EDITOR’S NOTE: In what follows, George H. Martin, professor of Christian missions and world religions, discusses his new book, Letters to a New Believer, with Towers news writer RuthAnne Irvin. 

RAI: In the book you say that you originally sent these letters to new believers earlier in your pastoral ministry. Why did you do that?

GM: I wanted to have that direct, personal contact with them as they began to understand more clearly what had happened to them by coming to Christ. There’s a number of ways you can do that.  You can set up appointments, meet with them — you can go to their homes. And I would do both of those. I would talk with them in my study. I would talk with them in their homes, and just in the hallway. I thought this offered a personal, more systematic, intentional approach. Once a week I would send a letter to the new believer, and the next week a follow-up letter, and a third letter until we got to the end. It allowed me that time to work with them through their salvation experience and help them understand more clearly what they had experienced and move on from there.

RAI: Did you send the same one to each person, or did you change them up?

GM: Two individuals coming to Christ would receive essentially the same letters, but there were always personal anecdotes and comments thrown in. I would always revise the letters a bit, but essentially they were the same.

RAI: How did you see the letters benefit the new believers you sent them to?

GM: One thing the letters often did was to encourage conversation. It was very common for someone to say, “Ah, George, I got another letter from you this week.” And I might say, “Well, what did you think about such and such in the letter?” So that’s one thing that the letters did. It encouraged and continued conversation with these new believers. They just need that nurturing relationship. I think the letters provided them with some specific biblical, theological, and practical information that they needed to grow in Christ.

RAI: If the primary audience is new believers, how do you see older believers benefiting from this book?

GM: Sure. It is not uncommon that as we grow older chronologically we begin to reflect on our initial salvation experience. And as the years go by, that initial experience sort of fades in our memories and we begin to wonder, “Wow, what really happened back then?” The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to examine themselves to make sure they are in the faith. Peter wrote to his readers and instructed them: make your call to the election sure. This is a task not only for the new believer, but for the middle-aged believer, the elderly believer, the one who’s walked with Christ for many years. It’s a lifelong task that we’re commanded to take on. So these letters, though addressed out of a pastor’s heart to new believers, benefit anyone who has walked with Christ for any number of years.

RAI: How do you see grounding new believers in the gospel consistent with the importance of teaching them doctrines that are in the book?

GM: Of course, I would use doctrine certainly in terms of biblical doctrine. I would use the term really as a synonym for truth. So as a pastor or just a Christian friend, when I want someone to understand and receive “doctrine,” I really want you to understand and receive and affirm truth.

RAI: Is there something you wish someone would have told you as a new believer that you have since learned and taken to other new believers?

GM: The one thing that I find myself coming back to time and time again is the foundation for my assurance. In fact, as a pastor, I think the one question that I heard asked to me more than any other was, “Pastor, how can I know for sure that I’m saved?” Sometimes we put it this way, “How can I know that I know that I know that I know, how can I really know for certain?”  The thing that I keep coming back to and really encourage people is the doctrine of justification. I define justification very simply: what is my sin has become his. And in turn what is his righteousness full and complete has become mine. My sins have been given to him, he’s taken them on himself, paid the price, and they’re no longer mine. And in turn, he has given me his righteousness. I keep coming back to that not only in the chapter on justification but in the chapters on sanctification and assurance. Several times I reference the Apostle Paul and his own testimony there in Romans 7. As I understand it, this is the mature Apostle Paul, not the brand new believer on the Damascus Road. And even the Apostle Paul cries out, “O, the things that I should be doing I don’t do, the things that I shouldn’t do I do.” It comes to a crisis — it seems he cries out, “O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death.” And what he does immediately at the end of chapter 7 and on into chapter 8 is turn right back to the cross and the doctrine of justification — looking to Jesus and his righteousness that has been given to him. Always look to Christ and what he has done for you.

RAI: Did you handwrite the first ones or did you type them and then write them?

GM: As I recall, I might have started out on a typewriter, but at some point along the way I purchased an old K-Pro computer-IBM clone. It had two floppy discs, one floppy had the word processing system on it and the other one you saved your data to. So I began to type them on that. I think I might have some of the original handwritten, but when they went out to people they were typed. I wanted new believers to actually read the letters and if they had to struggle through my handwriting, I was afraid they wouldn’t get beyond the first paragraph or two. The letters are already kind of long for personal letters, but you want people to get through the letters and so I want to make them as clear as possible.