Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Evangelism as Call and Response

Just been reading the opening chapter of Walter Klaiber’s Call and Response: Biblical Foundations of a Theology of Evangelism. Enjoying it a lot. Didn’t think I would, not least because it’s a translation from the German and in places it reads as such. As is often the case though with translations it’s a matter of finding your ear, once you do Kaliber is well worth a listen.

He tries to root our understanding of “evangelism” in the biblical notions of bsr and euangelizesthai without limiting it’s meaning to such usage. He is well aware that we make meaning by usage both consciously and unconsciously. It’s not just a matter of “what did it mean” or “what has it come to mean” but also “what would we like to make it mean.” Always important I think to come clean on that one.

Along the way he makes a number of interesting observations. Here are some snippets:

In the light of 1Co 9:22b-23 (I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.) he asks if it could be that our participation in evangelism is itself vital for the health of the church and our Christian lives, since it plugs us into the cycle of divine life that is to be found at the interface between boundary-crossing-proclamation and the response of faith.

Aware of those who have been “evangelistically injured” he asks “how evangelisch is our evangelism”, or to go all the way with the English translation, “how gospel-like is our proclamation of the gospel?” A really important question this.

En route he offers up this from Barth

… a Church which is not … an evangelizing Church is either not yet or no longer a Church or only a dead Church, itself standing in supreme need of renewal by evangelisation. CD IV 3.2:874

In his consideration of the relationship between evangelism and the church’s wider mission Klaiber recognises that everything the church does has a missionary dimension but he sees mission itself as the life of the church directed toward the wider world rather than toward God or towards its itself. The Church’s mission exists in martyria (the proclamation of the word through public sermons, private conversations and the eloquent but silent faithfulness of lived lives), diakonia (care, healing, comfort, counsel, engagement in the pursuit of justice peace and conservation) and koinonia (communion before God in prayer and Eucharist and the mutual ministry of the body of Christ). Not a perfect systematisation, but certainly a helpful one – and if you want it without the Greek, witness, service and communion, or simpler still, saying, doing and being.

Within this wider understanding of mission, evangelism per se should properly be seen as an aspect of martyria. It is speech (but not mere speech) addressed to and in conversation with those who have yet to encounter or understand the gospel and has in mind that they should respond by embracing the gospel and living out the implications of such a decision.

What I like about Klaiber is his reminder of the importance of verbal witness as a concept that lies at the heart of evangelism. When so many speak of the need to walk the talk it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the importance of talking the walk. Similarly, when so many, quite rightly, warn about the dangers of an obsession with results, emphasising instead the priority of faithful witness, we mustn’t be allowed to forget that evangelism looks and longs for a response.

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