Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard by Norman and David Geisler is a practical guidebook which focuses on meaningful personal interactions in pre-evangelism and building bridges to the Gospel. It is not a script or method book – rather, it is a substantive training tool for finding out where people are and communicating with them effectively. As Ravi Zacharias puts it in the introduction, “the all-important key in evangelism is to listen beyond the question to the questioner. To answer the question but not the questioner is as much a breakdown as a faith that is not lived out in the practical.” (10) And so the overall goal of the book is to train Christians to thoughtfully approach their interactions with others while using an approach that is appropriate: “Not everyone is at the same point in their openness to the Gospel, and we need to use different approaches depending on someone’s spiritual openness.” (18)
Norman and David Geisler talk about the importance of pre-evangelism:
What is pre-evangelism? If evangelism is planting seeds of the Gospel, then pre-evangelism is tilling the soil of people’s minds and hearts to help them be more willing to listen to the truth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Because of the kind of world we live in today, we may not be able to plant the seeds of the Gospel until we work the soil of people’s minds and hearts. Failure to prepare the soil may lead to closed doors for planting seeds today and a reluctance to consider the Gospel message in the future. (22)
The authors also define evangelism: “Evangelism is every day and in every way helping your nonbelieving friends to take one step closer to Jesus Christ.” (22-23) The emphasis in Conversational Evangelism is really in the interactions that precede a presentation of the Gospel. The Geislers remind the reader that “The missing element is simply that evangelism is a process.” (23) So their goal in the book is to spell out strategies for making those who are not immediately receptive to the Gospel more receptive. The removal of intellectual and emotional obstacles is key: “…we should do all we can to make our manner of communicating the Gospel as inoffensive as possible even if the message of our Gospel may be offensive to some. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 Peter 2:8)” (25) This process involves a lot of listening and asking questions.
The Geislers categorize four types of conversations, what they call hearing conversations, illuminating conversations, uncovering conversations, and building conversations. (32) With each of these types of conversations is a particular emphasis, to which they assign the various roles of musician, artist, archeologist, and builder:
As a musician, we want to listen more carefully and also we want to hear the sour notes people are singing to us. As an artist, we want to paint a picture using questions to help others see themselves in a true light. As an archaeologist, we want to dig up their history and find the real barriers that are chaining them down. As a builder, we want to build a bridge to the Gospel. (33)
Throughout the book the authors offer excellent insights into particular questions that are appropriate for certain situations. David Geisler certainly seems to have mastered the art of asking good questions, and he shares dozens of them with the reader. The authors also aim for a balance in their approach: “We must also remember to do more than just deconstruct the beliefs of our non-Christian friends. When we ask probing questions, we must do so in a way that will make them more open and curious to hear more about our Jesus or at least continue the conversation at a later date.” (82)
The Geislers offer a lot of analysis and evaluation of non-Christian worldviews. They show how knowing others’ worldviews should guide our interactions. In addition, they examine the nature of the barriers that people have against Christianity: “There are at least two kinds of general barriers that people have to the Gospel – barriers to their understanding of Christianity and barriers to their embracing of Christianity.” (138) They go on to show how to discern what kind of obstacles one is encountering.
Conversational Evangelism is small book with plenty of content – so much so that some readers may feel a little overwhelmed with information, steps, examples, questions, and points. The book itself is nine chapters. Each chapter includes sample dialogues, summary points at the end, as well as points for practical application. There are also five appendixes with further resources, examples, questions, and the like. Yet even if the sheer amount of information in a 200-page book seems daunting, the concepts and ideas the Geislers spell out – the overall approach – is easy to assimilate. The reader will learn the importance of asking questions, being a good listener, and having sensitivity to real people with real questions. Conversational Evangelism can be recommended as a very useful tool for training Christians in practical apologetics and evangelism.
Norman and David Geisler, Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009).