Finding Common Ground
by Tim Downs
Normally, I am suspicious of any book that talks about ‘postmodernism’ and ‘finding common ground’ and the like. Such books, it seems, can all too often boil down to saying that the word of God is insufficient to change people’s lives, and that we have to package our message in the language of the world to such an extent that the message itself must be changed. Frequently books addressing the postmodern bent of our society seems to view it as a good thing, as if rejection of the concept of absolute truth was some kind of opportunity for the Christian. This is an unacceptable position, I believe. So I came to this book with some skepticism.
The book has been a pleasant surprise, though. What Mr. Downs has done most perceptively, I believe, is that evangelism is a twofold process, the sowing and the harvesting. Sowing, he says, is the patient process of preparing soil to receive seed, and nurturing that seed. Harvesting is going out and collecting the grain. So, sowing is building broad acceptance for the prerequisites of faith in God, building relationships with people and in general preparing people to hear God’s word. Harvesting is going out and getting converts through direct witnessing. Mr. Downs believes that most modern American ministry workers focus exclusively on the harvest, and fail to teach people how and why to sow. Mr. Downs indicates that this tendency is tied to the expectation of the imminent return of Christ and the failure to plan for the future. As a result, everyone is trying to harvest and no-one is sowing, with the result that the field is becoming increasingly infertile due to a lack of nurturing and preparation.
The rest of the book really is various kinds of advice and recommendations for how to encourage and equip people to do sowing. He talks about how to talk to people in the workplace, focusing on three tools to use- asking questions, finding agreements, and through one’s life. He talks about the need to get a collection of ‘sowing-safe’ books, books that can be given to new believers or people asking questions, books that are free of Christian ‘jargon’. He talks about the need for Christians to re-capture a sense of value in work, as fulfilling the creation mandate to have dominion, as this will introduce a Godly witness into the workplace. He talks about the need for Christians to understand the value of art as a communications medium, especially since the world understands art’s value so well, and uses it so effectively.
The things I appreciated most about this book:
1. The long view. Downs constantly stresses that we ought to be working as if we were prepared for a very long wait before Christ comes again.
2. The value given to the ‘sowing’ ministry. I don’t think I’d ever even heard of this described as a component of evangelism, except perhaps as a fallback attitude if an immediate conversion wasn’t possible. The idea that we ought to train and encourage people in all walks of life to prepare the soil, and that this is a vital and valuable component of evangelism, is a breath of fresh air.
3. The practical advice, especially about the kinds of books to give people and the attitude to have towards the unbeliever.