Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

dick.jpgThis is a challenging book because it takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to think outside the traditional boundaries of evangelism and disciple making. While it aims at a traditional understanding of a person’s relationship with the Lord and his people, it suggests a different approach to that end.

Kallenberg, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton, Ohio, challenges us to realize that Christians are missionaries today. Our culture is not oriented to or always friendly toward Christianity. Our role is to make disciples in our postmodern culture. This means that we need to have some understanding of postmodernism, as far as this is possible. If we totally reject that philosophy and fail to hear its thrust and even its plea, we will miss opportunities to do effectively missionary work.

Kallenberg challenges us to be willing “to sing the gospel story in a postmodern key…while not suggesting that postmodernism is not without its own dangers.” For example, modernism was the philosophy of western culture until the mid-20th century that focused on words, logic, reason, individualism, and skepticism. Ministering to a modern person required certain ways of communicating truth. The prevailing postmodern philosophy requires that we know that philosophy and the culture it is producing for the sake of winning some to Christ. While modernism put the individual before the group, postmodernism focuses more on the group.

Postmodernism demands a more relational approach to disciplemaking than did modernism with its emphasis on propositions. To be effective in ministry to a postmodern world, we need to know how to blend relations and propositions together. We cannot assume, for example, that talking about God in the traditional way will be understood because there are different categories today that were not significant then.

We talk about meeting people where they are in order to lead them to where we want them to be. This book gives several illustrations of that process. It also revisits the concept of conversion. Some Reformed theologians have written about two kinds of conversion. One type is an instantaneous conversion after deep conviction by the law. The other type is an evangelical conversion that comes as a part of the Christian education process of making disciples. (See the lead article by Bob Palmer and the “In Case You’re Asked” page). Kallenberg talks about conversion both as something that happens to the individual but also has social implications. Conversion not only connects us with God but with the covenant community as well. Conversion also gives us a new focus and understanding of the world around us. As covenant people, we have tended to neglect the significance of the covenant, which encompasses both vertical and horizontal relations in our Christian lives.

Today, making disciples requires showing the reality of Christ and the Gospel in our lives as never before. People, especially younger people, are looking for the difference that being a Christian makes in a person’s life. Unless they see that, they are not drawn toward it. And, we must be able to explain how one belief interfaces with another belief in what is called a web of beliefs. Yet, we must not attempt to explain all the mystery surrounding the Christian faith.

While some would say Kallenberg endorses use of the world’s methods, I think he would maintain that we not use the world’s methods but rather that our approach must reflect and understanding of the world around us in order to communicate in the most meaningful way. When a missionary, in the traditional sense, goes to the mission field, he or she has to learn something about the culture in order build a relation and understanding of the people to whom they are to minister. The same is true for us.

If you read this book carefully and thoughtfully, you will be challenged in new ways to understand and practice disciple making. As Kallenberg points out, there is no one way that always works in evangelism and disciple making. And relating to those educated prior to 1970 as well as after will require some adjustments. One example in conclusion: Kallenberg asks a legitimate question: “How can we convey the universal truth claims of Jesus to an audience that instinctively rejects universal claims?” One way is by making the church, a showcase of Christianity as well as the pillar of truth.

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Richard is a steady student of God

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