I’m trying to think ahead for a change and have been revising material for our new MA in European Mission and Intercultural Christianity which, if all goes to plan, will hopefully be validated by the University of Gloucestershire on Wednesday of this week.
Doing that, I’ve been reading Bryan Stone’s excellent book Evangelism after Christendom. He describes evangelism in the following way,
‘The practice of evangelism is a complex and multilayered process – multiple activities that invite, herald, welcome, and provoke and that has as its end the peaceable reign of God and the social holiness by which persons are oriented towards that reign. As the end of evangelistic practice, the reign of God is not external to evangelistic practice but internal to it in the form of the politics by which that practice is carried out, a politics that is formed by a distinctive story and sustained by distinctive virtues such as presence, patience, courage and humility. To practice evangelism faithfully ad with excellence, then, is to practice it from within this politics, to play by the rules of this politics, so to speak. These rules, as McClendon reminds us, are not like “‘no loitering in the hallways’… Rather they are practice-constitutive rules: one who flouts them is to be thought of not as naughty or nasty, but simply as disengaged from the practice in question’. ”
Within the setting of European mission, the practice of evangelism is frequently that which provokes the strongest reaction from secular observers, church leaders, and even some missiologists. Stone’s emphasis does at least have the virtue of suggesting that if the ‘reign of God’ (aka. Kingdom of God) has any significance for Europe’s future, then our human co-operation in seeing God’s reign established can never be a denial of the values of the Kingdom. It’s never going to solve accusations of proselytism from the majority churches but a sustained and self-reflective commitment by evangelicals to the Christ-like virtues of ‘presence, patience, courage and humility’ might go some way to forms of evangelism in Europe that could be characterised as ‘hit-and-run’, anxious, fearful, and arrogant.
If that can avoided, we should certainly be doing more inviting, heralding, welcoming and provoking. If Jesus had been announcing the start of his public ministry in contemporary Europe, I sometimes wonder where he might have begun doing these things?