Book Review: 'How to Give Away Your Faith' by Paul Little

How to Give Away Your FaithPrior to his death in 1975, Paul Little was a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and committed evangelist of the gospel. Little and his wife worked for twenty-five years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—a ministry dedicated to serving Christian college students and bringing the gospel to unbelievers in a university context. Little also served as an associate professor of evangelism at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and authored two other popular books, Know Why You Believe and Affirming the Will of God.

Summary
Little’s How to Give Away Your Faith is a practical guide for straightforward, compassionate, truthful evangelism. Throughout the book Little urges his readers to become “Effective Ambassadors” for Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God by recognizing their given social context, listening well to unbelievers, cultivating sincere friendships, and rightly understanding the gospel. Little offers seasoned wisdom garnered from a lifetime of witnessing, encouraging his readers to establish common ground with unbelievers, purposefully arouse interest in the gospel by asking good questions, and to be careful to avoid self-righteous judgment of the people to whom they are witnessing.

Little also includes chapters providing apologetic resources for tough questions and encouragement to Christians to continue to walk by faith. Chapter eight speaks to issues of conscience and helps the Christian reader develop sensitivity to new believers. The book closes with a reminder for Christians to remain steadfast in their own personal devotional time in order that they might “Feed the Spring” of their soul and thus be able to better witness to others.

Strengths
Little’s How to Give Away Your Faith is a helpful and, at times, convicting book. The primary strength of this work is found in the abundance of practical wisdom for witnessing to unbelievers. Reminders to establish good eye contact, develop active listening skills, foster an attitude of encouragement, and make yourself interesting to others (49) are just a few of the useful tools Little provides his readers to aid them in becoming effective ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

Readers are also exhorted to recognize the struggles and concerns of those to whom they are ministering. Little introduces the book by reminding us that “Realism is Essential” (18) as we present the Christian faith to others; we must understand the context in which we minister and distinguish the barriers that keep people from believing the truth. Without a sufficient understanding of our culture, our evangelistic efforts will become stale and useful to only a few. This is an important reminder.

Little’s approach to witnessing is not only winsome and informed, it is also compassionate. Drawing from Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-26, Little warns us to not condemn unbelievers by self-righteously pointing our fingers at their sin. Rather, we must allow God’s Word and Spirit to provide the appropriate conviction. This is hard for most of us. Yet, as Little suggests, our troubles in these situations are usually caused by the fact we have “the mistaken idea that if we do not condemn a certain attitude or deed, we will be condoning it” (71). “But,” as Little points out, “this was not the Lord’s way” (71). Again, a timely and stinging reminder.

Little also takes care to adequately outline the essential gospel truths needed to speak to someone about Jesus Christ. The gospel, according to Little, “is Jesus Christ himself” (94). A valuable reminder here is the point that our presentation of the gospel is not merely the giving of a formula, but the introducing of a Person—Jesus Christ. We are not primarily encouraging people to embrace a church, or a set of rules, or even a particular lifestyle (although these things will come later); we are urging people to embrace a Person. This means, then, rightly understanding who this Person is and what he has done. Here Little supplies his readers with ample information on the Person and work of Christ and how an unbeliever can become a Christian. In this section, Little also encourages his Christian leaders to follow-up with new converts and direct them toward spiritual nourishment. This is a well-rounded and Biblical approach.

I also applaud the inclusion of the material in Little’s final chapters. Although one might initially argue the last two chapters do not have much to do with the practical exercise of evangelism, nothing could be farther from the truth. Helping Christians live by faith instead of trusting their works (even works of faithful evangelism) and persuading them to continually “Feed the Spring” of their hearts by killing sin and pursuing the Lord in private devotion will keep a passion for evangelism strong and vibrant.

Weaknesses
Although there are many commendable aspects to this book, there were a few notable weaknesses as well. First, despite the recent updates by Little’s wife, Marie, the book simply does not resonate with a contemporary sound. The book provides solid, timeless principles to be sure, but in many places, the language betrays its age. Sentences like, “that office worker who’s just been replaced by a thinking machine” (17), comments that today’s children “live their lives with a ceaseless background of TV while playing out elaborate fantasies with ‘supernaturals,’ ghosts, and transformers” (18), and discussions of PJ parties (82) indicate the author is writing in a different generation. This unwittingly undermines the relevance of this book.

Second, Little’s assertion that we are “God’s only mouth, his only feet, his only hands” (41) is misleading and unhelpful. It is true that God has chosen to use human beings to carry out his plan of salvation and that Christians play a significant role in bringing the gospel to the world, but Little’s comment that we are God’s only mouth, feet and hands is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. In reality, God does not need us in order to carry out his purposes (Acts 17:24-25); the heavens declare God’s glory and existence (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20) and God can create children for Abraham from mere stones (Matthew 3:9). God can even use angels to preach the gospel if he desires (Revelation 14:6-7). To suggest we are God’s lone option to bring the gospel to the nations is to limit God and unduly credit mankind.

Third, although Little provides a clear presentation of gospel truth, he muddles the significance of a sharp understanding of the gospel in a story of a woman to whom Little’s wife ministered. This particular woman desired to know whether she should build a new house or stay in her old one. Little’s wife shared with this woman the peace and wisdom Jesus Christ had provided her in difficult situations in the past. Little tells us what happened next, “This woman, obviously prepared by the Holy Spirit, responded, ‘I want that. I want that’” (65). The next day the woman pleaded with the Little’s to help her commit her life to Jesus Christ. This woman then made “a commitment to the Lord who would guide her in all her life choices” (66). The question remains, however: was this salvation? There was no discussion of sin, repentance and or the significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Perhaps this is implied in the story. Nevertheless, we must be clear in our understanding of what constitutes an appropriate approbation of the gospel. A person is not called to embrace Christ because he will guide them through life, but because he provides salvation from sin through his substitutionary death and resurrection.

Finally, I was disappointed to find no discussion of the importance of perseverance in the Christian life. Jesus himself warns us, “[It is the one] who endures to the end [who] will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Little’s section on following through with new believers is good (104-108), but it lacks this vital element. Following up with new believers is not only beneficial for helping them cultivate a healthy spiritual life; it is essential for their perseverance into heaven. Hebrews 3:12-13 highlights this truth, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort on another every day as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This does not mean we tell new believers they could lose their salvation, but that genuine salvation will continue in the faith. This is an important component of evangelism I wish Little would have included.

Conclusion
Overall, Little’s book is a useful guide to help Christians become better evangelists. Despite some significant weaknesses, How to Give Away Your Faith provides valuable practical counsel for our labors in personal evangelism. Little encourages us to be real, to understand the culture in which we minister, to be compassionate, and to exercise wisdom in our dealings with unbelievers. Finally, and perhaps most important, Little encourages us to introduce unbelievers to a Person—not a set of rules or an organization to which to belong—but a living Christ who will save all those who call upon Him. May we use the principles in this helpful book to aid us in becoming effective ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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