I've finally picked up George Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism. I've been hearing about the book for years and finally have both the time and a copy.
The book examines the Celtic practice of communal evangelism.
The story starts with Patrick, a young Briton who was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and enslaved for the better part of his youth. After escaping from slavery, a series of twist and turns lead Patrick into the priesthood and back to Ireland.
Patrick, more easily recognized as St. Patrick, was what Hunter calls "history's first missionary bishop." Patrick returned to Ireland with a small contingent of priests, seminarians and women to plant and build churches among "the barbarians."
This idea of "barbarians" is quite challenging. The barbarians were contrasted to the Romans. To be a barbarian is to be non-Roman. And since Christianity was the Roman religion, the church at the time of Patrick assumed that "Christianizing" and "civilizing" went hand in hand.
In fact, many assumed that a people group had to start becoming more civilized before God's gospel could make any progress with them. In other words, barbarians cannot become Christians until they become more Roman.
That's an easy idea to scoff at. It echoes the practices of the church in the 60's, where older Christians refused to let people come to their churches until the guys cut their hair, the girls grew their hair out and everyone dressed up. We would never do that, right?
I wonder who our community considers barbarians. Who would have to "clean up their act" before they could participate in our community? How much of the cleaning up of the act is an actual pursuit of Christian discipleship and how much of it is really just adjusting to fit into our "Christian" subculture?
I also wonder about the effect this dynamic has on our understanding of discipleship. When someone first becomes a Christian, what do we do? Do we help them develop a deeper relationship with God or do we start trying to "civilize" them?
I find it very challenging that, when Paul talks to new Christians and the churches he takes care of, he talks much more about multi-ethnicity, evangelism and the church than he does about anything approximating a daily Quiet Time. And sure, he talks about avoiding drunkenness and pursuing sexual purity, but those conversations take a back seat to his teaching on prayer, evangelism and remaining faithful in the face of suffering. Why don't my priorities match his?
I think that, while I resist the impulse to "civilize" people before I'll share the gospel with them, my instincts are to rapidly assimilate people into the "Christian" subculture.
[I put the quotes around the word 'Christian' because not everything in our subculture is essentially Christian. This thought clicked for me the first time I heard the FIF song "Oh Canada"]
I have a hunch that our communal witness would be more effective if we were able to separate "civilizing" and "Christianizing".
That's part of the Celtic Way of evangelism.