Evangelistic Reverse Engineering

This evening I was reading Sam Chan’s new book Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. I found his description of the three levels of interacting with others to be really helpful. In order to enter into meaningful conversations we have to reverse engineer others’ interests.

We all have a certain worldview, a way of seeing and understanding the world and our place in it. From there we build out our value system. Draped over our value system, are basic interests that we have in life. These interests may seem somewhat detached from our values or worldview, but often if we dig a bit, we will find a connection.

So, how do we move into conversations that could present an opportunity for the gospel? Of course, the most effective evangelistic relationships are just that—relationships. They are not one-stop evangelistic encounters. But we still have to be intentional with our conversations. As Paul said, we are to make the best use of our time with unbelievers (Col. 4).

Chan’s advice is to start at the top. Get to know others’ interests. Then begin to reverse engineer their outlook. See how their interests are connected to underlying values. As you learn more about their values, try to figure out how these values are connected to their foundational assumptions about life and reality.

When you’re talking worldview issues you’ve hit pay dirt. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a meaningful worldview conversation without touching on issues of God, the human condition, death, life after death, and other big ticket topics.

Can you get there from talking about hobbies? Yes. It may take time, but if you’re authentically interested in someone’s basic interests they will likely trust you enough to let you in on what makes them tick. But I doubt you’ll get there if it isn’t clear that you really care.