Book Review: Bringing the Gospel Home, by Randy Newman

Review
12.19.2011

As the title suggests, Randy Newman’s latest book hits close to the heart. Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members Close Friends and Others Who Know You Well takes on that thorniest of issues in evangelism: sharing your faith with people who know you’re a sinner from firsthand experience.

A BOOK ON EVANGELISM THAT HITS CLOSE TO HOME

What Christian committed to evangelism isn’t concerned about family members who don’t know Christ? Who has shared the gospel with family members without a heightened sense of the cost of rejection? And who but the most hardhearted wonder how to respond to, say, Uncle Don at the next Thanksgiving meal (or, in Newman’s case, the next Passover Seder) after a testy conversation about “religion”?

A Warm, Winsome, Practical, Commendable Book

Newman has written a warm and winsome book with a deep understanding of all these issues and more.

The book has a helpful, albeit unexpected, layout. Rather than dealing with various family relationships as the topics of the chapters, each chapter takes a universal principle in evangelism for its title, such as family, grace, truth, love humility, time, and eternity.

Each chapter follows a similar pattern: a short discourse on biblical principles regarding the topic of the chapter, followed by relevant stories and examples, and then a thoughtful concluding section called “Steps to Take.”

The scope of the book is commendable. There are a wide variety of stories about non-believing spouses, wayward children, antagonistic aunts, and more. Examples of sharing with people from different faith backgrounds are dealt with sensitively. There are suggestions on pastoral counseling and prayer, helpful ideas about role playing, and listening exercises. Newman could not cover every topic, of course, but I was left wondering what light he might shed on sharing the faith with small children.

As I read the book I found myself wishing for another thing too: that Newman had written this book years ago when I was a brash new convert abrading my family with my new faith. I had much to learn about sharing my faith in love, and about how to ask questions and actually listen to the answers before doing a “theology dump” on loved ones. I certainly wish I could have developed a healthy “nonengagement” policy, as Newman says, to avoid succumbing to manipulations of family members who can push buttons.

Hope and Love

I also resonated with Newman’s reasons for hope in evangelism, knowing that our evangelistic efforts, regardless of our failings, have more to do with God and the power of his gospel than they do with us. I know this hope personally, as I led both of my sisters to Christ despite my failings and outright sin. It’s been a lifetime privilege that makes all the awkwardness and angst of family evangelism worthwhile—and it provides a hopeful reminder for me about those family members who do not yet believe.

Hope is not a chapter title in Newman’s book, but a theme woven throughout the book. The same could be said about love (though love is the subject of chapter 4). And so the book takes on a tone of love and hopefulness that is important in our cynical age of pragmatic evangelism. Newman calls for joy-based apologetics, too: he wants the goodness of God to find a place in our outreach efforts. Throughout the book Newman exhorts us to preach the gospel of grace rather than a gospel of venom.

Not Just Success Stories

This is no “every-time-I-share-my-faith-is-a-success” book on evangelism. In fact, Newman’s greatest and most humorous stories come from his own failures in evangelism.

One of my favorite stories is how Newman’s mother comes to faith through a book a friend had given her—a book Newman had given his mom years before that went unread and unappreciated. What was it Jesus said about the prophet’s honor at home? But the joy of his mother’s conversion overshadows the irony, for both Newman and the reader. Perhaps the best parts of the book are Newman’s willingness to be self-depreciating about his personal attempts in witnessing.

Biblical Understanding

But there is more in that than Newman’s humble heart. Newman has a solid grasp of biblical truth about evangelism: God is the focus above self, and the gospel above pragmatics. I especially appreciated Newman’s clear statements underscoring the exclusive claims of Jesus, as well as his calls for Christians to be wary of sacrificing truth on the altar of cultural relevance.

Because of Newman’s biblical understanding of evangelism he is able to deal with issues beyond family evangelism, such as applying grace to any believer who experiences guilt in evangelism.

A MINOR QUIBBLE

I have one minor quibble. For all the scriptural insights about the gospel and deeply touching stories of sharing the gospel, it would have been helpful to spend a bit more time in explaining the gospel. The author would not need to say much more than, “the gospel is the message from God that leads us into salvation and that message is crystallized, or distilled in this outline . . .” and then explain a brief summary about God’s character, our condition, Christ work, and our response.

Newman does refer to the gospel outline “creation, fall, redemption, and consummation,” which is fine. But in this age when the gospel is so assumed and evangelism so programmatic it’s good to have the gospel clearly spelled out, something the author calls for himself.

He says, “We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without the creation, or salvation without judgment” (83). To this I give a hearty amen. It’s just that I’m not sure that it would be clear to a non-Christian who read the book about how to become a Christian. Or, perhaps more in line with Newman’s audience, that after reading this book a new Christian would be able to clearly articulate the gospel in an evangelistic conversation. Perhaps there is more of a problem with our culture of evangelism than the book. I’m certainly not saying that the gospel isn’t contained throughout the book—it is. I’m making, after all, a minor quibble.

AN ENGAGING BOOK FILLED WITH WISDOM AND LIGHT

Newman has written an engaging book filled with wisdom and light. It’s a book that would be helpful for new Christians, for, as Newman points out, our first attempts at evangelism are often with those closest to us. It’s also a book for older Christians who might feel stymied in their attempts to share their faith with family. Then again, it’s a book for any believer who desires to speak of the love of God shown to repentant sinners who put their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.