03 Apr Conversational Evangelism – Book Review
How to Listen and Speak so You Can be Heard
Norman Geisler and David Geisler,
Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publications, 2009
223 pages, $12.99, paper
Reviewed by Mark R. Teasdale
E. Stanley Jones Assistant Professor of Evangelism,
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL
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Norman Geisler, a well-known author of apologetics among conservative Christians, and his son David Geisler team up to write this book. The basic premise they begin with is that traditional forms of propositional evangelism, such as explaining to someone briefly the reasons they should accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior or handing out gospel tracts, have begun to show significantly less return in numbers of conversions over recent years.
Concluding that this change has occurred because postmodern cultural values have shifted away from those more amenable to simple presentations of the gospel, the Geislers argue that Christians must develop a new practice of evangelism in order to win people to Christ in the postmodern age.
The new practice that the Geislers propose is something they call alternately “preevangelism” or “conversational evangelism.” It is “pre” because they argue that this practice is necessary prior to engaging in “direct evangelism,” which they identify with the traditional practices that otherwise are not as effective today. Drawing from the parable of the sower, they suggest that pre-evangelism tills the ground, preparing the soil to receive the good seed of the gospel through direct evangelism. It is “conversational” because the way a Christian is to prepare the soil is through engaging in four types of conversations that will help their non-Christian interlocutors come to recognize their need for accepting Jesus Christ. These conversations are “hearing conversations, illuminating conversations, uncovering conversations, and building conversations” (32). The Geislers draw analogies between the different conversations and four professions. These are the musician, artist, archaeologist, and builder, respectively.
The bulk of the book (chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6) is dedicated to explicating each of these four conversations. The hearing conversation is described as a conversation in which Christians “listen for clues to what our non-Christian friends really believe deep in their hearts” (49). The assumption the Geislers make is that these beliefs will ultimately prove to be logically fallible, containing what the Geislers call “sour notes” (49) of inconsistency that make the beliefs untenable.
Through illuminating conversations Christians pick up these sour notes and proceed to help the non-Christians to recognize the inconsistencies in their own belief structures. This is done through asking careful, probing questions that allow the non-Christians to recognize these inconsistencies on their own. According to the Geislers, these questions must follow “the Three Ds” by focusing on surfacing doubts on the sufficiency on the non-Christians’ beliefs, minimizing the defensiveness of the non-Christians, and creating a desire of the non-Christians to hear more (81).