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Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Kallenberg is certainly right about the ineffectiveness of purely rational presentations of the gospel. Studies have shown that the most effective method of evangelism is friendship evangelism. Friendship evangelism may take many forms. It may utilize the suggestions, which Kallenberg makes, but it may utilize other methodologies.

The subtitle of this book explains what Kallenberg seeks to achieve. He writes for a Christian audience and seeks to explain how to do evangelism in a postmodern world. This is a challenging assignment for such a brief book—six chapters and 138 pages. Though brief, it is a sustained argument with each chapter leading naturally to the next. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
Kallenberg’s introduction details the difficulty of doing evangelism on college campuses at the end of the 20th century. He contends that there was a time when students readily responded to simple presentations of the gospel (such as the Four Spiritual Laws). However, the number of new converts began to decline in the 1980s. He credits this to a decline in biblical literacy among college students.   
Campus evangelists tried other techniques, such as mass marketing, but with little success. He admits that his analysis is mostly “anecdotal,” but he is convinced that it is accurate. It was these personal observations that encouraged him to return to graduate school for some new answers. This book gives those answers. He calls it an attempt “to sing the gospel story in a postmodern key.” 
The first chapter is a description of postmodernity. He contends that modernity is being challenged because of its emphasis on individualism, its misunderstanding of the nature of language, and its failure to acknowledge the importance of community in creating a paradigm of understanding. Conversely, postmodernism emphasizes community, the link between language and community, and the importance of community for creating a new paradigm of understanding.
The second chapter seeks to explain conversion. He defines it as a change of social identity, as the acquisition of a new conceptual language and as a paradigm shift. There is a correspondence between this understanding and the changes provided by postmodern ways of thinking as detailed in chapter one. 
Chapter three focuses on “Evangelism as a Communal Practice.” Kallenberg starts with the three understandings of conversion in chapter two. He suggests that effective evangelism in the 21st century will seek to embody the gospel by being non-coercive and collaborative with other Christians. Second, the effective evangelist will teach others the Christian language rather than co-opt secular language. Third, the effective evangelist will invite the potential convert to participate in the life of the community so that the potential convert can make an informed decision about becoming a Christian.  
Chapters four and five contain five stories illustrating Kallenberg’s theory. They show how conversions happen when his methods are followed.
The last chapter is a warning that evangelism is more art than science. “My suggestions for doing evangelism in postmodernity, then, cannot be easily summarized because they require of us more than simply the straightforward application of a technique or two.” Kallenberg says evangelism is more like sailing than proofreading, more like questing than archery, more like acting than cobbling, more like medicine than parallel parking. 
There is much in this book that is familiar. Many articles and books on postmodernism make some of the same points that Kallenberg does. The arguments about language, community and paradigm shifts sound like a popularization of the writings of William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. Although Kallenberg does not refer to their proposed program for the 21st-century church, it is evident that they have influenced him. At times, I felt like I was reading Willimon and Hauerwas instead of Kallenberg.
Kallenberg is certainly right about the ineffectiveness of purely rational presentations of the gospel. Studies have shown that the most effective method of evangelism is friendship evangelism. Friendship evangelism may take many forms. It may utilize the suggestions, which Kallenberg makes, but it may utilize other methodologies.
People are converted to Christianity in many ways. Even if you accept the contention that postmodern people are unique, it is unrealistic to expect that they will respond in the same way to presentations of the gospel. I would commend Kallenberg’s method as a way of doing evangelism in a postmodern world, but I would resist it being called “the way.” 
Philip Wise is senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Texas. 
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