Book Review: Randy Newman’s Mere Evangelism

Dr. Randy Newman has given the Church another gift in Mere Evangelism. 

If you are familiar with any of Randy’s work, then you know that his holistic and thoughtful approach to evangelism challenges many of our preconceived notions or narratives about what evangelism should or will look like today. In “Questioning Evangelism,” Randy questioned (wink) the pre-packaged and simple evangelistic methods which have been so common in evangelicalism. While pragmatic (and no doubt fruitful in some situations), such methods do not typically honor the non-Christian in their doubts and questions. Nor do they honor what we know about how Jesus presented the gospel and his kingdom to those he encountered.

In “Unlikely Converts,” real stories of God’s saving and transforming work in others not only led to good lessons for our work of evangelism, but they were also deeply encouraging. God really is still at work today! As much as we need tools to grow in our own evangelism and relationships with non-Christians, we need to be desperately dependent on God to move and work.

This is what I’ve come to love about Randy’s work: helpful reflections on the work of evangelism that never depart from a dependence on Jesus to seek and save just as he promised. Now in Mere Evangelism, he gives us his thoughtful reflections and honest heart through the lens of C.S. Lewis. The result is an absolute treasure.

Many who read this book will likely already be familiar with Lewis. However, Randy writes in such a way as to invite anyone, regardless of their familiarity with Lewis, to learn from this unlikely convert and brilliant apologist. In fact, while this was not the purpose of the book, Mere Evangelism might serve as a wonderful introduction to the thinking/work of Lewis for those less familiar with his life and writings. 

I found so much of the content in Mere Evangelism refreshingly new, or at least packaged in a way that I received as new. Even familiar works from Lewis were digested in such a way that led to fresh reflections and lessons for me and my ministry today. For example, in Chapter 2 (“The Appeal to Clues”) Randy draws on Lewis’ thoughts on joy. Even though I have read this work from Lewis before, I was reminded that Lewis defined joy in a way that is very counterintuitive for many of us today. Lewis defined joy as “an unsatisfied desire” and, building on that definition, Randy brilliantly gives his reflections on how the “unsatisfied desires” of people we meet might lead to fruitful evangelistic conversation. As Randy wonderfully puts it:

“Misery-based apologetics sound like this: ‘Aren’t you miserable trying to life your life apart from God? Don’t you want more out of life than just possessions and experiences?’ This is indeed how Jesus approached the woman at the well in John 4. But some people don’t feel miserable part from God – at least not yet. Our appeals to their misery don’t work because they’re rather happy. For them, joy-based apologetics might work better: ‘Isn’t it amazing how plants grow of their own accord and then we eat the fruit? Do you ever think about what a great gift that is?’”

Some of the topics Randy engages with will also be familiar to those who know his work. For example, Chapter 1 centers on “The Necessity for Pre-Evangelism” – a topic which was also foundational in Unlikely Converts. Nevertheless, reflecting on pre-evangelism through Lewis’ radio broadcasts (which would lead to the published version of Mere Christianity that we now know) was incredibly fresh and helpful for my work as a pastor today. 

One of the things I always appreciate about Randy’s work is how he calls us back to the essentials of evangelism. In Chapter 10 (“The Call to Respond”), we take note that even the learned scholar like Lewis could translate his academic mind into an evangelistic heart to compel others to come to Jesus. I needed to hear Randy’s words in this chapter:

“And so, just as non-Christians need to trust God’s power to save them through the gospel, Christians need to trust God’s power to use them to preach the gospel. Few can craft words as brilliantly as Lewis. But all Christians, even those with the weakest of language skills, can be used by God in astonishing ways.”

I commend Randy’s book to any Christian who wants to grow as an evangelist (which is admittedly uncomfortable for nearly every one of us!). Whether this book is studied individually or in a group (and I think it would excel in a group), we have much to learn from Dr. Newman and his friend C.S. Lewis.

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