Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Response: Evangelism After Christendom, Bryan Stone

I'm not really a good book reviewer. Keep that in mind. This is way more a response than a review.

I have started a post on this book multiple times over the last couple of months, but never posted it. And the other day, after finally finishing the whole book, I wrote a long post which I lost when we lost power.

I'll try again...

I'm not sure I've read a book that's been more affirming and challenging and resonating and all sorts of other things more than this one. I'd say it was 90% affirming and 10% challenging. It was incredible and wonderful to find an ecclesiology that "matches" much of who/how/what I feel like the Church is supposed to be. More than once I put the book down and said to myself something along the lines of, "There, there,'re not an idiot." Well...maybe I am an idiot. But at least I know I'm not alone.

I read the book along with a group of three other Nazarene pastors. It was interesting. At the beginning of our conversations on the book, I think that there was some frustration and disagreement with Stone. As such, at that time I tempered my thoughts that agreed with Stone a bit. But by the end, I'm fairly confident in saying that each of the other pastors was pretty much on board with Stone. The topic of pacifism may be excluded for them, but in terms of evangelism as a whole, I think each pastor appreciates and embraces the notions of the book. More than once in the later weeks of our discussions, the question was asked: "What on earth are we going to do with this?"

I also put the book down in frustration sometimes, but not because I disagreed with it. I've never met nor talked to Bryan for more than a few seconds. But he lives less than 30 minutes away, we have multiple mutual acquaintances (including friends who are studying with him), and I feel like I "know" him from what I've read. This all led to frustration because as I read about this wonderful image of the local body of the Church, I could not help but wonder, "Yeah...great, Bryan...where the heck are churches like these?" (In fairness, he finally answers this question in part almost right at the very end of the book. I hope to join this community "at" their gathering sometime soon.)

The book is saturated with Wesley & Holiness. While not surprising since Bryan's training is both Nazarene & Methodist (and he teaches at a "Methodist" School of Theology), many who consider themselves either Wesleyan or Holiness people would be aghast, confused, or both at the claims of the book.

One thing's for sure: This book has only thrown more gasoline on the fire that is my desire to return to studying theology at BU. I see no possible way for this to happen with the current state of our lives, so the fire is only an insatiable monster.

I have no clue how to really respond specifically to the book in a post...I feel like I could write a book on this book. I guess I'll just post some of the things that jumped out at me throughout the book and in places give some commentary. Really, the book is a major repetition, over and over again, of the same thing (the thesis): "...the most evangelistic thing the church can do today is be the church." (p.15)
  • Right away in the intro, with the way that he talks about "re-claiming the E-word," I was challenged. I'm *sure* that this was explained fully to me in my seminary evangelism class: that "to evangelize" means to give good news. Simple as that. Nothing more and for SURE, nothing less. (My evangelism class should have been called "The Church Growth Model," but whatever...speaking of seminary, I've already sent a strong recommendation to the president, dean, and new evangelism professor that this book be strongly considered as a text for the class).
  • (p.12) "...the power of the gospel is demonstrated not through winning, but through obedience." How on earth do we read anything else through the eyes of scripture, particularly Jesus' ministry?
  • (p.15) "The church is the evangelistic strategy."
  • (quote from Hauerwas & Willimon): "The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people." (p.48) One aspect that I think I have taken away the most from the book is the encouragement that Christ has already done it all. We need not "win" for Christ. He's already done it. Our lives are simply now to reflect that victory again and again in the situations presented to us. Here's another quote that speaks to this (p.234): "To believe that the 'real world' is something other (or larger) than the world of the gospel is to deform Christian evangelism from the beginning."
  • quote from Russell: "...salvation is a story and not an idea..." (p.61)
  • quote from Lohfink: "What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed." (p.73)
  • I wrote at one point on p.79, amidst Stone's discussion of Table fellowship (and fellowship in general): "Is exclusion our job or theirs?"
  • (p.85) "All Christian evangelism, therefore, whether directed to the rich or to the poor, is ultimately eschatological from beginning to end. It is not an exercise in getting persons ready for 'the end' but rather the practice of inviting persons to be transformed by the end that has already made itself present, and on that basis to see differently and live differently."
  • "The Constantinian story is the story of the church's forgetting its journey and making itself at home in the world." (p.116)
  • "...the point is that the logic of evangelism is not, in the first place, a matter of what 'works' but rather a matter of faithfulness and obedience." (p.162)
  • I've read Yoder's Politics of Jesus almost twice. But for some reason, this statement from Stone made clear "politics" to me better than ever before (p.178): "Politics refers to the processes, rules, and skills that help us as a people to understand, order, and form our involvements and relations." Yet another word that needs "re-claiming."
  • (p.195) "Holiness is never a way out of the world but ever and always a way into the world. It is for the world that the church is called to be both in the world and visibly different from the world." Good grief how did we ever get away from this?
  • (p.196) "The politics of evangelism, then, is the church's 'otherness' in worship, fellowship, baptism, discipline, moreality, and martyrdom." Um...why did I leave seminary feeling in great part like evangelism was best "done" when modeled after the ways of the world? Like...we have to be "cool" or something to evangelize people...
  • (p.199) "eucharistic fellowship and sharing" Nothing more I need to quote. These three words together are shaping my ecclesiology. I need them to shape my life.
  • (p.200) "The Eucharist is an economic act." (quoting Yoder)
  • "Sanctification does not happen first behind the closed doors of the church and prior to its bodily social engagement with the world. Rather, the church's eucharistic engagement with the world is its sanctification as a visible and public body that glorifies God." (p.211)
  • On pages 216-217, I wrote this: " need to give Bresee credit." It felt like he was quoting Bresee without referencing him. Here's one such line: "It is to make sure that our buildings, sanctuaries, and meeting houses are places that cry out welcome to the poor." Doesn't that ring of Bresee!?
  • Yoder quote again: "...brokenness, not success, is the normal path of faithfulness to the servanthood of God." (p.224)
  • A general notion of the chapter on the Holy Spirit is that evangelism is for the whole church community, not just those who aren't yet a part. I wrote in the margins of p.228: "When I cease to reek of good news, I need to be evangelized."
  • (p.229) "...evangelism is characterized by witness rather than by effectiveness."
  • (p.257) "Evangelism cannot be measured by the conversions it 'produces.' Its only measurement is faithfulness to the gospel of Christ of which it is a witness and to which it is an invitation." Again, this resonates with a Bresee quote I recently discovered: "Don't count them. Weigh them. Not quantity, but quality." I know that a lot of people don't like this thinking. I do. And I daresay it's quite biblical.
  • (p.260) "The problem is this: when the practice of evangelism becomes so preoccupied with entry that it loses sight of the journey itself, it is capable of being taken over by a logic foreign to the journey and even antagonistic to it."
  • I'm still chewing on this one...and will be for a while. It haunts me: "...the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor..." (this is a quote from Romero). This, to me, is the truest and more literal notion of com-passion. (p.287)
  • (p. 291) parenthetical: "it is worth noting that the word patience, like the word compassion, is derived from the Latin pati, which means 'suffering'"
  • "Evangelism takes time. But for a people of hope, it is precisely time that we have been given." (p.294)
  • (p.294) "To evangelize is not to convince or convert; it is to share a promise that has been made by God, narrated in the story of God's people and embodied in the person of Jesus."
In one sense, I hate giving proof-text quotes like this. You need to read the book.

The postliberal nature of stuff like this is more and more how I believe the Church must move forward: know the story of God in such a way...that our lives are the story of God...acting as an invitation to the world to become a part of the same story.


  1. Jeremy,
    Wow. This post is such a teaser that I am definitely getting this book. Your quotes did it. Thanks for sticking with it and posting this.

  2. Jeremy,
    Thanks for sharing these. I'm wanting to read this book! I think my favorite is the 3rd quote..."The church is the evangelistic strategy."