Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 09/04/2008 by Trevin Wax.
Recommended. A short book that contains a great amount of helpful material.How can we effectively evangelize non-Christians in a postmodern age?
How are postmodern people coming to Christ?
What lessons can we learn from their spiritual journeys that might help us as we work to fulfill the Great Commission?
In I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taughts us about Their Path to Jesus (IVP, 2008), Don Everts and Doug Schaupp draw on their many years of experience in ministry to postmoderns in order to help answer these questions and more. I Once Was Lost is a book born out of evangelistic efforts in a postmodern setting.
Throughout their ministry among postmoderns, the authors began noticing certain common experiences among their friends’ journeys to faith. These experiences led them to some conclusions about evangelism to postmodern people.
Using the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-27) as a foundational guide, the authors describe the postmodern journey to faith as both mysterious and organic. Conversion is mysterious in that it comes only from God:
“There is something spiritually liberating when we admit and declare what is beyond us and where we are powerless. We cannot create life. It is impossible for us to predict why some of our friends will choose Jesus and why others just won’t. We don’t know how to change hearts… This lesson has freed us from the modern temptation to view conversion as mostly a psychological phenomenon, an inner event that can be controlled and manipulated and triggered if we preach the gospel just right…” (19)
Liberated by the mystery of saving faith, the authors conclude that “the monkey is off our back, and onto God’s back, where it belongs. The Scriptures teach us that God is ultimately in control of salvation.” (19) God’s sovereignty forms the foundation of conversion, but that does not keep the authors from seeking to evangelize effectively. Instead, it lends a certain humility in their efforts.
I Once Was Lost is less a prescription for evangelism to postmoderns as it is a description of how effective evangelism is taking place in certain circles. The authors see five thresholds in the postmodern journey to faith:
- From distrust to trust. (Somewhere along the line, they learned to trust a Christian.)
- From complacent to curious. (They become curious regarding the Christian faith of their new friend.)
- From being closed to change to being open to change in their life. (The hardest threshold to cross.)
- From meandering to seeking. (At this stage, they begin actively, purposefully seeking God.)
- The Kingdom itself. (Trusting in Christ for salvation and confessing him as Lord.)
The authors then devote a chapter to unpacking each of these thresholds and showing the theological and biblical underpinnings for each one. The first threshold is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus came and became one of us. The authors warn, however, that In our “incarnational” evangelism, we should not succumb to relativism by pretending that all religions are the same.
The second threshold takes place when the non-Christian begins to see the transforming power of Jesus in the life of the believer. Seeing someone follow Jesus naturally leads to the “Why” question and moves the non-Christian from complacency to curiosity. The authors give practical advice in stoking this God-given curiosity (ask good questions and tell parables). One minor quibble here: The authors wrongly interpret Mark 4 regarding the purpose of Jesus’ parables , but that aside, they put forth many good ideas for evangelism at this stage in the process.
In threshold three, we are encouraged to give non-Christians the gift of space and permission to explore. The authors believe that moving from being closed to change to open to change is the most difficult step to take. That’s why they encourage fervent prayer during this stage (73).
In their zeal for helping people “explore” Christianity, however, the authors put forth the idea that Christianity is one option among many to be “tried.” I don’t like the terminology they use of “giving God a trial run” (71). Such terminology fits fine in our capitalistic, consumerist culture, but not in the biblical worldview of the God who rightfully claims our lives.
Christians should practice “nonjudgmental truthfulness,” and “gentle honesty” at this stage (75). How can one engage in this type of dialogue? By taking a conversation deeper. One example the authors give hardly seems like a “deeper” conversation:
“We all need help to get by. We might get our fix at Starbucks, at a party or on the Internet. But we all need a fix. I find my fix in God. What do you think about a spiritual hook-up?” (76)
But despite the trivial, street-talk given in the examples, the authors are right to assert that “sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is not to beat around the bush in conversations, but instead to just call them out on how they are afraid to change” (78). They go further in saying, “We underestimate the importance of our role in speaking words of challenge. If you tend to be that way, please don’t let your own comfort level guide how much you speak the truth in love, or you may never get around to it” (81). Bold, but helpful advice indeed.
Once the non-Christian reaches threshold four and begins to be more active in their pursuit of God, the authors recommend that Bible study take centerstage. At this stage, “people do not need to know what you think about Jesus near as much as they need to know what the Gospels say about Jesus” (98). I appreciate the centrality of Scripture that forms the heart of this section of the book.
The authors recommend a sense of urgency at the “kingdom” threshold. It is here that Christians should press the claims of Christ upon their friends, encouraging public commitment to Christ upon personal conversion.
I Once Was Lost is a short book that contains a great amount of helpful material for those interested in engaging a postmodern world with the gospel of Christ. I was pleasantly surprised at the emphasis on Scripture, the encouragement to gently confront, and the reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power in seeking to effectively evangelize others. Despite a few weak spots, the book contains much to be commended and deserves a wide audience. I Once Was Lost makes me want to roll up my sleeves and get to work as a more passionate evangelist in this postmodern age.