“Witnessing is that deep-seated conviction that the greatest favor I can do for others is to introduce them to Jesus Christ…But, many Christians are ineffective ambassadors because they’re not sure of the content of their message and are unable to communicate it clearly to others.” So writes Paul Little in How to Give Away your Faith, which is certainly one of the most widely-read and successful books on evangelism ever written.
Published in 1966, and re-released by Little’s wife last year (Little died in 1975), this book is a sort of evangelism-for-dummies. Much of what it says seems common-sense now, but was not so 40 years ago. In fact, much of what seems obvious in it, is obvious precisely because of the popularity of this book.
Little’s thrust is that Christians are to be ambassadors for Christ, and they should be out proclaiming the Gospel to the world around us. He stresses the life-style that the evangelist leads should be marked by holiness, and the attitude the evangelist has should be friendly. Grumps and worldly people make terrible evangelists, Little points out, because the goal is to actually show people that the Gospel transforms our lives.
How to Give Away your Faith is an extremely practical book—more so than just about any other book on evangelism I can think of. Little divides evangelism up into two categories: one-time encounters (cold evangelism), and on-going encounters (relational evangelism). He then gives specific ideas and observations about each category. For example, he points out that one-time encounters tend to go deeper more quickly, perhaps because of they anonymous nature of the conversation. He then gives lists of ways to facilitate these conversations.
For relational evangelism, Little gives helpful examples of how to transition relationships with friends and neighbors into conversations about the Gospel. His examples are challenging and effective. He gives advice on how to meet neighbors, how to start conversations, and how to challenge people to make decisions for Jesus. He encourages you to consistently ask your friends what their opinion is on things, then listen to their answer. The more you ask, the more they talk, the more likely they will be to listen when you explain the Gospel.
He also spends a chapter detailing the content of the gospel. This book does not present a method-driven approach to evangelism. Unlike most current evangelistic training, Little does not give a “memorize these points and have this conversation” approach. He gives multiple different outlines, and certainly gives the reader enough training to have a conversation that centers on the Gospel.
There are weaknesses to this book. Some of his examples are certainly dated (computers are called “thinking machines,” and the threat of a nuclear holocaust is mentioned several times; he reminisces about the days when kids played “cowboys and Indians”). The book closes with chapters on worldliness, weaker brothers, grey areas, devotional life, and secret sins. The content of those chapters is good—especially the weaker brother one—but the connection to the rest of the book is unclear and they seem terribly out of place.
It is helpful to remember that this book was written 45 years ago. Little takes a strong stand in favor of Lordship salvation, and also warns against Christians who say that God speaks to them in an audible voice. But he also talks about “making the Gospel relevant” and gives advice on making listeners “more receptive” to the Gospel. It is most likely that these words (“relevant” and “receptive”) had different nuances then, but they have since been damaged by the seeker-sensitive and too-cool-for-school pastors, and they stand out as being unhelpful in today’s evangelical culture.
Today when you witness (or teach others to), you most likely understand that evangelism is more than plowing through Bible verses and spiritual Laws. When you think of evangelism, you probably think of having conversations with friends and neighbors about the Gospel, and you probably view that as an essential part of Christianity. While How to Give Away your Faith may seem elementary, it is also at least partially responsible for engraining those assumptions into the fabric of today’s evangelicalism.