Conversing the Gospel
In the previous blog, I mentioned the importance of conversation as a major vehicle for evangelism. Today, people point to interpersonal dialogs more than formal presentations as the significant factor in their coming to faith.
In this blog, I want to explore why that might be the case.
I want to ask, “What do conversations do that presentations don’t?”
I wonder if we fail to take advantage of the power of interpersonal verbal exchanges as much as we should. I fear we may think of an evangelistic conversation as only another delivery system of information. I suspect we equate dialog with a mere transfer of content. But what occurs when someone reads a page, differs from what happens when two people converse face to face.
Social scientist Sherry Turkle, who studies the effects of technology on communication, has said, “face to face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do.” If she is correct, I propose we mobilize the power of conversation for the most important task of helping people experience the fullest purpose of their humanity (i.e. knowing God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent – see John 17:3).
I think there are three things conversation do that mere presentation don’t:
First, conversations flesh out the gospel. What I mean is that when Christians tell non-Christians what the gospel is or how it effects their lives or how they have seen changes because of the gospel, the non-Christian encounters the message as more than just a message. They catch a glimpse of its power. They perceive a personal dimension of the cross through facial expression, tone of voice, variations of verbal speed, pauses, and sighs. Even failed attempts to find words to express the inexpressible say a lot. A gospel tract cannot substitute for a human encounter.
Second, conversations allow for process. At one time, we might have been able to list off a few (usually four!) components of a gospel presentation and people would, for the most part, understand them. They just needed to see all the parts of the whole at the same time. (Whether they would respond with repentance and faith is another matter). Today, for a myriad of reasons, each of those parts needs explanation, defense, and time to marinate. You can’t just tell most people today that they’re sinful and in need of forgiveness. Even after you explain what the Bible means by sin, people wonder what all the fuss is about. “Nobody’s perfect! Relax already. Why does God feel the need to do something as extreme as killing his son about it?”
A conversation allows for gradual delivery and gradual discovery. It provides emotional space for clarification and acceptance of truths that take time to gel. In fact, most people need numerous conversations with breaks in between to swallow ideas that heretofore seemed repulsive or alien or bizarre.
Third, conversations can be fun. Laughter can provide needed release of emotion as people wrestle with eternal realities. Many people find it hard (impossible?) to stay at the intense intersection of conviction and realization that a gospel conversation brings. They need to exhale. So does the evangelist. A conversation allows for variations of speed, intensity, reflection, elaboration, exploration, or discovery.
And interpersonal conversation fits the richness, complexity, and wonder of the subject matter – knowing a personal, communicative, loving God. Let’s embrace and pursue the art of dialog, this beautiful life-skill, for the sake of conversing the gospel, not just presenting it.