THIS is a book on evangelism, by an evangelist, for a mainly Evangelical readership. Within its genre, it has much to recommend it.
Andy Bannister highlights friendship as the best context for talking about your faith, and the author’s own circle of friends clearly includes people of other faiths. He emphasises the place of hospitality and humour, he takes contemporary culture and science seriously, and he rails against a fundamentalist pastor who told a student that he had to choose between biology and the Bible. His central theme is the value of asking questions that open up conversations about faith.
Some readers may find the author’s humorous asides a little relentless, but they at least have the merit of being original rather than recycled from other preachers, and a few made me laugh out loud. The book offers a healthily self-aware corrective to some of the cheesier forms of evangelism in years past.
That said, the evangelist’s instinct to give clear answers rather than linger in the questions is evident. Early on, Bannister lists eight reasons that Christians might feel anxious about faith-sharing, without actually asking the reader what their own anxieties might be. He assumes that the reader will hold similar views to his own on certain moral issues. And, for all Bannister’s talk of authentic relationships, he gives no hint that the faith-sharer might end up feeling challenged on an aspect of their own faith. The evangelist is assumed always to be in “dispense” mode.
Around the same time as I read this book, I watched the online conversation between the writer Paul Kingsnorth and Rowan Williams, about Kingsnorth’s recent conversion to Orthodox Christianity. Kingsnorth pictures his conversion as coming home, after a wild and restless journey. It seems to breathe a different air from most Evangelical books on evangelism, even a good one such as this. Somehow, Kingsnorth and Williams manage to make it all feel less like instructions for avoiding panic attacks.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a London-based freelance writer, and former Head of Church Growth for Manchester diocese.
How to Talk About Jesus Without Looking Like an Idiot: A panic-free guide to having natural conversations about your faith
Church Times Bookshop £11.69