21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 4
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.
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.