How to Talk About Jesus Without Being Awkward: An Interview with Sam Chan

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Sam ChanWhen you try to tell your friends about Jesus, you may have encountered a negative response from them viewing it as being offensive, inappropriate, or insensitive. Studies confirm that the majority of Christians rarely evangelize, worried they might offend their family or lose their friends. How can you build confidence to share your faith?

Bible Gateway interviewed Sam Chan (@drsamchan) about his book, How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being THAT Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World (Zondervan, 2020).

Buy your copy of How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being THAT Guy) in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Evangelism in a Skeptical World: An Interview with Sam Chan]

What is the underlying meaning of the title and subtitle?

Sam Chan: There’s an unspoken rule in the West. We can talk about the weekend, weather, and sports. But we can’t talk about Jesus. Because, if we do, we become “that guy.” This puts us Christians in a gut-wrenching dilemma. We want to tell our friends about Jesus. But we also don’t want to scare them away.

So I’ve written this book to show that we can talk about Jesus in socially appropriate ways without being awkward and cringeworthy. We can talk about Jesus and keep our friends!

Why is evangelism considered by many Christians to be scary and awkward?

Sam Chan: We effectively live in a de-facto closed country where we can’t talk about Jesus.

It’s not just Christians who find evangelism scary and awkward. Our friends will find us scary and awkward if we tell them about Jesus.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age: An Interview with Joshua Chatraw]

How is evangelism God’s work as well as a Christian’s work?

Sam Chan: Tim Keller uses the analogy of Elijah building his altar on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Elijah built his altar. But only God could send the fire. Yes, but… Elijah still had to build the altar.

It’s the same with evangelism. God sends the fire: he pours out his Spirit and opens someone’s heart to our message of Jesus (Acts 16:14). Evangelism is God’s work.

But evangelism is also our work: We need to tell the person about Jesus. We do this with our human words, stories, experiences, emotions, and personalities (2 Cor. 5:20).

Why do you say evangelism is a lifestyle change?

Sam Chan: Evangelism is like fitness. Every New Year’s, we make the same resolution to get fit. So we sign up for a gym. We get up for a five a.m. run. But it only lasts a few weeks because we treated fitness as something to shoe-horn into our schedule. Instead, fitness needs to be a lifestyle change. It’s what we become.

Evangelism is the same. It can’t only be once-off events. Evangelism needs to be a lifestyle change. One where we deliberately merge our universes of friends—by introducing our non-believing friends to our believing friends. One where we go to our non-believing friends’ events so they also come to ours. One where we open up our homes for hospitality.

Why do you call hospitality the secret sauce of evangelism?

Sam Chan: The funny thing about hospitality is that it isn’t about the food at all. Hospitality is about conversations. The weird thing about us humans is that when we eat together we also talk. It ends up, not about the eating, but about the talking.

As a result, hospitality creates the spaces where sacred conversations happen.

In going to events at the invitation of non-Christians, where should Christians draw the line in what they attend?

Sam Chan: We can ask ourselves, what are our motivations?

Asian Christians often face this dilemma. Should they go to the funerals of their non-believing parents where there will be idol worship? Usually the Christian attends because their motivation is to honor their parents and not to worship idols.

We can also ask how will our attendance be interpreted?

My pastor friend Rohan tells me that when he got baptized, his atheist uncle turned up for the ceremony. No one interpreted the uncle’s attendance as evidence of his giving up atheism and adopting Rohan’s Christian faith. Instead, they saw him as an uncle showing respect to his nephew without adopting his faith.

In similar ways our attendance can show respect for our friendship without showing approval of the lifestyle. Our example is Jesus who went to dinners with both his religious opponents (Luke 7:36; Luke 14:1) and those on the opposite end of the religious spectrum—the tax collectors and sinners (for example, Luke 5:29; 19:5-6)

Jesus did this so much that he got criticized for it. People called him a “glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34). It was scandalous that he was always “welcoming sinners and eating with them” (Luke 5:30; 15:1-2; 19:7).

We can learn much from Jesus’ answer: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

By calling them “sinners” Jesus was explaining that he doesn’t approve of their lifestyle. But it’s precisely because they are sinners that it’s a priority to eat and drink with them.

What we can learn from Jesus is this: if a non-believer asks us to one of their things—for example, a party, fundraiser, gig—we can make it a priority to go. Many of my Christian friends lament that they have no non-believing friends anymore. One way to change this is to make a point of going to whatever meals, parties, or events they invite us to.

What is the Golden Rule of Evangelism?

Sam Chan: The Golden Rule of Evangelism is to evangelize the same way you want to be evangelized.

For me, I don’t want someone to monologue at me. I want someone to listen to me without interrupting. I want someone to understand my point of view. That means when I evangelize, I should listen first and let them speak. Hopefully they will do the same for me.

The best way to do this is by asking questions! Experts point out that Jesus asked over 300 questions and was himself asked almost 200 questions. But he only gave a direct answer 8 times. In other words, his primary method of communication was to ask questions and listen.

In my book, I argue that maybe we need to learn to evangelize, less like a preacher who preaches a 20 minute monologue, and more like a counsellor who asks questions and guides you to speak out aloud the answer for yourself.

What do you mean, “tell a better story”?

Sam Chan: Up until now, our Western secular friends think they have the better story: “Don’t listen to anybody else. You’ve got to be true to yourself and do whatever it takes to be happy.”

Sadly, our friends hear our Christian story as the worse story: “You need to listen to authority figures and obey outdated views on sex and morality. Oh, and you can’t sleep in on a Sunday, because you have to go to church.”

But we can show them we really do have a better story than their secular storyline.

Our story is that there is a God who loves us, made us, and saves us. We’re more than atoms and molecules. We’re more than a blip in the timeline of the universe. Jesus died for us and lives for us. And now we can live for him. As a result, we can be part of God’s bigger story for us. We can be part of God’s mission to bring his love, mercy, and justice.

It’s a better story of purpose, hope, freedom, value, dignity, love, forgiveness, and redemption. All we have to do is open our friends’ eyes to see it. It’s always been there in the Bible. But we haven’t been very good at telling it to our friends.

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How and why should Christians “lean into disagreement”?

Sam Chan: Sooner or later we’re going to disagree with our non-believing friends over something. It’s inevitable. But rather than fear this moment, we should welcome it.

Because this is a teachable moment where we can gently help our friends examine their own views. We can do this with two types of questions.

The first question is: “Where do you get this belief from?” This allows our friend to explain the foundation of their belief. This will also gently expose some deficiencies in their belief. Maybe they’ll see that their belief is much less evidence-based than they’d assumed up until now.

For example, they might have strong beliefs on human rights. But now they’ll see that it’s very hard to demonstrate where human rights can come from, if there’s no God.

The second question is: “Why do you think we see things differently?” This prods our friend to see things from our Christian point of view. If they do this, they’ll interpret the facts in a whole new way—the Christian way.

For example, they’ll see that our views on human rights come from a loving God who sent his Son Jesus to become one of us. They’ll see how the Christian worldview provides a more loving and robust foundation for human rights.

If this happens, hopefully we won’t end up with an argument. Instead, we’ll have practiced the gentle art of persuasion.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Sam Chan: I love John 4. There are so many things to love. What hasn’t been said already—Jesus offering living water to a shunned, shamed, and Samaritan woman?

But I’m going to pick up on something we tend to miss: “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well” (v. 6).

Did you spot that? Jesus, the Son of God, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity was tired. He had to sit down!

He might also have been peopled-out. Because Jesus sent his disciples into the town to buy food, while he stayed back (v. 8).

Jesus was like this, not because he was weak, lazy, or sinful. He was like this because he was one of us—a human.

This shows us that it’s also OK for us to be human. To get tired (v. 6). To get thirsty (v. 7). To need alone time (v. 8).

If Jesus was able to embrace our humanness, maybe we can too. Sometimes we need to be kinder to ourselves and practice a bit more self-care.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?

Sam Chan: I write a blog at EspressoTheology.com—aimed at both believers and non-believers. I love how I can easily reference the Bible by linking to the Bible Gateway site. If I didn’t do this, many of my readers simply wouldn’t be able to look up the Bible any other way.

I also have the Bible Gateway App on my phone. It’s an easy way to read the Bible wherever I am—especially in bed at night because I don’t have to worry about a bedlam.

I also like using Bible Gateway on my laptop when I’m writing talks. It’s much easier having the Bible already there on my screen than trying to nurse a Bible on my lap at the same time. (The Bible always ends up either flipping shut or falling off my lap—groan!)


How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being THAT Guy) is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.


Bio: Sam Chan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; MBBS, University of Sydney) is a public evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia, where he regularly shares the gospel with high school students, city workers, doctors, and lawyers. He is the author of the award-winning book Evangelism in a Skeptical World and regularly speaks at conferences around the world on the practice of evangelism in a post-Christian culture. Sam blogs at EspressoTheology.com.

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