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Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness Paperback – March 1, 2007
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From the Back Cover
"Not often, but every now and then, a book comes along that not only draws together the literature of the last thirty years but also pushes the conversation forward for decades to come. Bryan Stone has written such a book. Everyone writing in the field of evangelism cannot go around, only through, this masterpiece."--Leonard Sweet, author of SoulTsunami
"Bryan Stone's Evangelism after Christendom takes the study of evangelism to a new depth. This book brings hope to those perplexed by the popularity of evangelism techniques that seemingly contradict the faithful witness of the church. Evangelism after Christendom, theologically framed and biblically grounded, is essential reading for those seeking an in-depth treatment of evangelism as a constitutive Christian practice."--Laceye Warner, Duke Divinity School
"Bryan Stone has provided a significant contribution to the important, ongoing discussion of what evangelism is and how it is best practiced. Evangelism after Christendom takes seriously Christ's call to bear witness in the North American context in the twenty-first century. He is attentive to issues of ecclesiology, history, and politics, and he carefully considers conflicting theological interpretations of evangelism. This is a challenging and important book for all those who seek to study how the church can embody a truly Christian evangelistic practice."--Scott J. Jones, Bishop, The United Methodist Church
"This book is thoroughly believable. It brings evangelism into the twenty-first century with the wit of a scholar and the force of the church as its champions."--Robert G. Tuttle, author of The Story of Evangelism: A History of the Witness to the Gospel
About the Author
Bryan Stone (PhD, Southern Methodist University) is E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at the Boston University School of Theology, where he is also cofounder and codirector of the Center for Practical Theology and founder of the Center for Congregational Research and Development. Stone has written books such as Faith and Film: Theological Themes at the Cinema, and served as editor for the Journal of Christian Theological Research.
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Top Customer Reviews
Initially, Evangelism after Christendom serves as a prophetic call to the church to reclaim its true and intended evangelistic identity. In the book's introduction, author Bryan Stone states, "The thesis of this book is that the most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church--" (15) Moreover, he provides a specific framework for how this might take shape. Stone continues, "...to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ." (15) For Stone, this is the nature of evangelism.
Furthermore, these descriptions serve to construct the framework of what Stone, later in the book, frequently refers to as the ecclesia. However, Stone's attention toward ecclesia begins with a theological foundation of evangelism as practice. Stone uses the work of Alasdair MacIntyre to purport, "A practice is especially important in MacIntyre's overall argument, for it provides the context in which the identity of a tradition is constituted, the narrative meaning of human life is enacted, and the character, virtues, and skills for journeying toward that meaning are displayed and refined." (30) However, as he builds the argument, Stone succinctly asks, "Is evangelism a practice? To the extent that it may be so understood, it likewise employs a number of varying skills, arts, techniques, and activities. But if evangelism is a practice, it is never reducible to any of these..." (31) Next, Stone clarifies his reference to MacIntyre by involving James McClendon's description of a "game." I found this metaphor to be quite helpful in describing evangelism as practice. Stone unpacks evangelistic practice through the lens of McClendon's "four necessary elements to a game: (a) an end or goal, (b) the means to that end, (c) the rules by which the game is played, and (d) the proper attitude in playing." (32) Finally, throughout the rest of the book, Stone structures his assertion of evangelism as practice upon the pillars of narrative, social context, and virtue.
In Evangelism after Christendom, Bryan Stone assembles a case for evangelism taking place in a narrative context. In other words, as Stone articulates, "This story [the story of the people of God], with its various characters, subplots, twists, turns, and surprises, literally `makes sense' out of the Christian life by depicting its beginning, way, and end and thereby orienting us on a journey." (55) At this point, however, I would take slight exception with Stone's description. Perhaps, it is not the story of the people of God, but instead, the story of the God of the people. As Gary Holloway and Earl Lavender state in their book, Living God's Love: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality, "...the main character in my autobiography is not me, but God." Nevertheless, during this portion of the book, with outstanding thoroughness and meaning, Stone walks the reader through the stories of Israel, Jesus, and the early church. As an underlying form of foreshadowing, through his articulation of "the story of the people of God," Stone lays the foundations for his later call to ecclesia.
Before Stone arrives at his call to ecclesia, his pilgrimage winds through potential rival narratives of "the story of the people of God." For the purposes of his book, he tells the story of two main rivals: "The Constantinian Story" and "The Story of Modernity." For me, this was a meaningful portion of the book, because of the immediate application to my context of North American church planting. I find myself as a resident in a church culture that still bears many marks of Christendom, and a suburban culture that reflects the categories of secularization, religious pluralism, and consumerism as described by Stone. In response to these cultural frameworks, Stone asserts, "Only insofar as the church is itself a visible communion, a material culture, a form of life, an embodied social imagination, a public, a politics and economics in its own right, will it pose a threat to the individualization and subsequent massification of persons inherent in the modern invention of sociality and its institutional offspring." (170) With experience to reflect upon, I concur with Stone's assessment. Furthermore, for Stone, the church embodies this description by communally subversive means choosing not to opt into a dominate culture of individualism, marketing, and choice. In rebuttal to the dominate culture, Stone writes, "The question we must ask is whether the church is the eschatological sign and living demonstration that the end of time has come or whether it is to be viewed in strictly functional terms..." (168) Throughout this section of the book, Stone remains true to his prophetic calling toward the church to be the church.
Next, as a specific element within Stone's calling toward the church to be the church, he launches a section of the book in which he unpacks the ecclesia as witness and invitation. First of all, the ecclesia serves as a witness to the reign of God. In support of this point, Stone says, "The new creation to which evangelism witnesses is God's peaceable reign--a work of prophetic imagination that both demands and makes possible a distinctive reordering of loyalties, priorities, and relationships and of the way power and resources are shared and distributed." (177) For me, this prophetic call, or maybe better stated, a prophetic community living out this way of life ("God's peaceable reign"), is much needed in my suburban context. Ironically, for Stone, the second service of ecclesia involves invitation. As Stone reveals, "The practice of evangelism announces and embodies this imaginary even as it seeks to invite and initiate persons into it through a fully material formation into a people, a Spirit-created social option in space and time." (177) Stone continues to describe witness and invitation in terms of cruciform politics and economics. In other words, his suggestions for evangelism after Christendom find root in the practices of ecclesia instead of the propositional truth and scientific methods of modernity. As a result, conversion must be viewed in terms of process or being continually converted. In a conversation about the measurability of evangelism, Stone concludes, "If evangelism can be `measured' at all, perhaps it can best be measured by how well a community prepares a place at its table for those who are not there yet, for those who have not even heard, much less heeded, its invitation." (274) In Evangelism after Christendom, the ecclesia embodies and invites people into "God's peaceable reign."
Finally, in what, in my opinion, is actually a discussion about spiritual formation, the author digs into the character of the evangelist who would proclaim (or live out) such a life ("God's peaceable reign") in ecclesia. Basically, Stone summarizes the "martyrdom and virtue" of the evangelist in the following four characteristics: presence, patience, courage, and humility. I found the "churchwomen," Oscar Romero, and the Common Cathedral to be prophetic exemplars of Stone's description of the evangelist, and consequently, stories saturated with conviction. This portion of the book left me introspective as to how I, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might exhibit such virtues in my church planting context. These pages of Evangelism after Christendom and my Tuesday night covenant group's study through Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden simultaneously ushered me into Jesus' words in Luke 9.23-24: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." As evangelists who are also participants in ecclesia may we "come after" Jesus with such Spirit-fueled intensity that our evangelistic practice spreads through the virtues of presence, patience, courage, and humility.
Evangelism after Christendom provides an extensive theological framework for discussion concerning evangelism in a post-Christendom context. I would recommend it as a worthy, cost-effective investment for any church leader discerning God's prophetic call toward the engagement of such a post-Christendom culture with the story of God or desiring a full description of evangelistic practice. Bryan Stone's treatment of practice, narrative, history, ecclesia, and virtue contribute thorough scholarship, thoughtful critiques, and meaningful applications in the context of any discussion concerning evangelism. Stone set a course to prophetically challenge the church to be the church, and in Evangelism after Christendom, he remains true to this end.
Bryan Stone is good at what he does. He has the intellectual capacity to pursue the biblical instruction of the Great Commission. His theology is mission-centric which typifies the structures incorporated and identifiable with missions. The introduction is short of staggering - it is breathtaking. It convinces and succeeds in its emotional plea for a return to making evangelism a priority again. Stone accurately and scholarly brings the 'North American' mega-churches to their knees, but also knows that it is their hearts that are at fault.
'On this view, any evangelism for which the church is irrelevant, an afterthought, or instrumental cannot be Christian evangelism. It is within such a social imagination that salvation is able finally to be construed as 'a personal relationship with Jesus' and thus something that takes place outside, alongside, or as a substitute for the church.' p 17
As with most Reformed evangelicals, I struggle to find the balance when focusing on the lost, and our obedience to the biblical text. The question of election is one I completely hold, yet the practice of Christian witness is surely intended for the lost primarily, though not exclusively? The author knows how to challenge these views, and he succeeds only to the degree that we allow him to inter-act with our own, because he never dogmatically lays it on the line. Instead, he prefers to be instructive and informative towards the ecclesia. The challenge of our mercy toward the lost being divine or human, is superseded by how he brings the topic to be a matter of the heart's response to and guidance by the Holy Spirit. Such is His penetrative ability!
'The church is inevitably a counterpolitics insofar as it is shaped by the politics of God's reign rather than the politics of the city or nation in which it finds itself.' p 179
So I heartily enjoyed this book, even though it fell beyond the praxis of my own doctrinal beliefs. It was informative to the point that it made me realize that at no time does one person have exclusive rights to the whole truth of God and His plan of redemption.
'To assign the church this sort of centrality is not, however, to reduce God's reign to the church, or to make it identical with the church. It is rather to construe the church as a people whose confession of God as sovereign is embodied in its politics.' p 189