The Celtic Way of Evangelism


The model of Celtic Christianity offers Western church leaders a way forward into the 21st century. Celtic Christianity stands in contrast with the early church's mission to "Romanize" and "Christianize" other peoples. Early Christians, Protestant reformers and 20th century mission leaders believed barbarians first must be civilized before they could be christianized.

Another example arose in response to my column on the widespread negative national attention to the Southern Baptist Convention. I said the SBC's targeting of Jews, Hindus, Catholics and residents of Chicago resulted from its crusading theology rooted in a flawed view of history known as the "trail of blood." 

Friendly critics and others objected to my opinion editorial. They asserted what the SBC is doing with target-evangelism is acceptable, even biblically mandated. They said: one either supports target-evangelism or opposes evangelism. 

From my vantagepoint, these critics offered a false choice. My opposition to target-evangelism is grounded in the belief that it violates the Golden Rule. It does not treat others as we want to be treated. It is disrespectful, avoids authentic relationships and verges on spiritual escapism. 

Nevertheless, mainstream Baptists need both to follow the Golden Rule and to walk visibly on the evangelism front. 

A fresh source for reflection on evangelism is found in George G. Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West … Again. 

Hunter begins with the assessment that Western culture is increasingly secular. A growing number of Westerns have no Christian memory and do not know what Christians are talking about. "Many Western church leaders are in denial; they plan and do church as though next year will be 1957," he writes. 

The model of Celtic Christianity offers Western church leaders a way forward into the 21st century. Celtic Christianity stands in contrast with the early church's mission to "Romanize" and "Christianize" other peoples. Early Christians, Protestant reformers and 20th century mission leaders believed barbarians first must be civilized before they could be christianized. 

Celtic Christianity had five features:  

First, Celtic Christians evangelized in teams who settled with a people, identifying with them and fostering friendships.  Second, these monastic communities lived with depth and compassion. Third, the Celts engaged in imaginative prayer. Fourth, they practiced hospitality. Fifth, Celtic Christians focused on the nonbeliever's experience. 

According to Hunter, Romans and Celts had different models of evangelism: 

Roman Model: Present the Message, Call for Decision, Welcome into Fellowship 

Celtic Model: Establish Fellowship, Engage in Ministry and Conversation, Invite Belief and Commitment 

Another difference involves communications. The Roman way was left-brained. It was propositions, concepts, apologetics and theological abstractions. The Celtic way was right-brained. It was imaginative, intuitive and emotional. It was music, poetry and story telling. 

Much of Western Christianity's evangelism is one-on-one. Sometimes it is confrontational evangelism or public-preaching crusade. 

Unlike the Celtic approach, we offer words more than works, superficial relationships more than deep friendships and our cultural lifestyle more than the Christian lifestyle. We emphasize transcendence more than the presence of God. We separate ourselves from nature instead of valuing it. We stress total depravity more than goodness in the human character. 

Hunter's highly readable book will cause brainstorms and fill in gaps in church history. To those who reject target evangelism, it will also offer handles for rethinking and engaging in postmodern evangelism. 

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director. 

Buy Celtic Way now from Amazon.com!

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