Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher
Dale and Jonalyn Fincher, husband and wife team, speak, write, and hold conferences (Soulation) with the intent of helping be appropriately human. This book, Coffee Shop Conversations is a good window into how to share your faith in a winsome and relational way without losing your friends or making people upset at you. Much of the wisdom here is using your best common sense while trying to reach out to the person across from you with grace and understanding. There are some real strengths in this book alongside some weaknesses as well. What comes across most clearly here is a desire to be truly human in sharing Jesus with others, walking in their shoes and discovering the beautiful image bearer that God has made them into, rather than seeing them as another rung on an evangelistic ladder.
The book is divided into three sections: Making Spiritual Small Talk, Restocking Your Tools and Helping Friends Home. The strongest part of the book and the one that resonated most with me is the first section. Moving from asking the question relating to who is my neighbor to what is my neighbor brings into perspective a healthy connecting with those whom we share Jesus with. “We know we’re supposed to love those different from us, but we continue to think about them primarily through the label, which dims our vision and they can become,” Dale writes (32). Rather than see our neighbor as busy, crazy, or describe them through a negative action, we strive to see them as human, just like us made into the glorious image of God. This way of interacting with neighbors immediately strikes a unique bond with them because sure enough they have gone through a similar situation. The story of the Good Samaritan is full of power partly because it is one human identifying another in a grave state and reaching out in his own humanity, seeking the good of the other whatever the cost.
Dale tells of a time in which he gave a university speech and a student came up after the talk and ‘he felt like he needed evidence for God’s existence or his love’ (41). After giving him some good answers, Dale thought about his barriers to belief and finally he came to the realization that the young man was looking for someone, something to trust because of his broken past. A massive amount of emails relating his broken past came through the computer. Dale writes, “Wrestling with his questions on my own helped me know how to engage him as the hurt person behind the intellectual query” (42). This piece of wisdom is true because every face we meet has a story, but many stories are difficult and very painful for people to share. Often, the questions people ask are a wall of security for them to withstand the assault of the real hurt in their lives. Dale carefully sees that after building a relationship, asking the right questions can lead to the unraveling of a story that needs God’s grace.
For all that is good in the book, there are a few points of weakness also. In the section on How to Read the Bible. Dale writes, “For every biblical narrative, the hero is the God of Israel, not Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses….” (84). It is very wise to not place the hero of the biblical text at the feet of broken believers, yet I think there is something missing here, namely Christ. Not only does every text point to Christ as the hero of every text, the whole biblical narrative is leading forward to him, looking back at his ministry, or awaiting his return. A more robust understanding of seeing Christ as the hero of every text allows to see a strong unity in the narrative of the Bible that connects both Old and New Testaments.
Secondly, I certainly agree that meeting people at the door with the message that a fiery furnace awaits them if they don’t believe is not the right way to win people to the Savior. And, I also agree that getting out of hell is not why people should believe. Yet, I think in some ways Dale has missed the point. There are a myriad of ways of connecting people to God’s view of sin and his judgment upon it without going straight the fiery furnace illustration. Though we want people to see Jesus as their source of life and light, freeing them from the chains of darkness in their sin, understanding that God is a just judge at a certain point in our relationship with them is good also. I wonder after reading this short section what Dale actually believes about hell, since the traditional view of hell has been around for some time. Understanding hell and its awful state is not a brand of Christianity but fundamental to understanding the character of God and his justice. There are points in our relationship with unbelievers that are more appropriate to broach such a subject, but to never engage it all doe a disservice to the biblical record.
This book was a good look into building relationships with our neighbors, opening our lives up to them in spiritual small talk. The great word of this book is that understanding our neighbors takes great patience, listening and learning to walk in their shoes. If we are willing to shut our mouths first and open up to others, communication and relationships will take place. I hope this book will be an encouragement to many. I think the sections on doctrine specific issues and bible study are a bit off but there is still some truth to be gained even in these sections.
Thanks to Speakeasy and Zondervan for the copy of this book in exchange for review.