boston celtics?

I haven’t read the book all the way through, but I have been impacted deeply by missiological principles gleaned from George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Hunter suggests that an ancient practice of celtic monastic communities might have some relevance to how we in the West make disciples in a post-everything culture.  He compares the Roman model of “reaching” people with the Celtic model:

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) is this:

  1. Present the Christian message
  2. Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians
  3. If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

In other words, we explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church- presentation, decision, assimilation (P. 53).

The contrasting Celtic model for reaching people is this:

  1. You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  2. Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship
  3. In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit (P. 53).

Christians have defaulted to the Roman way of evangelism for a long time.  We have assumed that a “good gospel message” should stand on its own to convict “the heathen,” and sometimes it does.  But reducing the gospel to a list of propositions to which a person can either agree or disagree is a gross oversimplification.  I have come to realize that in addition to eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation means a different way of living — an attractive way of living — than what the world knows and experiences.  The practices of hospitality, Sabbath, non-violence, service, social justice, praiseworthy speech, as well as the traditional tenets of prayer and worship, point to the goodness of Christ and are indeed “good news” to a broken world.

This is why the Celtic model is so important.  It allows Christians and not-yet-Christians to authentically enter into each other’s lives, as most normal people in the world do, without the question of “have you committed your life to Christ” (writer’s note: what does that even mean, anyway?) being the first question. It allows the secular person to experience what virtuous Christian life looks like, assuming the life of the Christian friend is virtuous. It allows dialogue to frame the process of discipleship, not simply “teaching,” “telling,” or Bible study. It focuses on the process of discipleship in terms of belonging before behaving or believing, with the latter two always eventual goals for the future.

If we began taking a more Celtic model of evangelism/discipleship (where discipleship is what leads up to someone’s turning to God, not what follows it), how would that change the way we conceptualize Christian community? How would it transform our relationships and friendships with the not-yet-Christian? Would it make them less awkward if we weren’t always bent out of shape that they aren’t a Christian and allow us to focus on simply being a Christ-like friend to them? I think the Celtic way of evangelism has great implications for the relationship of the Christian community to the world, a world that is growing more and more skeptical of us with each hour that passes and that sees in the church less and less relevance for their lives.

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