I asked Mike about his tattoo partly out of curiosity but primarily from an instinct of self-preservation. He was helping his cousin jumpstart a car in the middle of our street in Long Beach, California, where I was involved in planting a church. As he worked, I observed a tattoo of a large knife that covered his entire forearm. I don’t remember how I formed the question, but my relief was palpable when he uttered the words, “It’s a chef’s knife. I’m the Urban Chef!” A simple question about a tattoo opened the door to a conversation about training urban youth, which led to a Bible study, which led, eventually, to Chef Mike choosing to follow Jesus, the one who prepared a meal for a crowd with five loaves and two fish.
I recalled this story while reading an example from Good News for Change: How to Talk to Anyone about Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos. At the end of chapter 11, Mikalatos writes, “Every time you see a tattoo this week, ask the person, ‘Why is that significant to you?’ It’s one of the greatest entrances to deep conversation that I know.” In two short sentences, Mikalatos offers a key insight that I had intuited but never fully articulated: If we want to reach people with the gospel, we need to figure out what matters to them most.
Mikalatos argues that our ability to communicate the gospel has been clouded by Christian jargon unintelligible to the non-religious world, a desire to win arguments, and an overwhelming fear that we won’t get the “facts” right. He reminds us, instead, that “evangelism is, first and foremost, us participating with the Holy Spirit to tell people about God and his love for them and to invite them into deeper relationship with God.” We don’t need seminary training or expertise to be witnesses. “It requires only that you share what you have seen and heard and experienced with Jesus.”
A Treasure Trove of Stories
The greatest strength of Good News for a Change lies in its numerous engaging stories, amplified by the author’s sense of humor. Mikalatos’s years of experience as a missionary and Cru leader in Portland, Oregon, have resulted in a treasure trove of great anecdotes. Throughout the book, readers will meet Chelsea (an atheist), a college student advertising himself as “most Buddhist person I know,” Percival the Satanist, and even Mikalatos’s alter ego, “Dr. Love.”
There are provocative chapter titles like “The Gospel According to Buddha” and “The Gospel According to Twilight Sparkle.” How can the gospel have anything to do with the Buddha, much less Twilight Sparkle and “Bronies” (adult men who enjoy the cartoon My Little Pony)? The goal in these chapters is showing the need for “translating” the gospel message in ways that resonate with the hearer. Most importantly, people must hear the good news in their “heart language.” As Mikalatos observes, “One of the most beautiful things about people coming to know Jesus is watching new believers internalize the good news in their own cultural context.”
At one point, Mikalatos bemoans the fact that he was unable to include charts on communication theory. Nonetheless, he describes the ways in which cultural assumptions, insider jargon, mistranslation, and other forms of “noise” distort the message we hope to deliver. Yet he reassures us that the Holy Spirit can bring clarity even when we falter.
Mikalatos also includes an important chapter on dealing with “haters.” Rather than engaging in direct assault against falsehoods and defamations, he suggests relying on five key words: “Tell me more about that.” These words can help us listen to people and understand their issues with the church and Christians, which paves the way for deeper conversations. Rather than preparing for arguments, we can be loving friends who speak biblical truth once we have become genuine listeners.
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Source: Christianity Today