Any-3: Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime
The growth of Islam outpaces that of any other religion in the world today. Such a development has manifold implications for the global community. For Christians, at the very least it means increasing exposure to and contact with Muslims. Engaging adherents of Islam with the gospel, therefore, is not merely a missiological consideration but an existential reality for virtually every follower of Christ.
Mike Shipman’s short work, Any-3: Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, addresses this situation by providing a handbook for evangelistic conversations with Muslims. His work seeks to inspire action but also to normalize and simplify the act of sharing the gospel. In many ways, the book emphasizes the urgency and attainability of this goal as demonstrated in its subtitle: Lead Muslims to Christ Now!
At its essence, the book elaborates on a commitment to share the gospel with anyone, anywhere, at any time. More specifically, the strategy focuses on equipping Christians to evangelize Muslims, though the author suggests that the method can be adapted to any target group. This is because the book is derived from, in the author’s words, “Jesus’ pattern of witnessing” (25) found in his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
Reflecting on this example, Shipman presents five basic steps of any evangelistic encounter: 1) make a connection, 2) transition to a God conversation, 3) refer to the hearer’s sinfulness, 4) present the gospel, and 5) appeal for a response. The majority of the book teases out these steps as the method of Any-3, including many stories of evangelistic success from the Muslim world. Later chapters include suggestions for holding Any-3 workshops as well as abbreviated advice for follow-up, discipleship, and church planting.
No doubt, the Any-3 method has much to commend itself. First of all, Shipman’s book is saturated with biblical references. While not expressly stated, the obvious assumption is that the authority in any evangelistic conversation comes from Scripture. This may seem insignificant, but it represents a notable improvement over other books within this genre targeting Muslims. Shipman does not appeal to the authority of the Quran. He does not argue merely from shared or natural revelation. His is a method and message based on Scripture.
Any-3 also benefits from being simple and memorable without becoming formulaic. Shipman gives examples of evangelistic dialogue, and he encourages interaction and active listening on the part of the witness. His method also avoids the common problem of being merely propositional. Instead, he seeks to evangelize through narrative.
Such an emphasis removes the evangelistic discussion from one-sided preachiness or abstract ideas. Any-3, done correctly, succeeds in drawing out the people being engaged, listening to them, and communicating with memorable stories and understandable concepts. From the beginning, Shipman’s method seeks to build bridges and discover commonality. But on the issue of the gospel, it also maintains helpful distinctions. This bears out in one of Any-3’s key phrases in the evangelistic dialogue: “What I believe is different.” Such clear distinction is not always a given.
In a book promoting evangelism at any time with anyone, it should not be surprising to find a corrective to common excuses for not sharing the gospel. Here Shipman is direct, and some may find him off-putting. But his diagnosis is mostly accurate. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well dispels the common myth that evangelism can only happen in the context of a trusting relationship. Shipman repeatedly challenges the prevailing wisdom that missionaries should only be cautious, slow, relational, and incarnational in the Muslim context. Instead, he makes the case for evangelism early and often in obedience to Christ’s command.
Another strength of Any-3 is the inclusion of a direct call for a response in any evangelistic encounter. Built into the method is an appeal to the listener to respond with faith in Christ. For Shipman, evangelism is not merely information sharing. And while his description of the gospel summons may at times blur the lines of presumption and manipulation (103), his overall emphasis is a needed one.
As is often the case, the strengths of this method are also its weaknesses. First among them is its simplicity. As Shipman contends, “The profound and powerful message of effective evangelism is the simple gospel. Evangelism that confuses this gospel with more complicated methods only weakens the gospel’s power” (83).
Shipman’s model is unflinchingly straightforward. His single focus is on presenting the gospel and calling for a response. Because of this, he avoids debate or apologetics. He does not seek to reason with the hearer but always to stay on course. Taking Jesus as his example, he encourages his readers to deflect or avoid questions until later.
However, at least in the case of this book, Shipman never returns to address such questions. He does not discuss major issues such as the identity of the Son of God, the authority and reliability of the Christian scriptures, or even the resurrection. Of course, we have precedent in Jesus’ ministry to redirect questions and conversations; however, those were often cases where others were avoiding truth or testing Jesus. While the gospel is certainly primary, simplifying the message to the point of avoiding or postponing legitimate questions does not lead to understanding nor does it demonstrate love.
Perhaps more concerning, Any-3 is built upon a reductionist hermeneutic. Many of the problems with the method come from the foundation on which it is built. As noted, the structure of the book rests entirely upon the narrative of John 4. However, with respect to redemptive history, John 4 does not represent a full-orbed “gospel” conversation. Rather, we have more detailed and clear accounts of evangelistic preaching from Acts, not to mention more of them in number. We also have sufficient evidence from Jesus’ varied interactions and teachings that John 4 need not become the single cornerstone for any evangelistic system.
Further complicating the issue is Shipman’s strict dependence on presenting the gospel in terms of two sacrifice stories. In fact, for Any-3 the whole of the gospel is encapsulated in the theme of sacrifice for sin. This leads Shipman to lean heavily on the descriptive accounts in early Genesis (whose teachings are less than clear regarding implications for animal sacrifice) as the forerunner for the sacrifice of Christ. Of course, taking such a thematic approach simplifies the gospel message, but it creates more questions than it answers.
Another significant issue is Shipman’s apparent decisionist view of conversion. Following in the vein of the subtitle, passages throughout the book imply or outright state that the decision is entirely in the hands of the receptor. All they need to do is say “yes” to Jesus (140). They are portrayed as being like Lydia who, in the curious editing of the author, is said to have “opened her [own] heart to respond” (103). The biblical text (Acts 16:14) actually says that God opened her heart to respond to the gospel.
While Shipman contends that John 4 mirrors apostolic preaching of the gospel, his method notably lacks the summons to repentance found in Acts or even the Gospels. Little space, if any, is given to the issue of repentance in Any-3. Hearers are called to respond positively to Christ, but they are not explicitly called to turn from sin. In a curious reading of John 4, Shipman says that Jesus’ invitation to the Samaritan woman to call her husband was a “clear indication” that Jesus was trying to draw a larger group of people (31). Most interpreters, however, would see in his words an exposure of the woman’s sin.
Lastly, the simplicity of Any-3 ultimately plays out in a truncated view of discipleship and a minimalist view of the church. This is perhaps the most concerning portion of the book. For Shipman, Christian discipleship is all about reproduction. In fact, he takes the concept of abiding in Christ and turns it into an acrostic which paradigmatically describes the essentials of being a Christian: 1) Abide in Christ, 2) Bold evangelism, 3) Instill multiplying discipleship, 4) Develop churches, and 5) Equip leaders (91). While this may not have been his intent, what comes across is the notion that the end of the Christian life is merely reproduction. Fruitfulness in Christ is equated with numeric growth. Such a view then plays out in the ways that Shipman envisions discipleship studies and church meetings.
New believers within the Any-3 strategy strangely gather around a short vision statement on the essentials of reproduction. They also recite a statement of faith which is incredibly brief and tilted toward a commitment to evangelism rather than the typical, objective truths of a creed (126-27). These statements are divorced from Christian history and tradition, and they fail to represent the values of the new covenant community beyond a commitment to rapid growth. As such, Any-3 has the potential to propagate a movement that is not sufficiently grounded in the Scriptures.
Undoubtedly, many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ, and probably a good number through the committed method and simple presentation that is Any-3. However, the inspirational stories of decisions for Christ throughout the book ultimately leave us wondering what the hearers have actually decided, and to what they have been converted.