power of God made manifest through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. The need for deep, thoughtful, penetrating Biblical teaching is no less urgent than ever.

Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980. Find out more at his blog, Integration Points.

Talking to Yourself

Talking to yourself is not always crazy. In fact, quite often it is downright essential for mental health. Becoming fluent in positive, healthy, truthful, Scripture-saturated internal dialogue should be a high priority for all of us. Talking to yourself is an important life-skill that requires practice, careful consideration, and perseverance.

The New Testament exhorts us to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2), to “think about” things which are “true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8), and to “consider” certain truths about ourselves that we might not want to believe (see Romans 6:11). The Old Testament admonitions to meditate on God’s word (e.g., Psalms 1:2) require far more moment-by-moment focus than just a daily reading of the Bible for a few minutes.

At certain times (when wrestling with unrelenting pain, encountering persecution, struggling with doubt, or various other trials), the need for persistent internal dialogue rises to the level of urgent. We must win arguments with ourselves because the alternatives can spiral in terribly destructive directions.

Recently, I found a helpful (and rather humorous) written out internal dialogue that C.S. Lewis penned. It is one of four “scraps” found in God in the Dock, a collection of Lewis’ writings about theology and ethics. Apparently, this short paragraph appeared in a church’s magazine. But one has to wonder if Lewis might have been experimenting with a form that could have expanded into a whole book full of such internal conversations. In some ways, the fuller work might have proven to be as helpful in handling internal struggles as The Screwtape Letters has been for dealing with external attacks from our adversary.

Have you ever found yourself in need of the kind of internal argument Lewis spells out here?

‘You are always dragging me down,’ said I to my Body. ‘Dragging you down!’ replied my Body. ‘Well I like that! Who taught me to like tobacco and alcohol? You, of course, with your idiotic adolescent idea of being “grown-up”. My palate loathed both at first: but you would have your way. Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep. Who does his best to keep you from talking too much and eating too much by giving you dry throats and headaches and indigestion? Eh?’ ‘And what about sex?’ said I. ‘Yes, what about it?’ retorted the Body. ‘If you and your wretched imagination would leave me alone I’d give you no trouble. That’s Soul all over; you give me orders and then blame me for carrying them out.’

Certainly the tone of these conversations will vary, depending on temperament. But none of us is exempt from the need for some form of such exchanges.

Of course, if you prefer to do this out loud, I’d recommend judicious care in choice of location.

Many Motivations: One Ultimate Goal

A common theme in my blogs is “thoughtful faith.” This kind of faith allows for complexity where the Scriptures give complex insight about various aspects of life. While our flesh and our culture may push us towards lazy thinking or overly-simplistic explanations for nuanced realities, we should resist.

We need this kind of rich reflection when it comes to considering motivations for holiness. Some argue for holiness simply out of obligation. “God calls us to be holy as he is holy…so just do it!” Others appeal only to gratitude and shun efforts of discipline as “mere legalism.”

Kevin DeYoung in his recent book The Hole in our Holiness shows us that God’s word offers many motivations for holiness. I found his entire book to be quite challenging but also very encouraging. In chapter four of his book, he lists over two dozen motivations for holiness. I believe his list is worth serious reflection and diligent application.

I’ve copied below these motivations preceded by his introduction to the list.

“So what might be good motivation for holiness in a certain situation with a particular person facing a specific sin may not be the best prescription for someone else in different circumstances. Jesus has many medicines for our motivation. He is not like a high school athletic trainer who tells everyone to “ice it and take a couple ibuprofen.” He’s not some quack doctor who always prescribes bloodletting. “High cholesterol? Here’s a leach. Overactive bladder? I got a leach for that. Gout? A couple leaches will take the edge off.” The good news is that the Bible is a big, diverse, wise book, and in it you can find a variety of prescriptions to encourage obedience to God’s commands.

Here are just some of the ways in which the Bible motivates us to pursue holiness:

Duty. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

God knows all and sees all. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

It’s right. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

It’s for our good. “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 12:28).

God’s example. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Christ’s example. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

Assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

Being effective as a Christian. “For if these qualities “are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8).

Jesus’ return. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:11-12).

The world is not our home. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

To win over our neighbors. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

To lift up a nation. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

For the public good. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5:13).

For the sake of our prayers. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

The surety of our inheritance. “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34).

The communion of the saints. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

The good examples of others. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

The bad examples of others. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).

We were created for good works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

God is the master and we are his servants. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

The work of God. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

To please God. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

To avoid the devil’s snares. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

For an eternal reward. “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

Because Christ has all authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Fullness of joy. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11).

To experience God’s favor. “A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns” (Proverbs 12:2).

Our union with Christ. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Whatever is Lovely...

Philippians 4:8 admonishes us to think about things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. If you’ve ever sought to apply that kind of mindfulness, you may have emphasized (as I have tended to) so-called spiritual things. And you’d have good reason to do so. Most of the terms employed by the Apostle point in the direction of our relationship with God through the saving work of our Messiah.

Things that are “true” line up with what God has revealed through his word. The “noble” things become incarnated through practices encouraged in the book of Proverbs. That which is “right” conforms to the standards set by God’s character. “Pure” things show up in moral behavior that brings glory, rather than shame, to the name of our God. The vocabulary Paul selected for this verse has resonance with and allusion to teaching found throughout the Old Testament.

But two of the terms, “lovely” and “admirable,” come from other sources. Both words appear only once in the New Testament. Gordon Fee, in his excellent commentary says, “With this word [lovely] and the next [admirable] we step off New Testament turf altogether onto the more unfamiliar ground of Hellenism—but not hellenistic moralism…. This word has to do primarily with what people consider “loveable,” in the sense of having a friendly disposition toward.”

In other words, part of the mental discipline of mindfulness or even “taking every thought captive” could include thoughtful appreciation for displays of beauty or order or goodness that God has woven into our world through his general revelation of creation. To be sure, we should be careful never to elevate general revelation above God’s special revelation of his word. But to dismiss physical beauty or any pointer to goodness, grace, and design, would be a failure to appreciate God’s hand in all of life.

Regarding this word “lovely,” Fee goes on to say, “Here is the word that throws the net broadly, so as to include conduct that has little to do with morality in itself, but is recognized as admirable by the world at large. In common parlance, this word could refer to a Beethoven symphony, as well as to the work of Mother Teresa among the poor of Calcutta; the former is lovely and enjoyable, the latter is admirable as well as moral.”

After hearing his mention of a Beethoven symphony, I felt inclined to add a long list that includes things like a Dvorak aria, a Van Gogh landscape, a Monet footbridge, a Richard Wilbur poem, a vibrant sunset, Edwardo’s Chicago style deep dish elephant garlic pizza, or even the way a dazzling white azalea plays off the earthen brown deck in my back yard.

Does this have any connection to the task of evangelism? I believe it does. Some of our non-Christian friends have a great deal of difficulty relating to our mentioning of “a personal relationship with God” or anything that sounds “religious.” But they do see and experience God’s general revelation all the time, even if they don’t acknowledge the Giver behind the gift. Perhaps our comments about how “lovely” things are could pave the way to discussions of where those things came from and why we, as image-bearers of the creator, find such things so worthy of praise.

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.

3 Strategies for Witnessing to Family over the Holidays

Many of us will be gathering with family during the next few weeks and some of us feel pressure to “make the most” of these times. Specifically, some feel the need to “make sure to get the gospel in” to our conversations. It’s worth pausing and thinking through some possible strategies for these crucial reunions.

Strategy #1: Convey love as well as truth.

In talking to many people about the complex issue of family, I’ve found that, when it comes to our relatives, love is often assumed but seldom expressed. At least, it’s not expressed in ways that people actually feel loved. “I love you” may be tacked on to the end of a phone call. Or an obligatory “love” might be placed before our name at the bottom of an email. But do our relatives actually sense that we truly care about them? We may be tempted to say, “Of course he knows I love him. He’s my brother.” But over time, we may need to adapt our expressions to fit new stages of life. When we’re together this year, we may need to break old habits of just saying the same old clichés we’ve said many times in previous years. Listening, asking questions, expressing empathy, and finding common ground may be more important (and more difficult) than quoting a Bible verse or handing them a tract.

Strategy #2: Consider proclaiming some of the truth before delivering the whole truth.

I know this sounds counterintuitive. In fact, to some, this may sound like downright heresy! Some of us have been trained to “make sure to state the whole gospel” or “their blood will be on our hands.” To me, that sounds a bit like a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God. In our day of constant contact (through email, texts, tweets, etc.), we can trust God to string together a partial conversation at Christmas dinner to a follow up discussion the next day, to a phone conversation, to numerous emails, etc. Some of our unsaved family members and friends need to digest parts of the gospel (“How can God be both loving and holy?”) before they can take the next bite (“Jesus’ death resolves the tension of God’s love and his holiness.”).

Strategy #3: Don’t be a grinch.

The temptations to whine about the commercialization of Christmas, to complain that our world has forgotten that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” or to campaign for more Christ-centered Christmas music on the radio may turn out to be just as annoying as one more chorus of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Besides, for people who don’t know Jesus, he’s not the reason for their season—and yet some of them still like this time of year. Perhaps a more positive attitude and strategy may make greater headway. Join them in their enjoyment of the tree, the lights, the food, and talk about the wonder that God sent his son as all parts of a glorious time of year. Find ways to insert snippets (not entire sermons) about forgiveness, grace, eternity, or hope in between praising Aunt Sue for the delicious cookies and thanking Grandpa for not bringing another fruitcake.

This is a wonder-full season. Let’s do all that we can to make it attractive to those we love, pray for, and see only a few times a year.

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.