As a preacher and evangelist, I like to say that the application for any sermon—no matter the Bible passage—should be: “Tell your friends about Jesus.” It’s a joke, of course. Because that’s a lazy application—one guaranteed to get guilty looks from the congregation.
But why are we so bad at telling our friends about Jesus? In part, because in today’s post-Christian Western world, we’re told to keep our beliefs to ourselves. Our faith is supposed to be private, not public. In this environment, talking about Jesus is seen as judgmental, intolerant, and oppressive.
Last year, an article in Christianity Today carried a revealing headline: “Half of Millennial Christians Say It’s Wrong to Evangelize.” Evidently, evangelism is hated by significant numbers of both Christians and non-Christians! Who would have thought that a mutual dislike for evangelism would unite us all?
And yet, a desire to share the gospel with friends runs—or at least should run—through the DNA of every Christian. So how can we start talking about Jesus again?
This is the question at the heart of Rebecca Manley Pippert’s latest book , Stay Salt. Pippert, of course, is best known for her classic book on evangelism, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life. First published in 1979, Out of the Saltshaker was written to equip believers for evangelism in a culture that was drifting in post-Christian directions. Four decades later, those forces have only accelerated, but Pippert hasn’t lost any confidence that the gospel message can break through walls of hostility and indifference, even in the context of everyday conversations. As the subtitle of Stay Salt puts it, “The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not.”
A Multi-Pronged Approach
There are three sections in Stay Salt. In the first, Pippert looks at what she calls the means of evangelism—in other words, you and me, the “evangelists.” None of us feels adequate when confronted with the juggernaut of hostile Western secularism. But Pippert reassures us that this is precisely how God works our circumstances. God uses us not despite but because of our smallness, weaknesses, and inadequacies. We are supposed to depend upon God for the courage and strength to evangelize.
In the second section, Pippert takes us through the message of evangelism—the gospel. Here we might roll our eyes. Don’t we already know this stuff? But Pippert got me excited about the gospel with the fresh language she uses. She skillfully presents the gospel as both a rebuttal to the accepted doctrines of secularism and a positive message our friends will want to hear.
In the final section, Pippert outlines the method of evangelism. This might seem like another occasion for eye-rolling. Surely not another formulaic technique! But Pippert instead motivates us to love our friends and to “proclaim” the message through questions and conversations rather than a pre-rehearsed monologue.
Stay Salt got me genuinely excited to tell my friends about the gospel and its many glories. There are three main reasons for this. First, the book preached the gospel at me so that I rediscovered my first love. It’s worth reading Stay Salt just to enjoy the wonder and beauty of the gospel message. This is exactly what will get us talking about Jesus again.
Second, I appreciated hearing stories from Pippert’s life of evangelism. These stories are both instructional and inspirational. But more importantly, Pippert has stories of conversations with strangers on a plane and family members alike. As a public evangelist myself, I know it’s far easier to have conversations with strangers I’ll never see again than with family members I’ll encounter every Thanksgiving!
Third, the book takes a helpful, multi-pronged approach. There are instructions on one-to-one conversations, group Bible readings, and proclamation evangelism. This shows we all have a part to play. Just like a football team needs both a running and a passing game to move down the field with any success, evangelism works best when it draws on a variety of methods.
If I could push this book to go further, I would offer just a few observations. First, I think Pippert is somewhat mistaken in how she categorizes contemporary culture. The book’s guiding assumption is that the West, having lurched toward a post-Christian extreme, is functionally pre-Christian. I too used to believe this. But the Australian writer Mark Sayers had a brilliant response on his podcast, This Cultural Moment. In pre-Christendom, he says, people converted into Christianity. But in post-Christendom, Christians are the “bad guys.” People are de-converting from Christianity. And they don’t think they need Christians to save them from famines or plagues. In fact, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City expelled the Christian humanitarian group Samaritan’s Purse because of its views on marriage and sexuality.
Second, and relatedly, the book underestimates just how “post-Christian” we really are. When Billy Graham preached the gospel message in the 20th century, he liked to invite non-believers to come up front for the altar call. He reassured them with his famous saying, “The buses will wait.” What does that mean? It means that these non-believers were, in some sense, churched non-believers. After all, they had come to hear Graham preach on a church bus, as part of a community of believers . He was only asking them to believe what their friends believed .
But most of today’s non-believers have minimal connections, if any, to the church. They are not just agnostic about the God of the Bible but about any god. Many have no Christian friends at all. In certain ways, this is an unprecedented situation.
To evangelize effectively in such a context, we need to acknowledge how the presence of Christian community can make all the difference. Until we can connect non-believers with a community of believers, our efforts at one-to-one evangelism will only go so far. It was Nathan Campbell, the Australian pastor and blogger, who told me that evangelism is a team game . He pointed out that in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul says, “Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power. …You know how we lived among you for your sake” [emphasis added].
Even if Pippert sometimes fails to grasp the full extent of post-Christian drift in the Western world, she deserves credit for welcoming it as an opportunity for the church. Rather than seeing the secular climate as a threat to the gospel, she embraces it as a spur toward new and better ways of evangelizing. Why? Because people will be even hungrier for purpose, hope, identity, and someone who loves them. This is what I love most about Pippert’s approach. Instead of treating secularists as culture-war opponents, she welcomes them as neighbors to love afresh with the news of Jesus.
Stay Salt made me fall in love with the gospel all over again. I am a professional evangelist. I tell people about Jesus for a living. But this book renewed my commitment to pray for my family members, friends, and neighbors who don’t know Jesus yet. And it made me look for more opportunities to tell them about Jesus. It got me more excited about evangelism than I’ve ever been before.
Please read this book, and pray that God would use you—not despite but because of your smallness, weaknesses, and inadequacies—to tell your friends about Jesus.
Sam Chan is a public evangelist for City Bible Forum in Australia. He is the author of Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable (Zondervan Academic) as well as a forthcoming book, How To Talk About Jesus (Without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World (Zondervan), which releases in October.