I Once was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus
By Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
There is much to critique about many evangelistic approaches. In my first months as a campus minister with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship at Syracuse University I did a lot of critiquing of the methods of other Christian groups on campus. Then a mentor said to me, "fine Mark, you have good critiques of their way of evangelizing, but what are you doing? Do you have an alternative approach you are actually practicing?"
This is a book that helps me imagine alternatives to the methods I critiqued.
The pragmatic side of me loved this book. It is not just theory; it contains a lot of “how to’s” illustrated with examples. The part of me that has grown skeptical of formulaic “how to” lists did not react too strongly because the practical emphasis of the book is rooted in a very different paradigm of evangelism. In large part that is because it is based on careful observation of and listening to people who have converted. I had hoped for thicker narratives of these people. The subtitle of the book mislead me, but actually it is exactly right. The book is not so much about postmodern skeptics, but it is the lessons learned from them. The thesis of the book is that “one trick” evangelism does not work well because it treats all people as if they are in the same place.
In essence, for example, it is of no use engaging a person as if they are a seeker if they are not even curious about Jesus. I thought the first threshold was especially important, moving from distrust of Christians to trust a Christian. The other four thresholds were: 2. Moving from complacent to curious, 3. Moving from closed to being open to change in their life, 4. Moving from meandering to seeking, and 5. Crossing the threshold of the kingdom itself.
I appreciate that they emphasize the importance of an actual call to take this last step. Many, I think, are hesitant to make an explicit call. In part out of reaction against the “one trick” packaged evangelistic techniques, and in part because of how it goes against the grain of our tolerance-as-supreme-virtue-society. Yet, if we are going to move people from fuzzy to centered they do need to turn to the center at some point. Calling for conversion feels much different in their approach because it is not seen as the goal of every conversation with a non-believer. If the person is only at threshold two, don’t make the call of threshold 5. It is a short book (132 pages), easy to read, many illustrative stories, and includes not just description of the stages, but also suggestions on how to engage non-Christians at each stage.
On one hand, by emphasizing process the book takes away a lot of the un-natural, uncomfortable, alienating feel of evangelism. On the other hand by identifying thresholds and calling Christians to work to lovingly help people move from one threshold to the next it maintains the evangelistic imperative that often seems to get lost when the emphasis is on process rather than on one-time contact evangelism focused on “praying the prayer.”