Irrelevant and Insensitive Evangelism Efforts?

Third day on Bill Fay’s 5 questions. We might title this one:

Are Bill Fay’s 5 Questions Relevant in North America? (Part 3)

On Thursday, my friend Matt Stephens suggested that Bill Fay’s five questions may not be effective in cultures that have no Judeo-Christian heritage.  Here’s the paragraph. Matt is a young thinker that I have great respect for so I want to give his thoughts some serious analysis even though I disagree with him. (For Matt’s complete comment go to Thursday’s initial post.)

[1] I also think the whole method is pretty irrelevant outside of a Christendom context. [2] It assumes people have heard of Jesus and heaven and hell, and have a basic acceptance of the existence of an afterlife, if not a conception of it in terms of “place.” [3] It also requires them to trust that you, or at least the Bible, are a trustworthy source of Truth. [4] Unfortunately, the majority of Americans consciously deny the latter, along with being overtly hostile to the slightest hint of uninvited proselytization.

I have labeled the sentences with numbers in brackets [  ] to make it easier to follow my comments.

I want to push back a bit on this one because my own experience is contrary to what Matt suggests. But actually before I do, let me point out that Matt’s comments are global in sentences 1-3, and national in sentence 4. This is important. Since my blog is in English and is devoted primarily to the North American context I might just dismiss the first 3 sentences as an objection that is meaningless to the discussion but I can’t do that with the fourth sentence.

But I don’t think Matt’s first three sentences are meaningless; I think they are wrong. Here’s why:

  1. As a North American blogger, the majority of my audience and the people I train are not living outside of a Judeo-Christian context.
  2. Most people in America have heard of Jesus, do have some notion of heaven or hell, and do believe in some afterlife etc.
  3. My questions are just questions. They don’t require anyone to trust me or the Bible as trustworthy sources of truth.
  4. People’s views are their views and I am getting information about their views with each question. This allows me to be sensitive and clear when the conversation turns and becomes more gospel and Christo-centric.
  5. Even when the person I am talking to has no Judeo-Christian background, these questions still work because they begin with “their spiritual belief system” not mine.
  6. If they have never heard of Jesus, I have learned something when they ask me a question back.
  7. While conceptions of heaven and hell vary from culture to culture, any afterlife question raises ultimate issues. This is a good thing and helps me to learn. (See #4 above)

Now to Matt’s fourth sentence which is more relevant to my blogging audience. Matt makes a good point and I will take that up on Monday with part 4.


3 thoughts on “Irrelevant and Insensitive Evangelism Efforts?

  1. Hey Marty,

    I don’t blog much anymore these days and haven’t checked back here for a while, but I thought I’d chime in anyway. 🙂

    Your replies 1 & 2 don’t really address my statement [1], but the others do so I’ll comment on them. 🙂

    Re: 3, you’re right. They don’t require it. I was just saying that certain types of questions have tendencies to provoke certain types of responses. And in my experience, asking someone in a direct manner about their spiritual beliefs is becoming increasingly culturally taboo. It’s unwelcome. The last time I asked someone Fay’s first question, they told me “My spiritual beliefs are my own business, thank you” and then gave me the cold shoulder.

    Far more often I’ve had success making statements that reveal that I’m a follower of Jesus, or at least involved in church, and generated Christ-oriented conversation from that. My evangelism strategy, just so you have a point of reference, is pretty much “The Celtic Way” (a la George Hunter III). It’s a communal strategy rather than an individual one. It proclaims the gospel constantly, through word and deed, publicly for people to see and hear, and invites people to take a closer look at what Jesus is all about in the context of community. It doesn’t invite them to consider a proposition outside the context of visible incarnation. In this model, witness, individual and corporate (“city on a hill”), is a prerequisite for evangelism (I don’t equate the two).

    If I see a natural place in the conversation for evangelistic questions, then I ask them. But my biggest priority is being the kind of person that unbelievers will want to listen to, and helping other believers and churches to do the same. Tim Downs’ book, Finding Common Ground (which I believe Dr. Nyquist assigned as a kind of foil to McCloskey’s book, which he also assigned) is very reflective of my attitudes concerning evangelism.

    Shalom, brother,

    matt

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    1. Matt,

      Good to hear from you. Actually, I don’t think we are too far apart. I like the Celtic Way of Evangelism and also like the idea of letting people know we are Christians early on and beginning to form or frame a context in which all of life can be interpreted for the unbelieving onlooker.

      I think part of the difference we have may be the memories you had of how you were taught the 5?’s and your initial experiences in using them. Bill Fay is a personality and has a style that is rather abrupt. Some who teach his approach are equally abrupt or take a pretty mechanisitic rather than relational tact.

      But I have found that the questions can be used in a very natural and completely sensitive way in more instances than not.

      I like Tim’s book. Tim and I co-taught a communication class at the International School of Theology way back in the dark ages (around 1984-85) at the height of his Downstown Syndicated Cartoon Strip. That was back when newspapers were still relevant and the internet was beginning to move out of fantasy.

      What are you doing now? Send me and email and give me an update.

      Marty

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    2. I was checking back here and revising some of these earlier blog posts and saw that I did not directly respond to my friend Matt’s first comment. Here is what Matt said.

      [1] I also think the whole method is pretty irrelevant outside of a Christendom context.

      Is that really true?

      In my experience, no. I have trained church planters in Japan (certainly not a Christendom bastion), trained church planters for Bolivia, Indonesia (largest Muslim country in the world), Taiwan and China, All of these planters have found that these questions powerfully move the conversation toward gospel clarity.

      And the reason for this is that they start not with what the questioner believes but with what the person being engaged believes,

      I love Matt’s “push backs” because they help clarify my own thinking but also because in each instance they help to strengthen the case for a “going as a learner” and being patient but bold. Used rightly, Bill Fay’s five questions are truly helpful.

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