Why would anyone think an itinerant preacher from 2,000 years ago would be relevant today? Assume for a second you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. What did his age know of nuclear weapons, space exploration, and microchip computers? Many would say that if such a preacher wants to speak for today, his followers will need to translate and update his message.
But that’s not Becky Pippert’s view. Her new book, Stay Salt, argues that while the world has changed, our message must not. Pippert, author of the bestselling 1979 book Out of the Saltshaker, doesn’t see any lack of interest or response to the gospel. Rather, she sees Christians scared to tell others about Jesus. If instead we assume people want to engage in spiritual conversations, Becky says, and we ask God to show us where he’s working and open doors to tell others about Jesus, he will. She recommends we balance confidence with sensitivity.
I think Becky’s also correct when she writes, “I wonder if the verbal aspect of evangelism has to be re-learned as an active choice and a sacrificial commitment.” Is that because social-justice causes and acts of mercy have become popular, but evangelism is not? I suspect so.
When Becky wrote her famous 1979 book, readers learned the benefits of a relational context for evangelism. “Now,” Becky told me in this episode of Gospelbound, “we’re much stronger on the importance of relationship, but we’re much, much weaker on truth, especially any verbal expression. We think we must live the gospel, but not proclaim the gospel.”
Becky advocates for the necessity of both. And that message hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.
“We must live out the gospel by who we are and what we do. But we must not assume that by seeing what I do, they’re going to catch on.”
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Why would anyone think a preacher from 2,000 years ago would be relevant today? I mean, assume for a second you don’t believe in the resurrection. What did his age know of nuclear weapons, space exploration and microchip computers? Many would say that if a preacher wants to speak for today, his followers will need to translate and update, but that’s not Becky Pippert’s view. Her new book, Stay Salt, argues that while the world has changed, our message must not. Pippert, author of the best-selling 1979 book Out of the Saltshaker, doesn’t see lack of interest or response to the gospel at all. Rather, she sees Christians scared to tell others about Jesus.
If instead we assume people want to engage in spiritual conversations, Becky says, and we ask God to show us where he’s working and open doors to tell others about Jesus, he will. She recommends we balance confidence with sensitivity. I think Becky is also correct when she says this: “I wonder if the verbal aspect of evangelism has to be relearned as an active choice in a sacrificial commitment.” Is that because social justice causes and acts of mercy have become popular, but evangelism is not? Well, we’ll ask Becky in this episode of Gospelbound. Thank you for joining me, Becky.
Becky Pippert: Thank you, Collin. Delight to be able to talk to you.
Collin Hansen: Becky, what’s the biggest difference in evangelism you see today between when Out of the Saltshaker published in 1979 and Stay Salt from 2020?
Becky Pippert: Well, there are several differences. The first would be the seismic shift in culture. The impact of post-modernity, post-truth culture, for example, the collapse of absolute truth, the belief in absolute truth, the no longer a source of authority that we acknowledge, but rather personal preference. Picking and choosing our beliefs sort of cafeteria style, and of which the beliefs are always intellectually inconsistent. A little bit of karma here, something else over there, and the sexual revolution.
Now, I just mentioned four and they’re huge. All right. That’s one thing. That’s a very big difference, that book from when I wrote Out of the Saltshaker. I think our understanding of evangelism has also changed. It’s different. When I wrote Out of the Saltshaker, I was in my 20s. I think I was 27, around there. And the idea of evangelism was pick a victim, preach, go, tell, preach and leave. The stronger part about then was that there was a greater emphasis on truth, but a much weaker emphasis on relationship. It was formulaic. You said the same thing to every person no matter who the person was.
Now, when I wrote Saltshaker, what seemed to strike a note there was I used an incarnational approach, communicate truth within the context of relationship, that was very radical back then. We were looking at Jesus and learning from him, his authenticity, his compassion. Now, today, it’s not just the cultural change, but our view of evangelism. Now, we’re much stronger on the importance of relationship, but we’re much, much weaker on truth, especially any verbal expression. We think we must live the gospel, but not proclaim the gospel. The thing I hear all the time from Christians in America, we just spent the last seven years in Europe living and ministering in evangelism. When I came back two years ago, I was just amazed how often I heard quoted supposedly Francis of Assisi. And I kept hearing Christians say, preach the gospel as Assisi said, and if necessary use words.
Well, first of all, there’s no historical evidence Assisi ever said that. And if he did say it, he was wrong. I wrote Stay Salt because the times have changed and there’s much greater hostility, but there’s also much greater hunger. And we need to understand that biblical evangelism, it’s visual, it’s verbal, and it’s invitational. It’s visual. We must live the gospel by who we are and what we do, but we must not assume that by seeing what I do, they’re going to catch on.
Secondly, it’s verbal, and that’s where we’re so weak today. We are to share the glorious news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the reason for the hope that is within us. It’s also invitational, calling people to put their trust in Christ. What I wanted to do in Stay Salt was give people more confidence that what we have is so powerful precisely for such a time as this. We do have to learn how to talk to people. We do know how to build relationships, but we need greater confidence in the gospel, and learning also that we have been given everything we need by God, everything we need in evangelism through the means of God.
Collin Hansen: Let’s talk about that verbal part there, let’s continue on that point. What is the main reason you find that Christians don’t engage in that verbal proclamation? I don’t know why living out the implications of the gospel with preaching the gospel has to be in conflict with each other. It just seems like they’re both necessary. It’s pretty damaging that we are stuck with thinking that we have to emphasize one or another. What’s the main problem that comes up with the verbal part?
Becky Pippert: First of all, you’re absolutely right. Biblical evangelism is never either/or, ever, it’s both/and. Collin, we have traveled the whole world doing evangelism ministry. Before we moved to the UK and then ministered in the UK and the continent of Europe doing both university students and the church, we spent eight years traveling the world. We’re based in America, but we did literally every continent over and over again, or almost every continent. We kept hearing the same thing from global North to global South. Here was the first thing we heard. I could say the one place we didn’t hear what I’m about to say is Africa. They were more confident. But here’s what we always heard: Becky, I really would love to share the gospel, but I can’t. I just feel inadequate. Now, this is especially true in the West, in the global North, so Europe, Australia, North America, but we still heard it everywhere, I feel inadequate.
Now, my response to this is, of course, we’re inadequate. I mean, this isn’t news. We are inadequate, and it’s so freeing to know, but they go, but Becky, it’s not my gift, and I’ve got the wrong personality. Well, what did the risen Christ say before he ascended into heaven, go ye therefore, and he did not say, go ye therefore all you extroverts, all you evangelists, all you Baptists, go and make disciples, and the rest of you just hang out. It’s not what the Lord said. He said, go all of you and bear witness. Why is this command of Jesus that we all go, that we are all called to evangelism, why isn’t that command frightening? Because God is the great evangelist, not us. And he dwells within us. God has given us everything we need for witness, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the gospel in his word, the power of Jesus’s love.
Another thing that’s important is Christians tend to think that non Christians won’t be open or interested.
This issue, Collin, about people assuming that non-Christians aren’t interested, there was a lot of comment in the Christian community on Pew, and a couple of other researchers were saying, oh, well, Christians are just, especially younger Christians, are terrified of evangelism because they don’t think anybody’s interested, but they also found out that non Christian said, no, actually, I’d really like to engage in spiritual conversations if they do it the right way. If they listen, if it’s a dialogue, if I don’t feel they’re preaching down to me, etc. So there really is more of an interest than we think when we approach it the right way.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. What resonates with my experiences, especially the expectation that people would not be interested and that the gospel doesn’t truly have power. That’s in part of why I think it’s important for books like yours that tell us to give examples from your own long history to show, I’ve been all over the world doing this for many, many, many years and that’s not true. The gospel has the same power of previous generations that led to tremendous awakenings and tremendous revival. There’s another point that people are not resentful of the person who shares the gospel with them. At one point, they were not interested in Jesus. And then the spirit made them alive in Christ through the means of somebody telling them about Jesus.
Becky Pippert: Absolutely. And the question then is why is evangelism easier than we think? I say that in the book. And why is it, why is it easier? Number one, because God loves the lost, and so must we. God is actively seeking, searching the lost, drawing them to consider him. And so when we realize that God is doing that and that he wants to use us, and that our weakness is no problem for God, as I’ve already said, he’s going to use us. We don’t have to be gifted evangelists for God to be able to use us. It’s also important as to why evangelism is easier is prayer is so important. Prayer changes us, and it changes them. As we say to God, change me, give me the love of Jesus, guide me, help me, it makes such a difference when you realize, well, we are not alone, that there is another who dwells within us and he wants to help us and will help us. And Jesus is actively present in these conversations.
And so we need to keep asking God to guide us, to help us, to touch the lives of even the most resistant, and recognizing that this secular culture cannot meet people’s deepest longings and deepest needs. In fact, our secular culture exacerbates their needs. God has placed in all of us a longing for identity and a longing for love and a longing for to belong. That is why there is a greater openness than we realize. I was speaking to somebody very recently on a plane. The first thing I did… He was from London. I knew it because obviously I lived there and so I recognized his accent. He initially didn’t seem to want to talk at all. But eventually I said to him, Oh, I always love a Londoner. I love to hear a Londoner speaking English.
She goes, “How did you know I’m from London? You’re an American.” I said, “Well, because I lived in the UK for seven years.” He goes, “Oh my goodness, I’ve been living in America for seven years.” Common ground. And so we talked and talked and talked about what he was experiencing, what I experienced in his culture. Then he said, “Becky, why are you flying to Arizona?” I decided to be direct because we talked for half an hour about what we had in common. I said, “Because I’m going to be speaking at a Christian conference.” He went, “I’m not at all interested in spiritual things. I am not at all interested, at all.”
Now, on the one hand, you want to always be sensitive if people are saying they don’t want to talk, but don’t give up too quickly. And so I said to him… He said, “I’m an agnostic. I’m not interested.” I went, “That is so fascinating, because I was an agnostic. I don’t come from a Christian home. I was an agnostic, and I’m just curious if your reasons for not wanting to talk about spiritual things are the same as my reasons were back then.” He said, “Okay.” He said, “You seem like an intelligent person. How could you possibly believe Jesus even existed?” And so I talked a little bit about what kind of historical evidence do we have from non-Christian sources that Jesus exists? He goes, “All right, that’s really interesting.” But he goes, “But my other question is how could you possibly believe the New Testament documents? There’s not any historicity that would evidence that.”
Now, I talked about that for a little bit. This is where apologetics are helpful. It’s not that they want an hour of treatise. It’s just if you know a little… You know what he said, he didn’t say, oh my goodness, how can I be saved? He said, “I can’t believe we’re having a rational conversation about faith. I never thought that was possible.” He said, “All right, Becky, I’m going to ask you a question. There are some people who’ve tried to talk to me before.” Then he said, “I’m going to ask you a question. What is the essence of the Christian message?”
Now, I’m hearing the wheels come down, and I thought, I’ve got a short version of the gospel. Then I shared it with him. And then guess what he said, he said, “There’s something I need to tell you. My wife has become a Christian. We met as pagans and I kept my end of the bargain.” Then he goes, “She’s become a Christian couple of years ago. She takes our children to church, which I give my approval. She prays at the meals.” But he said, “Becky, last night, my 6-year-old sonsaid to me, ‘Daddy, why don’t you ever go to church? Why don’t you pray?'” And he said, “Becky, his question haunts me. I’ve been sitting on this plane going, how do I answer my son?”
Now, Collin, this was a man who said, I have no interest whatsoever in spiritual things. And I find out he’s a Christ-haunted man who said at the end of the conversation, “Please send me books that will help me.” I sent him some of mine, sent him some others. And then he wrote and said, “I’ve just read the first book you gave me. I am now ready to have an in-depth discussion about Christianity. By the way, my wife is so happy we met.” Now, the point is who would have imagined when you first talked to him God is seeking him? He was far more open than you would have ever dreamed.
Collin Hansen: I think we imagine non-Christians to be more confident in their resistance of the gospel than they really are. I mean, you’re talking about pushing through that veneer. There’s a projection of confidence. And then we imagine that maybe the gospel isn’t really as good a news as we imagine it to be. I often think why are we so scared? Why don’t we see this as so good, because why would anyone want to believe this life is all there is? I mean, I understand if you’ve been Hitler and you commit genocide, that that’s a convenient belief for you to say, good, I got off with it. I got away with it. I committed suicide. Now, there’s no repercussions for me. There’s no justice in eternity. I can understand that. But why would the prospect of eternal life with the creator and sustainer of the universe be something we should be ashamed of holding out the hope of with non-Christians?
Becky Pippert: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, a couple of answers to that. Why would anybody want to believe that this life is all there is? I think most people are far more wistful that there is something better, and that one day they hope they’re going to find it. I find that with just about everyone. If we have established trust and we’re really having a real connection in conversation, that’s one thing. Second thing is they really don’t understand the gospel. They’ve taken this sort of cultural leads and academia and all that, and with all these terrible stereotypes, and they bought into it. I’m amazed at how quickly they let those stereotypes go, because all it takes is a good conversation with a Christian they are really engaging with. They let it go fairly easily, but initially, there’s resistance because they’ve bought into it.
They’ve rejected, I say this so many times to non-Christians when they say, what do you think the Christian message is about? Tell me what you think, and tell me what is your point of resistance? And then when they tell me what they think, I say, well, I would have rejected that too. I’m with you 100 percent, because that isn’t what the message is really about. Do you know, Collin, one thing that really stunned me when we were in Europe? Now, remember UK Europe has been secular for so long, much, much longer than in America, and half of our work was with university students. I would be speaking, the most secular place on the planet, universities in Europe. When I talk to people individually, I can’t tell you how many times 18- to 21-year-olds were saying, if only I could start over, if only I could get a clean slate. Don’t judge the book by the cover. Go deeper, engage people. You can find out what they’re really feeling, what they’re really thinking.
I tell a story, and in fact, I think you did an excerpt on this with The Gospel Coalition. My hairdresser in London was gay. When I walked in one day, and we had talked about faith many, many times, but I walked in and I just took one look at him and I said, “What’s wrong? Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” Then he goes, “Becky, you’re the first person all day that’s recognized how profoundly depressed I am,” because his lover had just left him. We ended up at that very point of what do you do? And that was what he asked me. “What do you do when what you’ve worshiped walks out on you?” I said, “I have a straight friend who said the exact same thing to me last week, “My partner, my lover just left me.” I said, “She’s straight. She’s not gay.” I said, “What I think is so interesting about what both of you said is you both said, I worshiped him, I worshiped her.” Well, actually in both cases, they said, I worshiped him.
Collin Hansen: Right.
Becky Pippert: I said, “That’s very revealing.” Why is that revealing? Because we have a worshiping nature, and God made us that way. The problem is we keep trying to put our point of worship in something that can’t sustain it. And then he says to me, puts down the hairdryer and he goes, “Becky, are you telling me the reason I am suffering so much is because I’ve been worshiping the wrong thing?” I said, “Exactly. And so have I. We’ve all tried to worship the wrong thing.” We need to identify with unbelievers. We need to share our failures, our longings, and where we found hope.
Collin Hansen: Becky, this was a new one that I don’t think I had heard quite directly before. It was actually a friend of mine who was asking me for advice about evangelism with somebody that he loved. He said, I talked to this person and she responded and said, why would I need God to forgive me? I forgive myself. How would you respond to that one?
Becky Pippert: Well, first of all, in my experience, I think people carry more guilt than they tend to admit. Even if they believe that I forgive myself and I’m perfectly content with that, wait till calamity comes. That’s why we hang in with people. When COVID began, I got a call from a non Christian friend of mine, and she was so confident. I never saw anything that ever seemed to take away her confidence that she was God. And she goes, “I don’t need this Christ. I am God.” She called me and said, “Becky, when an organism this small can bring our planet to a halt,” she said, “I am a complete secularist, and my secular culture didn’t help me face that I’m not in control, that I’m not in charge.” She said, “Becky, if I’m God, I’m in real trouble.”
I said, “Why do you say that?” She says, “Because what kind of God needs to be taking pills for anxiety? That’s not a God that’s going to help me out.” For the first time, she was willing to do what I call a seeker Bible study, a Bible study on the Gospels where we look at Jesus. I think that’s one thing. Most people are carrying… I mean, look at the amount of people just in America needing pills for depression, needing pills for anxiety. That’s a clue that there’s a lot more going underneath the surface.
I think the other thing that rears its head when somebody goes, well, I have no trouble forgiving myself, then what happens when someone harms them or harms a loved one? There’s a very powerful story, for me, it was any way, in Stay Salt where a woman, again, absolutely confident that she was God, she was in control, and then her niece was raped by her boss. She said to me, “There is evil in this world,” and this was before COVID. She goes, “There is evil in this world.” She said, “God needed to do something about it.” I said, “God has done something about it. It’s why Jesus came, it’s why he went to the cross.” She goes, “What that boss did wasn’t Jesus’s fault.” And I said, “Oh, you are so right. It wasn’t Jesus’s fault. But he went to the cross because he wanted to take the blame. He wanted to take the rap for us.” She said a fascinating thing. She said, “What I’ve learned about myself through my response to this boss is I have never experienced such hatred. I want justice. I don’t want sympathy. I want justice.”
I said, and this is the interesting thing, is that I’ve always said when you’re talking about sins, sin is a hard thing to talk about in this culture, that one aspect of sin, biblical understanding of sin is that we are the sin of idolatry. That was the problem with my gay hairdresser. But there’s another aspect of sin which is harder to talk about in our culture today, and that God is angry, that he has wrath and it’s justifiable. I find that that’s been easier to talk about lately, because she was saying, “Well, what kind of… I don’t know what to do with my rage. I want justice.” I said, “You know something, God also is angry. God also wants justice because he’s a loving God who stands against all this injustice.” So we’ve got more opportunities to talk about both aspects of sin than I think we’ve ever had before.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. You mentioned earlier in the conversation about the loss of absolute truth and post-modernity and sexual revolution, and I agree with all of that, and I see the rotten fruit of that in our culture as well. And yet, it does appear that we’re shifting again, that we’re shifting more toward anger and demand for justice, and more belief in absolute morality. And so I can see exactly what you’re saying, that there’s an opening now to talk about the wrathful justice of God. One of the people who helped prepare me for that is Miroslav Volf in his writings on the justice of God precisely because he points out that not caring about wrath and justice is something that is the privilege of a few people in this world, because most people of all time and most places today deal with pretty severe oppression of one sort or another.
Becky Pippert: Exactly. Exactly. He was very helpful to me too, and absolutely-spot on in his understanding of this because he’s experienced it personally.
Collin Hansen: Right. Well, here’s one last practical question, perhaps. I mean, I have one more question after that, but what is your favorite question, Becky, to open a spiritual conversation? Well, what’s your standard go-to?
Becky Pippert: Now, I have to tell you something, I don’t have one.
Collin Hansen: Okay. That’s good to know.
Becky Pippert: Yeah. This is why I’m listening to people, and people are different. When I’m talking to people, I ask the Lord, open my eyes, open my ears, open my heart, guide me. And as you’re really listening and you’re asking questions, I don’t know what to ask until I’ve heard them. I tell a story again in Stay Salt that I’m on the plane talking to a woman that really was chatty. She really, really wanted to talk. And so I prayed very quickly and looked for common ground, and it turned out we were both world travelers, and we had all kinds of things actually in common, films and books and travel and all that. Had a great conversation.
When you connect with somebody, when you find common ground, that frees them to start sharing their views and their values. And sure enough, she started it. I remember her saying, “Hey, if I want to be a man on Monday and a woman on Wednesday, who cares? It’s personal preference.” Then she went to something else. Then she went… I mean, it was just one after another. And I’m sitting there thinking, okay, now, which one am I going to engage with? Then she goes, “Becky, I believe human nature is really good. I look at people and I know they’re good.” I said, “Can I ask you something? What do you think about the state of the world?” In other words, you don’t go, that’s ridiculous. Have you looked at human history? How stupid can you be? No, no. You ask a question. I said, “Well, I’m just curious. How do you think about the state of the world?”
She goes, “It’s a mess. It’s absolutely a mess.” I go, “Okay. Help me out here. How can the world be a mess if people are all good?” She said, “That’s a very good point.” And then she said, “I think that maybe our problem is either we’re addicts who need recovery or we’re psychologically wounded, and we need therapy. Don’t you agree?” I said, “I do agree those are problems.” You’ve got to agree where you can. I said, “I do agree that those are real problems.” But I said, “I’ve got another question. What if you are an addict, you get recovery and you’re able to overcome your principle addiction, the addiction you’re struggling with only to discover that there’s a deeper addiction still, we’re addicted to ourselves?” And she went, “Oh my gosh, well, that’s true of me. I am addicted to myself.” But she goes, “Becky, if the answer to addiction is recovery, and the answer to psychological wounding is therapy, who in the world has the power to help us overcome our addiction to ourselves?” That opened up the opportunity for the gospel.
I mean, if somebody has standard questions, that’s fine. I just find that what I ask is totally dependent on the person I’m talking to.
Collin Hansen: Is that story, and we’ve been talking about the last couple of questions the bridge then between social justice and evangelism, because those are two views that have often been pitted against each other historically, you have to prioritize one or another, you have to choose one or another. But if social justice is ramping up people’s concerns about injustice and questions about God’s wrath, then perhaps that is then the bridge to evangelism, and that evangelism is a necessary response to the injustice to bring about social justice. Is that a fair assessment of the relationship there?
Becky Pippert: Yes. But I think what people are looking for, it depends, Collin, on which aspect we’re talking about. Are we talking about personal evangelism? If we’re talking about personal evangelism where we’re talking to somebody one-on-one, they’re not going to be able… they can hear our answer to God’s profound concern for justice and his mercy, because the cross reveals both. That of course is the big question, is his concern for justice, his concern for mercy and how that happened on the cross. But what I find on that one-on-one level is they’re really looking to see, am I an evangelistic project? Are you talking to me with a rope set of questions and you’re not interested in me? Now, it’s different if I’m speaking to an unbeliever, or they are looking at and they do look, is the church concerned about the poor in the city? What are they doing? And there are many people who wouldn’t give us the time of day unless they really see that we care, we put our money where our mouth is. Okay? The answer depends on the context.
Collin Hansen: Okay. Okay. Well, I’ve been talking with Becky Pippert about her new book, Stay Salt, from The Good Book Company. I’d like to ask a closing question in Gospelbound interviews, Becky, what is the last great book that you’ve read?
Becky Pippert: Oh my goodness, well, yesterday, I, but it was a reread, yesterday, I read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis because I hadn’t read it in a while. It was so fascinating because in Screwtape, he suffered doing this book, but he’s putting himself in the role of the demonic mind. In this one, it’s interesting because he is putting himself in the role of fallen man, fallen humankind, whoever, opportunity to do a little bus trip to heaven. Anyway, that was fascinating. But oh my gosh, I have read so much just this summer. That was what I read yesterday.
Collin Hansen: We’ve all had a little more opportunity, at least a lot of us a little more opportunity without as much travel and things like that over the summer to read. But I hope people will go out and pick up Stay Salt from Becky Pippert. I think you got a good flavor for it today, and also can check out some of the excerpts of Becky’s book on our website, TGC.org. Becky, thank you for joining me on Gospelbound.
Becky Pippert: Thank you, Collin. It’s been a pleasure.