Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bryan Stone on the Ecclesial Nature of Salvation and the Faithful Practice of Evangelism

"The thesis of this book is that the most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church — 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. It is the very shape and character of the church as the Spirit's 'new creation' that is the witness to God's reign in the world and so both the source and aim of Christian evangelism. On this understanding, the missio dei is neither the individual, private, or interior salvation of individuals nor the Christianization of entire cultures and social orders. It is rather the creation of a people who in every culture are both 'pulpit and paradigm' of a new humanity. Insofar as evangelism is the heart of his mission, this very people constitutes both the public invitation and that to which the invitation points. That is why all Christian evangelism is fundamentally rooted in ecclesiology. It can even be said that the church does not really need an evangelistic strategy. The church is the evangelistic strategy.

"Allow me to radicalize this a bit further. My point is not that the church, by behaving rightly in public, is capable of being truly evangelistic because to the extent it avoids hypocrisy it is able to attract the world to the gospel. While there may be some truth in this, it still tends to instrumentalize and externalize the church relative to the gospel and relative to Christian salvation. My point, rather, is that Christian salvation is ecclesial — that its very shape in the world is a participation in Christ through the worship, shared practices, disciplines, loyalties, and social patterns of his body, the church. To construe the message of the gospel in such a way as to hide or diminish the unique social creation of the Spirit that the first Christians called ecclesia is to miss the point of what God is up to in history — the calling for and creation of a people. The most evangelistic thing the church can do, therefore, is to be the church not merely in public but as a new and alternative public; not merely in society but as a new and distinct society, a new and unprecedented social existence. On this view, any evangelism for which the church is irrelevant, an afterthought, or instrumental cannot be Christian evangelism. 'Social holiness,' to use John Wesley's phrase, is both the aim and the intrinsic logic of evangelism. The practices of the church that embody this social holiness are the witness that becomes evangelism in the hands of the Spirit. ...

"The practice of evangelism, I believe, inescapably counters and disarms the world's powerful practices by unmasking the narratives that sustain them and by offering a story and a people that are peaceful and beautiful. The gospel can, therefore, be good news again in our world. By only if in Christ something new in the world has been made possible and by the Holy Spirit present — something both disturbing and inviting, a salvation in the form of a new story, a 'new humanity,' a new peoplehood. Conversion, on this view, is not primarily a matter of deciding in favor of certain beliefs or having certain experiences. It is rather a change of worlds, participation in a new worship, and a journeying toward a new city. The practice of evangelism always hopes for such a conversion and seeks actively to nourish it. But where the evangelist is tempted to become impatient with the inefficiency of obedience and worship hen more 'efficient' means are readily available such as manipulation, accommodation, and imposition, we are reminded that evangelism is ultimately an activity of the Holy Spirit and is not subject to our own calculus of effectiveness and 'return on investment.' Evangelism, then, or so this book will argue, is not primarily a matter of translating our beliefs about the world into categories that others will find acceptable. It is a matter of being present in he world in a distinctive way such that the alluring and 'useless' beauty of holiness can be touched, tasted, and tried."

—Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), pp. 15-16, 20-21

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