Christmas Uncut: A Conversation with Carl Laferton about Evangelism
I’m always excited to talk with others who share my passion of seeing people come to know Jesus. Today, I’m glad to welcome Carl Laferton, Senior Editor at The Good Book Company. He is the author of Promises Kept, Good Question, and Real Men, and co-author with Mark Dever of the forthcoming Loving Church. He is married to Lizzie, and they have a five-month-old baby, Ben, who mercifully is sleeping through the night!
Trevin Wax: Welcome to the blog, Carl. Your book on Christmas reads like an extended tract – a booklet that corrects misconceptions about the Christmas story while getting to the root of what Christmas is all about. What are the challenges of working on a book like this, a book that has both Christians and non-Christians in mind?
Carl Laferton: With Christmas, the challenge is to get people to hear the actual historical narrative. Most non-Christians think they know the story – donkey, innkeeper, three kings, and it’s all cute and cuddly and non-challenging – but actually, they know a made-up nativity play that has obscured the gospel.
Now, as Christians we know that Christmas is history, not a story, and we know there was no innkeeper or donkey, and an unspecified number of possibly-not kings. But normally at Christmas I’m busy, and I’m over-familiar with the events, so they kind of wash over me and I’m not struck by the shocks, the twists, the uniqueness.
So the challenge is the same. We all think we know what it’s about. Familiarity can breed contempt. But the solution is also the same – simply to look again at the real events, to hold them up and marvel at them, and to see the gospel told through them. The gospel is brilliant!
I think the best books are the ones that show you the gospel from the Bible narrative and then get out of the way while the reader is blown away by it. As a believer, I need to be excited and moved by the gospel this Christmas. And I need my non-Christian friends to be told and (I pray) excited and moved by the gospel this Christmas too. So with Christmas Uncut, I was trying to do that – not to do lots of apologetics or present a set of doctrines but to tell the biblical story, show the gospel, and get out of the way!
Trevin Wax: You do it well. I love how you emphasize the Bible story and only add little comments here and there to give some explanations where necessary. Speaking of apologetics, at the end of the book, you deal with some common objections – not only to the Christmas story but also what the story represents: who Jesus is and what He has done. What are some of the common objections you hear in evangelistic conversations?
Carl Laferton: Yes, I deal with three “Yes, but…” thoughts I think will come into readers’ heads as they read:
- Isn’t it all made up?
- Was Jesus really the Christ?
- Did He really rise from the dead?
I’ve deliberately kept them short. They’re meant to show that the Christian faith is credible, not to be the last word in apologetics (in my experience with apologetics, there is no last word!).
But I deliberately put them at the back of the book because I want people to get to grips with the story and come face to face with Jesus and start thinking: Wow, wouldn’t it be great if this were really true?
The best bit of advice anyone ever gave me about evangelistic conversations (other than “pray”!) was to talk about Jesus with people and to talk about the Gospel narratives. So in answering a question, I want to point someone to Jesus as the answer so that the conversation is centered on Jesus rather than on assent to a particular doctrine or intellectual argument about a specific issue. In Christmas Uncut, no one’s asking me a question, so I’m free to dive straight into looking at Jesus!
Trevin Wax: Do you find the same objections in the UK as we find in the US?
Carl Laferton: I’ve not spent enough time in the US to know how exactly similar you guys are, but from talking to friends, it sounds like the non-Christian cultures on either side of the Atlantic are pretty similar. But whatever the culture, I would think that Jesus is the ultimate apologetic!
Trevin Wax: Absolutely! No doubt. Do you see a trend toward longer, evangelistic booklets rather than simple tracts?
Carl Laferton: I think there’s a bit of a gap at the moment, which Christmas Uncut is attempting to fill. A 16- or 24-page booklet is great in many ways (which is why The Good Book Company has produced dozens!), but it doesn’t give you space to let the narrative breathe, to lead people gently along through the story and show them the gospel. And if you give them out after a church event where the gospel’s been explained, it’s often only about the same length as the talk was!
Then there are lots of books that are minimum 150 pages and often over 200. And there are loads of people both in the UK and the US who simply don’t read books of that length, either because they weren’t brought up to or because they don’t have time to.
So I see Christmas Uncut not as a “long tract” but as a “short book.” Sixty-four pages means someone who doesn’t read much hopefully won’t think, That’s too long for me or I don’t have time for that, but it does give the reader time and space to think things through.
Trevin Wax: It seems that as Western societies have moved away from Christendom, those of us who want to evangelize suddenly realize we’ve got a lot bigger task before us. We’re not just giving the gospel but also the foundational elements of a worldview in which the gospel makes sense. Do you sense that too? If so, how do we need to rethink evangelism in light of the new reality?
Carl Laferton: The question of gospel and foundational elements is one that I am grappling with. Having been a post-Christian country for a little while now, the UK is “ahead” (not in a good way) of the US in this.
I suppose my main aim is to balance the two. In the UK, we have often focused purely on worldview and apologetics, and actually it’s the gospel that is the power for salvation (which is why a course like Christianity Explored, simply working through the Gospel of Mark, is so great).
I wonder if evangelism is most effective when our lives provide the apologetic – when someone looks at us and thinks, I would love to have their lack of fear/worry/anger and their peace/forgiveness/joy/etc. What is it that they so obviously have that I know I don’t? When that happens, we are embodying the truth that the gospel worldview “works” in reality. That’s the ground on which the gospel message takes fruitful root.
I find 1 Peter 3:15 - ”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” – hugely challenging, not so much in the sense of saying, “Do you have your answers ready?” as saying, “Does anyone ever actually ask you what it is that makes you attractively different”?
But I know that people far more wise and godly and experienced than me are wrestling with this, and I know I need to keep thinking about how to witness to the gospel in a way that can best be heard by a non-Christian. Christmas Uncut grows out of a lot of conversations that went wrong as well as a few that – in God’s grace – went okay!
Trevin Wax: What’s your hope for Christmas Uncut?
Carl Laferton: That Christians buy it, read it, and give it away. We’ve deliberately made Christmas Uncut as cheap as we can, with big discounts on bulk orders, so that churches can give it away to guests at Christmas outreach events and services and so that individual Christians can give it as an extra Christmas present.
Then, of course, my prayer is that as non-Christians read, they are so wowed by the real events and the gospel that unfolds through those events that they come to know Jesus as their personal Ruler and Rescuer. I’d love to think that in 20 years, there will be people who can’t remember the name of the book (or the author!) but who, through reading Christmas Uncut, came to know and love and live for the One that the book is pointing them to.