Pre-evangelism can take many forms. Sometimes, we pave the way for a presentation of the gospel message with arguments, evidence, or challenges. We can build a case for the reasonableness of the belief in God, or the basis for thinking the Bible is historically accurate, or support for Biblical arguments from other sources of information. Paul displayed varieties of pre-evangelism when he quoted Athenian poets in Acts 17 and pointed to examples of God’s common grace in Acts 14.
Francis Schaeffer’s insight, “Pre-Evangelism is no soft option” (The God Who is There, section V) may be more applicable today than when he first said it almost 50 years ago.
One form of pre-evangelism I have encouraged is for Christians to have “a conversation about the conversation.” In my book Bringing the Gospel Home I compared this to the need to step on the clutch before shifting gears while driving a car with a manual transmission. There are some things that need to be said before stating the truths of the gospel if those truths are to be comprehensible.
One of those clutches is broaching the topic of whether it’s ok to even talk about things that are often relegated to “private things that should remain private.” Some people think talking about them might be rude, taboo, insensitive, or so politically incorrect as to be ridiculous (as in the most literal sense of that word = “deserving of derision or mockery”).
I have in mind statements or questions that sound like this:
- “Some people think we shouldn’t talk about religion or God because it’s too private. But I think something so important could at least be part of some conversations. What do you think?”
- “I’ve heard people say that the two things you should never talk about are religion and politics. Do you agree?”
- “I know this might be a little uncomfortable, but I wonder if we can talk about issues of faith and try to do it with respect and kindness.”
- “There certainly are mysteries that we can’t figure out. But I think there are some things we can know with confidence. Wouldn’t it make sense that God would want us to know some important truths?”
- “I know it’s politically incorrect to think you’ve got THE truth and everyone has to accept it. Could we talk about this? I think it’s worth exploring.”
In a sense, what I’m trying to encourage is rescuing certain conversations and topics from the locked closets of “don’t go there,” “we’ve already settled that,” or “everyone knows that….”
Perhaps this kind of conversation about the conversation is no more necessary than with the difficult topic of homosexuality. For many outsiders to Christianity, it is the largest defeater of an evangelical Christian point of view. No matter how reasonable our presentations of the gospel may be, if people have us pigeon-holed in the same place as white supremacists or believers in a flat earth, we’ll be dismissed out of hand—and probably not too nicely!
Some conversations about the conversation about homosexuality could sound like this. If people ask us why we’re opposed to gay marriage or why we hate gays or what trauma caused our homophobia, we might say:
- “It almost seems like we can’t disagree about this anymore, doesn’t it? We allow for differences of opinion on most issues. Why do you think this one has become one we can’t disagree about?”
- “Would you be willing to really talk about this? I fear that our society only wants to think about gay marriage on a bumper sticker level. I think the issue might be more complex than that.”
- “I’d really like to talk about this. But it may take more than just comparing slogans.”
- “I find it upsetting that our society has become so intolerant of differences of opinion about what tolerance means. Could we try to get past that?”
We’ve been told to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us (see 1 Peter 3:15). In our day, that might require us to say that we have a hope that frees us up to explore any topic—even ones many people consider untouchable.
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.