by Bryan Stone
Evangelism is a bad word. Evangelism conveys an attitude of superiority that is offensive to Western cultural ideals and cultures dominated by religions other than Christianity. If this is the position of many within Western culture, where is evangelism’s place in these postmodern days?
Brazos Press, P. O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 2007, 335 pages, $27.99.
—Reviewed by Lee Beach, director of ministry formation and lecturer in ministry studies, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Evangelism is a bad word. Evangelism conveys an attitude of superiority that is offensive to Western cultural ideals and cultures dominated by religions other than Christianity. If this is the position of many within Western culture, where is evangelism’s place in these postmodern days? Dr. Bryan Stone, professor of evangelism at the Boston University School of Theology, addresses this dilemma with a thorough exploration of the current state of evangelistic enterprise and a clear vision for how the Church needs to reorient its approach to witness in contemporary society.
Stone’s premise is that the future of evangelism lies in the Church being a distinctive people who are marked by their worship, forgiveness, hospitality and economic sharing. He offers an ecclesiology that is part of God’s ongoing work of forming a people for himself. This ongoing story is rooted in the calling of Israel; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and the transformation of Jesus’ first followers into the Church. From here, Stone makes the point that evangelism is not a practice or a strategy, but an intrinsic Christian characteristic. Demonstrating how the Church has been co-opted by the power of Constantinianism and Modernity, he rails against attempts to be relevant and methodologically oriented in order to secure “success.” He laments the loss of the intended “strangeness” of God’s community and concludes that the Church’s evangelistic posture should be one of subversion and invitation as opposed to specific techniques. Evangelism must come from the periphery, and refuse to play by the rules of the host culture.
Stone makes a significant contribution to contemporary studies in evangelism by offering such a cogent critique of the Church’s indulgence in Western culture. His argument that evangelism is a subversive activity that must take place outside of the West’s prevailing narratives as an alternative voice, embodied in a dissident community, calls for deep reflection from all who care about the work of evangelism in contemporary society.
The book provides an excellent theology, but like much theological thought, it lacks clear application. This is not a “how to” book. The practical implications of his thought will require further reflection.
This book should not be ignored as important reading for those interested in evangelistic practice in the twenty-first century, or those involved in theological education who are looking for a text to help students consider a theology of evangelism.
Check these titles:
Frost, Michael. 2006. Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson.
Walsh, Brian J. and Sylvia Keesmaat. 2004. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press.
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