Book 7 – I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus

Every three years all the InterVarsity staff meet in St. Louis for several days to pray, worship and learn together. Why we do it there – during the coldest days of the year – is a long story. But I want to say that I really love it. The main reason is that I get to meet and learn from staff colleagues like Don and Doug – that’s where I first heard their ideas about engaging their friends and talking about Jesus.

As I listened to their stories and looked at their diagrams, I realized that their description mapped well onto the journeys of many of my friends who had become followers of Jesus. It made sense to me then; and having read the book and thought about it a lot since then, it still does.

This is a book for followers of Jesus who want to know how to speak helpfully and relevantly to their friends about Jesus. In some ways, it’s an old-fashioned book about evangelism – replete with thresholds that we hope our friends will cross.

Thinking back to Carl’s book and others along the way that disparage the word evangelism, I think it is important to highlight what these guys do that is different from most evangelists. The difference is in how they think about what the threshold framework means and how it is used:

We offer it as a discernment tool, something to help you ask good questions. As you seek God for wisdom about what your non-Christian friends need, you are in a great learning posture. Our hope is that as you use this tool with the Lord and your community to understand your non-Christian friends and neighbors more clearly, you will grow in servant evangelism. (p. 132)

The reality is we each need to make a decision to serve our non-Christian friends. Just because we understand more clearly what post-modern folks need in their journey, it does not necessarily follow that we will give them what they need. (p. 133)

Their hearts are for their friends and, like their forbearer the Apostle Paul, they are inclined to become all things so that their friends can take whatever step is their next toward Jesus.

THINGS I LIKED

1. Don and Doug remind us that it is mysterious thing to come to Jesus – process isn’t linear or merely logical. I’m glad they say this at the beginning to underscore the need for prayer.

2. The thresholds that Don and Doug have identified make sense to me:

Trusting a Christian:  distrust -> trust

Wondering about Jesus:  apathetic -> curious

Opening up to Change: closed -> open

Seeking after God: meandering -> seeking

Entering the Kingdom: lost -> saved

They identify where the challenge lies and suggest ways to really help. Asking pointed questions and praying specific prayers is the path forward.

3. I like this question:

How can we be good friends (and farmers) during this part of our friends’ journeys? Is it possible to help people open up to change? Are there ways we can walk alongside our friends as they face the steep, difficult, spiritually charged hill in front of them? (p. 70)

4. I liked their chart (p. 91-2) for thinking about answering questions (ATTIC) – an interesting spin on traditional apologetics that they have found more helpful to postmodern skeptics.

Affirm – Bless their curiosity

Translate – Express the abstract in relationship to your own life

Transparent – Be confessional about your own struggle

Insert yourself as a case study – Personalize the question to yourself

Challenge – So what about you?

THINGS I STILL NEED TO THINK ABOUT

1. As with others who have written about faith development (James Fowler, M. Scott Peck, Dave Schmelzer, Richard Rohr, etc.) Don and Doug’s framework charts a course that it true for many but not all. I always have trouble mapping my own faith journey onto these frameworks. It makes it hard for me to speak personally and confessionally about my own path to Jesus.

2. At several places (especially at Threshold 3) Don and Doug encourage initiative – even bold initiative – to help our friends “connect the dots,” “reframe events” (p. 80), get “unstuck” and move into the next frame. Of course we see Jesus doing this in the Gospels, right? And while I can think of many people who have done this for me at different times, it still makes me nervous. While I may have some insight and be helpful in interpreting their situation – e.g. “I think God is trying to get your attention…” (p. 81) – I don’t want to suggest more than God is actually saying.

Earlier in the book they affirm asking questions:

Jesus is asked 183 questions in the Gospels. He answers just 3 of them—and he asks 307 questions back! (p. 54)

A seminary professor we know says, “A good question is worth a thousand answers.” Sometimes when someone asks us a question, an answer is the last thing they need. Instead, they need someone to stoke the fire of curiosity in their soul. (p. 55)

Sounds about right to me. And true for me no less than for my friends.

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About Jeff Barneson

Husband to Tara Edelschick Father to Zachary and Ezra Keeper of Bees Campus Chaplain Bicycle Racer Coffee Drinker Follower of Jesus View all posts by Jeff Barneson

2 responses to “Book 7 – I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus

  • LightByGrace

    I really like the idea of learning how to discern what questions to ask – being sensitive to the Spirit and listening to people as individuals rather than studying up on the ‘right’ answers to give. I have rid myself of any ‘how to answer (fill in the ‘false religion’ blank)’ books from my shelf. That felt good to do!

    I, too, get nervous about the whole notion of figuring out where someone is on some continuum, spectrum or graph and then feeling like it is my job to move them along that continuum. Living that way, for me, became a case of being in constant judgment/evaluation of others. Nowadays I just like to live my life and engage with people as people knowing that all of us are in different places – and that I can learn from anyone – even ‘non-Christians’ as much as they might learn from me. I would love for everyone to know Jesus, of course, but I no longer have an agenda in that regard as I interact with people…If Papa nudges me I will follow His lead, but I wait for that nudge and otherwise just live life. Hope that makes sense…

  • Brian

    Very helpful summary, Jeff. Thanks for reading, writing, and sharing.

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