Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/04/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Not Recommended. A flawed but provoking plea for Christians to witness more humanly.
Previously published as a.k.a. Lost: Discovering Ways to Connect with the People Jesus Misses Most, Jim Henderson’s book on evangelism is a different breed than the evangelism methodology books proliferating Christian bookstore shelves. Henderson is probably more famous – or notorious, depending on how you look at it – for being associated with Brian McLaren, for directing Off The Map, a research and training organization that ‘reinvents’ evangelism by polling nonbelievers about ways to reach them, and for bidding on and winning the ‘soul’ of atheist Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay.
It’s probably not shocking that Henderson’s friend McLaren wrote the foreward to this book. What may be more shocking to some is the normality of the introduction, in which McLaren simply narrates how a strident Christian shock-jock made him feel uncomfortable in a radio station studio. He offers this life episode as an example of how nonbelievers can be made to feel terribly uncomfortable in a witnessing situation. “But they should feel uncomfortable,” some might say. “They are without God.” True enough. But spiritual discomfort isn’t the type of discomfort that McLaren, and later Henderson, are referring to. Rather, they are referring to the type of discomfort that shuts down evangelism before it starts - situational discomfort, if you like.
Rather than detailing a twelve-part evangelistic strategy, Henderson asks the question, “What if sharing your faith meant just being yourself?” He spends twelve chapters narrating real-life episodes in which the evangelizers were successful in putting at ease, or even befriending, the evangelee. Often he relates these contemporary accounts to ways in which Christ interacted with those around him in first-century Palestine.
The path to speaking the gospel, Henderson says, is first to serve it: “We should preach as if we’re serving and serve as if we’re preaching.” He goes on: “We preach as if we’re serving when we use words that carry people’s hearts to Jesus rather than just correcting their mistaken beliefs… when we ask more questions than we give answers…when our hearts’ intention is for the other person to experience Jesus’s (sic) love and reality, not just hear our beliefs.” Practice normal talk, says Henderson, not church talk. Practice “human evangelism.” Evangelize with your ears.
All of the above is helpful, but two catchphrases in the book are quite misleading and are employed ad nauseum:
- “…the people Jesus misses most.” This bizarre phrase is at best an unfortunate theological gloss. While there are many living, breathing people who are elect of God but have yet to respond to the gospel (some Presbyterians refer to this group as Non-Elect Covenant Members, NECMs for short) it is not that case that everyone a Christian evangelizes fits into this category. Of course, we cannot know for certain one way or the other, so we must believe in the power of the gospel to save souls and in the God of mercy who ordained the gospel to save souls. But we must also be cognizant of the reality that prior to regeneration, a person is dead in trespasses and sin, as Paul clearly states in Ephesians.
- “…the people formerly known as lost.” It’s unfortunate that many readers will imagine the Artist formerly known (and now known again) as Prince when they come across this catchphrase, which occurs at least two dozen times in the book. Again, it is a deceptive phrase in some respects, because it requires the back story of Henderson’s former church, in which nonbelievers were formerly called ‘lost,’ but now are called ‘missing.’ And if a phrase requires that much explaining, then it has failed in its quest to be a successful catchphrase.
At other times, Henderson’s exegesis is faulty: in John 21:12, nowhere does Jesus remind Peter that “they loved each other.” Likewise, when Henderson reiterates Christ’s meeting at the well with Samaritan women, he states that “when she attempted to turn it into a debate, he resisted.” However, in Desiring God, John Piper describes the scene thus: Jesus “does not insist that she stay on His path. He will follow her into the bush…He is willing to deal with the issue of worship.” While Christ did debate the woman, he did it in a way that would arrest her attention. Sadly, Henderson’s misreading misses an opportunity to explain how Christ both challenged and engaged her.
This book contains two helpful features that may or may not have appeared in the first edition. Practical ways to perform ‘Ordinary Attempts’ of evangelism are synopsized at the end of chapters, and a chapter-by-chapter study guide at the end of the book asks questions that go beyond mere regurgitation of the content. While I normally simply mention the presence of a study guide, I perused this guide more thoroughly and was generally pleased. A few issues arose: a strange reading of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus, more than one instance of proof-texting, and further misreading of John 21. Also, while every pre-conversion spiritual journey is unique in many ways, Scripture provides us with ample description of our unregenerate state. There is only so far we can take individual uniqueness when it comes to the message of the Cross.
And that’s what this book is short of: the content of the gospel. While it is possible that Henderson deliberately omitted an extended presentation of the gospel message, assuming his readers would know it well, it would have been helpful to include another chapter, or perhaps an appendix, with these essentials. But Henderson is entirely correct in the most important area – it all starts and ends with love: “I want Christians to love people who don’t know Jesus, not be mad at them for not believing the right things.” This book is useful, but it needs to appear in a third edition that rectifies the errors in exegesis, style (primarily the repeated catchphrases), and subject matter. Therefore I hesitate to broadly recommend this book.