Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness

Bryan Stone
Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007

This book attempts to fill a significant gap, offering a theological framework for the practice of evangelism. Few books on the practice of evangelism have theological foundations and few theologians write about the practice of theology, so this study by Bryan Stone is a welcome contribution. Stone is the Professor of Evangelism at the Boston University School of Theology and writes primarily with the North American context in mind, but most of what he writes transfers well into the European scene.

The title indicates that post-Christendom is the environment within which evangelism must be understood and practised. Stone does not write as an Anabaptist but he draws heavily and gratefully on the writings of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and (to a lesser extent) James McClendon. There is much here that resonates with the spirit and approach of the Anabaptist Network’s ‘After Christendom’ series. Several times he identifies problematic dimensions of the Constantinian era, such as this insightful comment towards the end of the book: ‘at the very heart of the Constantinian synthesis is a rejection of patience, as suffering and vulnerability are also rejected in the name of triumphantly Christianizing the social order’ (291). Earlier he writes: ‘One of the persistent features of Constantinianism…is that, by diminishing the distinction between church and world, the church refuses to allow the world to disbelieve’ (118).

Two further emphases that are deeply congruent the Anabaptist tradition are Stone’s emphasis on peace, shalom and pacifism as essential components in evangelism and his suggestion that the shared meal is a core biblical practice that forms community. Other nuggets include the assertion that ‘a church that confesses itself to be “apostolic” but lives without joy has failed to live up to its confession and is unable to evangelize’ (103) and the insistence that ‘to be saved by God is to be saved not only from sin but from the powers that make us incapable of recognizing and resisting sin – powers that form and discipline us into the kind of people who are incapable of being the church’ (113). Stone argues that fundamentally conversion is about changed allegiance rather than just changed beliefs.

Stone challenges many aspects of contemporary practice in the area of evangelism and urges an understanding of this practice as corporate rather than individual witness, the authenticity and validity of which relates to the faithfulness of the practice itself rather than its apparent effects. A helpful discussion about how ‘success’ is measured and the meaning of conversion warn us against trivialising or commodifying evangelism. The church, Stone insists, is essential for evangelism – shaping the lives of evangelists and enabling those who respond to the gospel to be formed as Christians. The church is not an adjunct to evangelism but part of the message. Although at times Stone’s view of the church seems idealised and he does not reflect much on its inadequacies, this is a helpful counter-balance to much writing on evangelism that is over-individualistic.

This is not an easy book to read. Not only is it over 300 pages of closely argued and carefully constructed prose; Stone also draws heavily on philosophical and theological writers whose ideas are synthesised and integrated in ways that place further demands on readers. However, it repays careful reading.

Evangelism after Christendom is available from Metanoia Books