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, Jeremy...you'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: "Dude...you 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.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

American Idols: Security

This is actually a posting from our North St. News site, but I thought I'd post it for the four of you who read here too. It's coming out of our topic from yesterday at North Street: American Idols - Security.

The recording for this past Sunday's American Idol: Security is now posted. For those of you that are listening on the web alone and aren't able to or haven't been in our worship gathering with us each week, you should know that after the sermon we take some time to respond to it, question it, and offer other perspective/thoughts about the given topic. A couple of great and difficult points were brought up this week, and I said that I'd respond more in depth during the week. Please understand and read these questions only in the light of the sermon (read: "listen to the sermon first!").

What about the Kings and Nation of Israel in the Old Testament? Doesn't this show in scripture a balance between the pacifist Christ-King and a people of God who fight for God?
It's notable that in the very first place, when the people of God (Israel) told God that they would like a king to rule over them, God basically said, "Um...no you don't. A king will take your sons and make them work for his armies and take your daughters and make them work for him as well. And a king will tax you and take your best things from you." But the people persisted and said, "No, we are determined to have a king like the other nations." And so God said, "Okay, have yourself a king." And the rest is history...

God even goes as far as to say (to Samuel), "When the people ask for the leadership of a king, they are rejecting my kingship."

You can read it all in I Samuel 8.

The other story that I alluded to was when King David "counted" his armies (II Samuel 24 or I Chronicles 21). The two accounts differ on how it happened, but the main point to David was this: don't count your armies and/or people.

The power of God is always to be the power of God's people. Or, again, the people of God are at their best when they rely on nothing but the strength and power of their cruciform God. As one person noted on Sunday (in context Zechariah...not Gideon), "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts."

In light of that verse from Zechariah, I can't help but think again of the theme for yesterday: the people of God are at their best when they rely on nothing but the strength and power of a cruciform God. When has the Church been at her best? Look at Pentecost, for one. What was the power of that day? The very Spirit spoken of in Zechariah (and not might or power).

So does God leave us powerless?
Absolutely not! That's the whole point! God gives us great power! But it doesn't look like power as we tend to know it. His strength and power to drive out fear and evil is love (I Peter 4:16-21). And Paul gives us some great words about what our defense ("security" we might even say) does look like in places like Ephesians 6 (the armor of God). But take note that Paul says that we have this armor to "stand against," to be able to "withstand," and to "stand firm." He doesn't speak at all of "going and getting people." Yeah, yeah, I know...Paul talks about having the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." First off, any fencer will tell you that a sword is as much of a tool of defense as it is of offense. Second, there's that "Spirit" again, which we already know is not of "might nor power." Third, the "word of God" is our defense, so wonderfully demonstrated to us by Christ during his time of temptation in the wilderness/desert (Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11). Thrice Christ uses the "word of God" to defend himself against the "wiles of the devil," just as Paul mentions at the beginning of this passage.

I can't help but think of some of the great martyrs of our history: people who decided that fighting wasn't the way of the Kingdom and ultimately lost their life on this earth (for now) as they knew it. Martin Luther King, Jr. is perhaps my favorite. This short speech gets me every time (he spoke those words the very day before he was killed...haunting words). He also said, "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

But perhaps best known to us is the account of the first martyred follower of Christ, Stephen, in Acts 7:54-60, where again, we find this "Spirit" of the Lord. It says that Stephen, full of that Spirit, laid down his life. So we see that the people of God, when filled with the Spirit of God, don't fight back...but remember that there is more than living (and dying!). It doesn't make any earthly sense. :-)

This has turned into a much longer post than I meant, but I can't help it...I continue to hold to the notion that God has more for his people than we see in the way we generally respond to the evils of the world.

Again, the question for us in all of this is, do we trust God? Or are we trusting other things in the place of God (the very definition of "idol")...?

Peace,
Pastor Jeremy