A Must-Read: “How to Give Away Your Faith,” by Paul Little

“So you want to witness!  I did too, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it without stubbing my toe in the process.”  (17)

 Introduction

             In How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little shares his wisdom gained from many years of experience in personal evangelism.  Little often spoke to students about spiritual matters on college campuses around the country in seminars and more informal settings, gaining a wealth of knowledge concerning the cares, concerns, and obstacles unbelievers–especially students–have in relation to the gospel.  His experience in this area makes this book an invaluable resource for Christians in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Summary

            While many books have been written proposing methodology of witnessing and many books have been written about the proper theological content of the gospel, in How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little marries the two subjects in a work that is both practical and theological in nature.  Little begins his book with some practical advice to the would-be-witness: witnessing is comprised of two components, one verbal and one non-verbal.  Little notes that a Christian’s gospel presentation will only be taken as seriously by the unbeliever as it is by the believer—if a genuine Christian lifestyle is not in place, the verbal witness will likely be ineffective.  True, saving faith, Little observes, will always produce a godly lifestyle (32).

In the next chapter, Little describes various actions or attitudes which can either repulse or attract non-Christians, laying a practical foundation for becoming an “effective ambassador” for Christ.  He points out that oftentimes what Christians perceive to be a rejection of the gospel is nothing more than a rejection of the obnoxious methods used to convey the gospel, not the message itself, noting that the Christian witness must achieve a balanced enthusiasm for the gospel in order to be an effective ambassador (40).  In chapter three, Little lays out an eight step process for witnessing, drawn from his observations of Jesus’ witnessing method to the Samaritan woman at the well.  In chapter four, he continues his practical wisdom by acknowledging some of the many social obstacles Christians frequently encounter when witnessing and lays out some basic principles and guidelines for overcoming these obstacles.

In chapter five, Little shifts from his practical and methodological focus to a more theological one.  In this chapter, Little deals with the theological content of the gospel message and also offers several practical arrangements for presenting it.  His focus, however, is primarily on clearly defining what the gospel message is (and isn’t) and how to truthfully and accurately convey this message (93-95).  Chapter six is primarily apologetic in nature, offering concise responses to seven basic questions that Christians should be prepared to answer about their faith, including the infamous questions of “the problem of evil” and “what about those who’ve never heard?” (116-134)  Chapter seven addresses the relevancy of Christianity in modern culture.  Little notes that Christ fills the spiritual void in our lives, provides purpose, gives us hope over death, provides inner peace, is an ever-present friend, helps us control our fleshly appetites, and helps us integrate our knowledge in a way that puts all truth in its proper context and relation to God’s universe and plan (141-151).

In the final three chapters, Little deals with facets of the Christian walk which can affect one’s witness to unbelievers.  Chapter eight deals with worldliness and the topic of Christian liberties.  Chapter nine deals with the daily battles for faith and holiness.  Finally, in chapter ten Little exhorts the believer to focus on the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer which, he concludes, are necessary in order for the Christian to be spiritually charged enough to be an effective witness (198).

Critical Evaluation

             Paul Little’s book, How to Give Away Your Faith, contains both instruction on the content of the gospel message in addition to practical methodological advice garnered from years of evangelistic encounters.  Thus, it will be helpful in this review to critique both separately.

One beneficial aspect of Little’s overview of the content of the gospel message is that he concisely summarizes the gospel in a way that avoids the two extremes often observable in other similar works.  First, he is conscious of the fact that no book on evangelism would be complete without careful consideration of this topic; Little avoids a purely methodological work which gives no attention to the message conveyed in the gospel presentation.  Secondly, he avoids over-complicating the message in a way that would leave the reader confused or less certain of the basic message.  Little avoids the error of other authors by keeping the message simple and plain, even breaking it down into five basic facts: the person of Jesus Christ, his diagnosis of the sinful human nature, the facts and meaning of his death, the facts and meaning of his resurrection, and steps to becoming a Christian (95-101).  Although I would have liked to have seen a more explicit discussion of the aspects of “Lordship” and “counting the cost” in his discussion of becoming a Christian, his gospel presentation is essentially theologically sound.  One thing I enjoyed in his discussion of the content of the gospel is that Little also provides instruction for encouraging a new Christian.  This is a step often neglected in other works, but is critical for the sanctification of the new believer.  However, as previously mentioned, I would prefer to see more of an emphasis on lordship in this section than on “assur[ing] the believer of salvation…” (106)  Assurance is given by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as the believer lives in accordance with the Bible’s instruction.  Providing assurance is not the job of the witness but of the Holy Spirit.  Stressing obedience and the process of sanctification, however, is something that the witness can—and should—do.

Much of Little’s book deals with the practical and methodological considerations of witnessing to non-Christians.  I found the chapter on overcoming social barriers to be especially insightful.  For instance, Little states that when offered an alcoholic drink Christians often reply, “No thanks, I’m a Christian.”  While we may feel that such a reply is a good witness, Little remarks that it actually has the same effect on the non-believer as saying, “Drinking is inherently non-Christian.  You clearly aren’t a Christian since you’re drinking.”  While unintended, this statement may come across as a “holier-than-thou” attitude and actually damage our witness to these people.  Instead, Little suggests opting out of such activities on the basis of personal preference or simply asking for a soda as a substitute (80-81).  Little’s observations in chapter three of Jesus’ method of witnessing were also very helpful, especially his observation that Jesus was able to dodge questions that had the ability to side-track the conversation (72).  While I also found helpful his advice not to use the question “Are you a Christian?” to lead into a conversation, I did not find the question he uses (“Have you ever personally trusted Jesus Christ or are you still on the way?”) particularly helpful.  While I do like that Little offers the “easy out” in the second half of this question (“are you still on the way”), the first half seems loaded with Christian jargon that might be difficult for a non-Christian to understand and is entirely subjective and difficult to evaluate.  After all, what does it mean to “trust Jesus” and how would a non-Christian know how far along “the way” they are to becoming a Christian if they don’t even know what “the way” is?  For a question that is meant to diagnose one’s spiritual condition, this question seems inadequate.  I would prefer a series of questions that is more objective: for instance, “Do you believe in heaven/hell?  Which do you think you’ll go to and why?”  These would offer an instant look into both the person’s spiritual progress and their religious presuppositions.

Conclusion

             While there are a couple relatively minor changes I would make in Little’s methods and the content of his gospel presentation, I can say that I would highly recommend this book without reservation.  This book is a monumental accomplishment as it effectively partners biblically based methodology with sound theological content to adequately prepare the Christian to be a good gospel witness.  This book is extremely accessible to laity, also, making it ideal for small group studies in a church environment.  I currently know of no other book which accomplishes what Little has done in How to Give Away Your Faith, and I fully intend on using this book as a resource in the church to which I minister.

Little, Paul E., Little, Marie, ed. How to Give Away Your Faith. rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,2008. 202 pp. $15.00.

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