Talking about Jesus is outside by comfort zone, which may sound weird coming from a pastor. But it’s true. Most of the time I’m talking about Jesus it’s in a religious setting – which doesn’t faze me at all – but get me out of that setting and it’s just plain awkward. It probably is for you too, which, if you want to be a more bold and less awkward witness, that’s probably a good reason to read Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone.
There are three “big ideas” in this book that I want to interact with more closely.
Moving Beyond Awkward
The title is a play on words. Evangelism can be really awkward but it’s worth it and on the other side of the awkward there is a divine encounter, a spiritual breakthrough, so we have to get beyond the awkward moments. Crosetto admits that evangelism will always be awkward because in evangelism we are almost always breaking various social rules. Crosetto makes some great points about how being “pushy” is different from being “bold.” Pushy people try to force their way in. Bold people step through the door God opens. Timid people avoid the situation all together, pretending there is no door. Pushy people make things unnecessarily awkward. Bold people accept some level of awkwardness but move forward anyway. Timid people avoid awkwardness completely.
But if we ourselves know the goodness of the gospel, love our friends and family, and believe that it’s really worth it, then we need to be bold. Crosetto states his case as follows:
“Evangelistic moments will freak us out. But if we bail out early we will miss the breakthrough moment that God, the other person and we were hoping for the whole time… If you want to see God move, then you need to enter into the awkwardness” (p42-43 author’s emphasis).
All of this is based on two assumptions. The first is that God is always busy setting up opportunities for his people to bear witness to his name. The second is that there are seekers waiting to have a spiritual conversation. The role of the evangelist is to see those opportunities as they arise, following the lead of the Spirit and go through the doors that the seeker opens.
Here is where the book really gets interesting. Crosetto spends a lot of time talking about the supernatural aspects of evangelism. He begins this section with a personal story. When he was a new Christian he had the opportunity to do some evangelism in a village in Egypt. While witnessing door to door, at each place he visited, he would receive some kind of “word of knowledge” which he would deliver through his interpreter. These words of knowledge were things he couldn’t have known apart from some supernatural source. At one point he prayed over a withered hand and it was healed immediately, much to the shock of those he was with. The impact of these events is that it confirmed the message of the gospel to the people in the village. At the time Crosetto had no idea how to interpret what had happened, except that he knew it was the power of God.
I don’t exactly know how to interpret the story either. Part of me is skeptical but on the whole I believe it. First, it’s certainly not beyond the power of God, even if it is outside of my experience. Second, the impact of the signs is the same impact as that in the book of Acts – it confirmed the message of the gospel and pointed people to Christ. Third, Crosetto’s story could be discredited. He was with a group of Americans, any of whom could read his account and publicly discount what had occurred. Fourth, I doubt very much that Crosetto expects to make a lot of money from this book. In other words, he doesn’t have much to gain by lying about it.
This experience clearly shaped Crosetto’s view of evangelism and that view is presented in the book. In evangelistic encounters he expects to hear the voice of God. When preparing for evangelism or engaged in it he will ask God for some image or word to aid him. Once he received the image of a wall, which he first interpreted to mean that the person had hit some “wall” spiritually. When he asked her what she thought about God, though, she said that she always thought of God being “in the wall” because that is how her parents had always prayed. He then shared with her that he had been given the image of the wall and all this aided his evangelistic efforts and confirmed the gospel for her.
From Crosetto’s perspective God has given us general instructions in his authoritative Word but he also guides us through his ongoing voice helping us in specific situations. He looks to Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian in Acts as an example. Philip has a general call (Go and make disciples) and then God gives him ever increasingly specific instructions (Go South, Go up to the Chariot). We need to listen to both.
Crosetto puts in all the necessary caveats and even includes a special appendix for trying to discern the voice of God in our lives. We need to test it against Scripture, which is authoritative. We need to test it against the community. We need to ask whether it is making us into more mature Christ-followers. Etc.
I am not a pure cessationist, that is, I don’t believe that all miraculous activity or so-called sign gifts ceased after the book of Acts. I remain open, at least, to the possibility. To do otherwise, I think, would be to put God in too much of a box. If he does act in that way I don’t want to be caught saying “He could never do that.” However, I’m skeptical of Crosetto’s approach to evangelism.
There’s another way to interpret the “voice of God” which guides us to specific applications of general commands. In this alternate interpretation the Christ follower is continually growing in awareness of God, His Word, His values and is growing in awareness of the world around him and how God’s command intersects with God’s command. The nudging of the Spirit might be that his conscience is more attuned to the love of God and he is able to recognize opportunities that arise around him. That’s not to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t active in this interpretation. He is. He is always confirming to us the truth of God’s Word and helping us apply it to our lives. I think both interpretations are equally “spiritual” in nature.
It doesn’t, however, account for Crosetto’s “words of knowledge,” which for now I will do nothing more than add to the pieces of evidence which point towards their reality. From my tradition Crosetto experiences seem “weird,” but not unorthodox or dangerous. He definitely challenged my thinking on this point, for which I am grateful.
Crosetto gives some guidelines on evangelistic methodology. Early on he suggests that in our experience-based culture an experience-based evangelistic method is needed. In my experience with youth in our city, he seems to be spot on, although I should note that culture is by no means uniform. I have several friends for which propositional evangelism would still probably be the most effective route. He gives advice on how to avoid being pushy, how to be patient (but not miss the moment when it arises), how to ask good questions, and how to turn a conversation to Jesus.
To turn a conversation to Jesus we need to locate the “handle” which Crosetto identifies as that particular need (such as fear, anger, or frustration) which intersects with the good news of the gospel. From there we can guide the seeker to a divine encounter and share the gospel. For instance, Crosetto had a friend who confided in him his struggles with his job. After some time Crosetto asked him if he wanted to know how knowing God and following Jesus could help him. When his friend opened the door (said that he did want to talk about that) it gave Crosetto the opportunity to share the gospel more fully.
Beyond Awkward is filled with wisdom, exhortation, and encouragement. I’m inspired by Crosetto’s many stories. God calls his children to be bold witnesses for his name, not pushy, but not overly timid either. The gospel is the good news and it’s the good news for the entire world. May he help us share it.