BTW issue no. 6, 16-22 Feb 2004

good books

The Celtic Way of Evangelism
by George G. Hunter III
(Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 2000)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism is written by the Dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Missions and Evangelism, and also Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, USA.

This book is a small, seven-chapter book and is packed with perspective on a branch of the Irish Christian church.  The author believes that the approach that St. Patrick took in evangelizing Ireland is the same approach that is at work today's most effective churches in the West.

This is a mixed review. On the one hand we see the important and sensitive manner in which Patrick successfully took note of cultural factors in his missionary work. On the other hand we note that mention of the E. Stanley Jonesís Chair commemorates the writer of The Christ of the Indian Road, which follows a dangerous trend that tries to legitimize what cannot be done, if we are to follow the Bible strictly. We admire the zeal and bravery of the earliest Roman Catholic missionaries. Sadly, the Gospel of Justification by Faith alone, not by works was not preached by Patrick

 Patrick was taken into slavery at age 16 by a band of Celtic pirates, who took him to Ireland where he was sold into slavery.  However, Patrick escaped six years later.  And while he was free from his captors, he found that he had grown to love them and wanted to see the Irish Celtic people, who were complete barbarians, reached by the love of God.  At age 48, he was given permission to return as a missionary force from the Latin Church.  And while it was the Roman church that sent him back, it was Celtic culture that dictated how Patrick introduced the Roman faith to the people. 

Dr Hunter traces Patrick's approach to evangelizing the Celtic people.  But what he wanted the readers to notice was that Patrick did not try to build a Roman church to conform to the ways of the sending church on Irish soil.  Rather he wanted an Irish church with a heart for Christ and the freedom to form a Christian community.  This is a good parallel to what is going on today in the dissolving and demarcation of denominations. Dr Hunter makes a difference between the IFE (imported-from-Europe) churches and the MIA (made-in-America) churches.  He sees parallels between these two branches of the church in modern times as he does in the Roman and Irish branches of the church in more ancient times.

In short, Patrick began to learn that a conversation about the gospel as it applies to everyday life was far more effective than a confrontation over truth in the abstract and religious forms set in Roman concrete.  He encouraged people to bring their questions about faith out in the open.  He searched for ways to include people, not exclude them.  He allied the native culture where he could to make a connection between what they knew to what they needed to know.

One of the principles he discovered that certainly applies in the post-modern world where we do ministry, is that as in ancient Ireland, people want to belong before they believe.  Patrick opened up the Christian community to nonbelievers to allow them to come and be a part of the community before they connected to Christ.  Interestingly enough, that is the very thing we see happening in the emerging churches in the 21st century.  Present day (or made-in-America-MIA) churches could apply the ancient principle by simply allowing the nonbelievers or pre-Christians to come and carry on a dialogue and a conversation before they are asked to make a commitment.

In the imported-from-Europe (IFE) churches it is proclamation, decision, assimilation.  In the made-in-America (MIA) churches, which are more like the Celtic way of evangelism, it is conversation, sharing, teaching, questioning, doing life together, and discovering what you have come to believe.  By that point, assimilation had already taken place as the pre-Christian or non-believer has been exposed to the Christian community before he comes to affirm his conversion or his commitment to Christ.

I found "Chapter 5" to the most helpful in Dr Hunter's book.  It is the one on proclamation and the importance (in the Celtic community) of the authentic voice of the speaker.  It is entitled "How Celtic Christianity Communicated the Gospel" (pp. 56-75).  This applied to the modern ministry because we see the very same thing happening as if people were listening, not to preaching or proclaiming these days, as much as they are to people who carry on a conversation from the pulpit with an authentic, believable voice.  The authentic voice has empathy with those who are struggling to faith.  Patrick and those who followed him engaged in conversations, not confrontation, and they sought to draw in, not shut out or exclude.

Hunter's conclusion is that the Roman way was to have a religion-friendly policy, which imposed the Latin rules and forms on all of its missions.  The Celtic way was to have a culture-friendly policy, which would seek to find common ground in the best of the culture as a way to introduce and engage people with the claims of the gospel of redemption and the consequent content of Christianity.

 This book can be particularly helpful to pastors doing ministry in the new post-modern culture where we are back in a pre-Christian world.  We know we need help in re-introducing the gospel to people who have little-to-no basic foundation for understanding it.  The pastor who is seeking to build a made-in-America type church that is more interested in connecting with the culture in order to get a hearing for the gospel than they are to preserving old forms or denominational traditions, will find this book refreshing and helpful.  For me, it became a description of what I have intuitively known, discovered, and experienced over the years of starting and seeking to grow one of the emerging churches of the 21st century.

While evangelism and the act of it have fallen into disrepair and confusion lately, Dr Hunter's book will help us see the common thread that runs from culture to culture, generation to generation, that where there is an authentic voice with the ability to communicate the authentic value of the church (i.e., the gospel) and where time is given for people to process truth not just through the spoken word but through the life of the community of faith, conversion and life change can be the results.

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)

CHAPEL NOTES

Our Chapel speaker last week was a BGST alumnus, Mr Hosea Lai. Hosea shared a seven minute clip on Habitatís ministry in Mongolia . He then finished it with Habitatís  ministry in both the developed and undeveloped world. We are very pleased that one of our graduates is being used by the Lord at Habitat. Keep up the good work, Hosea!

NEWS BITS

New Admissions.

  • Dr Tan See Seng is working toward the Dip CS and M.Div. at BGST. He is a Political Scientist teaching at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is an active lay leader and member of the Bedok Methodist Church . He holds degrees from the University of Manitoba (BA, MA) and Arizona State University (PhD).

  • Miss Lim Sue Ting, Ruth is working toward the Dip CS at BGST. She is a member of the Evangel Christian Church and she is a secretary by profession. Her ministry experience includes small group teaching and evangelism. 

  • Mr Sng Keng Swee, Andy is working toward the Dip CS at BGST. He is a Senior Account Manager and a Graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore . He is a member of the Geylang Evangelical Free Church and an active member of the Mission Committee in the church.

  • Mrs Lian-Ho Peck Har is working toward the Dip CS at BGST. She is a certified Teacher and now working as a freelance trainer. She is a graduate of the National Institute of Education ( Nanyang Technological University ) and the National University of Singapore. She worships at the Paya Lebar Methodist Church and has ministry experience in working with youths with the Navigators.

Building Fund 13

A BLESSED 
BIRTHDAY TO ...

Dr Edith Quah  16/2

Mdm Eileen Teo  16/2

Mr Kessler Soh  20/2

Ms Christine Tey  21/2

Mr Leow Theng Huat  21/2

Mr Lim Ching Hock  22/2

Ms Rosy Tan  22/2

Mr Simon Wong  22/2

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