Tag Archive: Live to Tell

Philosophical, communal, faithful….and needed

Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age is a clear, methodical, and enlightening look at evangelism in the 21st century.  While lacking in theological or scriptural substance at times, Kallenberg’s philosophical background clearly creates a compelling image of how the Christian faith may prosper amid changing times.  Kallenberg’s use of analogies, metaphors, and anecdotes presents a systematic approach that most church leaders will enjoy.

Particularly fruitful is Kallenberg’s consistent emphasis on evangelism as a communal practice.  Evangelism is no longer solely the responsibility of individuals.  Rather, evangelism today is the practice of the whole church embodying the life of Christ.  Kallenberg does allow for traditional face-to-face conversations to be part of a church’s evangelistic outreach, but he locates the crux of evangelism in a churches ability to live out its story in line of the gospel story.  Rightly so, Kallenberg argues that this model of evangelism greatly depends upon the church maintaining and fostering a faithful, righteous, and honest character.  He invites churches to ask, “How are we embodying mercy and grace?  How are we living out the call to repentance, forgiveness, and thanksgiving?”

Kallenberg’s emphasis on the role of language is also welcomed.  The Christian faith holds a special language that we are called to invite others to learn.  We evangelize by embodying the church’s language, allowing it to form of lives.  Kallenberg’s love for the Christian language has Stanley Hauerwas’s fingerprints all over it.  I recall listening to a lecture Hauerwas gave at school in which he told us students, “You are here to learn a new language.  Theological education is about learning a new language.”  While not all Christians are called to formal theological education in a seminary, Hauerwas’s point fits all Christians.  All Christians are called to learn the language of God, the Church, and faith.  Evangelistic outreach involves embodying this language, sharing and teaching it to others.

Live to Tell, however, is not without it’s faults.  While Kallenberg wonderfully articulates the postmodern circumstances for conversion, he says very little about what comes next for a convert.  We might say that he adequately gets us to the point of justification, but then sidesteps sanctification.  He does say that close proximity to Christian worship gives someone a vantage point for imaginatively inhabiting the Christian outlook (101).  But he makes few connections between evangelism and involvement in Christian practices (prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.).  You may recall that Scott Jones avoid this pitfall by arguing that evangelism aims for more than simply bringing people to the point of accepting God’s claim on their lives.  For Jones, we evangelize people into Christian discipleship.  We evangelize, or invite, people into a full commitment of their heart, mind, soul, and strength in love of Christ.  For Jones, evangelism never ceases, stretching beyond the moment of justification and helping to lead persons in sanctification.

In all, Kallenberg’s work makes a wonderful contribution to today’s discussion of evangelism and mission.  His philosophical and theoretical musings contribute a new voice to the on-going theological, scriptural, and pragmatic discussion currently taking place.

This is the final review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age


In a brief six page retrospective chapter, Kallenberg summaries his reflections on the question, “How are we to convey the universal truths claims of Jesus to an audience that instinctively rejects truth claims?”  He believes that unlike farmers, who have adapted, evangelism “has not kept pace with other scientific enterprises” (123).

He argues that evangelism is more like sailing than proofreading.  Evangelism requires skilled judgment (sailing) instead of documents and manuals (proofreading).  Evangelism is more like questing than archery. Questing aims for adventure and on-going discernment of the goal; the goal of each attempt in archery is obvious.  Third, evangelism is more like acting kindly than shoemaking.  The task of shoemaking has an end (a shoe) that is unconnected to its maker.  Acting kindly requires the living out of beliefs in connection with the life of the actor.  Finally, evangelism is more like medicine than parallel parking.  Parallel parking follows a step-by-step method to ensure results.  But medicine is organic, coming about differently in different places.

In the end, evangelism cannot be reduced to works-every-time techniques.  There are no straightforward applications or strategies.  Evangelism is more art than science and more impromptu than script.  The surest form is that of the New Testament church: a group of believers embodying the gospel in their form of community life.

This is the sixth review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Living the Jesus story

In chapter five Kallenberg ponders what makes a Christian community.  He insists that it isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold roughly the same beliefs.  But rather that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are faithful to the life story of Jesus (91).  Kallenberg calls this living out of beliefs the community’s “form of life.”  To illustrate the role of a community’s form of life in evangelism Kallenberg describes the separate stories of Allen and a local church.

Allen was a proud, self-proclaimed atheist who questioned the reliability of any Christian truth claim.  However, during an inquisitive lunch with a pastor, Allen was invited to participate in the church’s local volunteer mission shelter serving the poor in the city.  Later, Allen told the pastor of his change of heart – of how something was happening to him – and he received Holy Communion.  Kallenberg highlights Allen’s story as one in which a non-Christian is persuaded to embrace Christ by direct involvement in a community that is imitating Christ’s care for the poor and dispossessed.

Why is hands-on participation in the Christian form of life instrumental in coming to faith?  Kallenberg believes that non-believers stand outside the form of life that both marks Christian believers and schools them in the language of the Church (98).  Only through engagement in the Church’s form of life can converts grow in fluency and faith.

Kallenberg also tells the story of a local church that invited its members and community to participate in a series of dramatic re-enactments of biblical stories.  The series of dramas recreated the plotline of salvation (creation, Sermon on the Mount, parable, outcasts, Last Supper, stations of the cross, resurrection).  Kallenberg writes, “Christians are people of the Book, but the Book God delights for us to open for others is neither a philosophical treatise nor a formal logical argument; it is a collection of stories” (118-19).  Evangelism is inviting others to take their place in the greatest story ever told.  Peoples’ love for stories and desire to get caught up in a plotline greater than them taps in to the aesthetic power of narrative for doing evangelism.

I greatly appreciate Kallenberg’s call for Christians to evangelize by “living the story” in the midst of the least in our communities.  I believe he rightly points out that Christians and churches today often neglect to economic thrust of Jesus’ message.  Yet, when we spend time with the poor and downtrodden we grow in our imagination of the kingdom of God.  When we find ourselves participating in a community that takes seriously the call to be Christ’s hands and feet we discover ways in which God is already marvelously working.

I believe Kallenberg is right that evangelism may be no more and no less than inviting someone to use his or her hands and feet for Christ.  When I think of the popularity and success of Habitat for Humanity I see a model for active involvement in serving and working with the less fortunate.  What if the church was more like Habitat?  Offering ways for people to actively participate in the on-going servant ministry of Jesus Christ?

This is the fifth review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Taking time for fluency

After demonstrating how evangelism involves inviting others to align their life stories with the story of the gospel, Kallenberg turns to specific stories of individuals in chapter four.  He believes the stories provide wonderful clues to the way God’s Spirit is at work in the new postmodern generation.

Kallenberg first tells the story of Doreen.  Doreen was a Buddhist who wandered in to a church on a Sunday morning and who, to her surprise, was not chastised or chased from the property for her doubt of Christianity and attachment to Buddhism.  However, over the course of months Doreen began to realize that the Christian God was a God “who could love me” (69).  For Kallenberg, Doreen’s conversion represents the timeful process of conversion.  If beliefs come in web-like sets (paradigms) and conversion is a paradigm shift, it’s not surprising that an exchange of such magnitude takes times.  Even more, conversion can’t happen overnight because it is social; conversion involves others.  Kallenberg writes, “An individual’s conversion cannot be considered completed until he or she is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the believing community” (72).

Second, Kallenberg turns to the story of Larry, a man who speaks the language of Native American spiritualism, New Age religion, and Alcoholics Anonymous.  However, in the midst of dying from cancer, Larry becomes connected with Solomon’s Porch, Doug Pagitt’s church in Minneapolis.  Through conversations and contemplation with Pagitt, Larry learns the Christian language of lament, sorrow, and prayer.  As George Lindbeck says, “It is necessary to have the means for expressing an experience in order to have it, and the richer our expressive or linguistic system, the more subtle, carried, and differentiated can be our experience” (82).  Through his immersion in the Christian community at Solomon’s Porch, Larry learned the Christian linguistic system to express his experience.  By choosing to live in close proximity to native speakers (Pagitt) who engaged him (Larry) in conversations conducted in the host language, Larry grew in Christian faith (89).  For Kallenberg, Larry’s story underscores the need to learn Christianity (the Christian language) by immersion in the Christian culture.

Finally, Kallenberg tells the story of Heidi.  In telling her own story, Heidi marks the beginning of her faith journey with confirmation classes.  In the classes she learned the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, sacramental theology, and other foundational Christian teachings.  Kallenberg likens Heidi’s catechesis to the New Testament stories of Paul in the home of Titus Justus (Acts 18.7-11) and Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8).  For Titus Justus, the Eunuch, and Heidi, conversion happened due to an intense catechetical experience.

As the three stories illustrate, conversion takes times and comes in a variety of ways.  Yet the one constant in Kallenberg’s stories is effective pastors.  Without explicitly doing so, Kallenberg calls for faithful church leaders in evangelism.  Yes, evangelism is a community practice (chapter three), but church leaders are not off the hook.  Clergy are both a part of the evangelizing community, and also the leader and primary teacher of the group.  What do effective, evangelistic church leaders look like according to the ones Kallenberg depicts?  Effective leaders are compassionate listeners, teachers, friends, and guides.  They take a genuine, non-judgmental interest in the different non-Christian stories on people.  However, they love the people enough to gently lead them to a place of Christian faith and belief, not leaving them as they found them.

This is the fourth review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Evangelism as a Communal Practice

From the outset Kallenberg has argued that postmodern thinking (communal over individual, importance of language, and uniqueness of belief) dominates cultural dialogue.  As a result, in chapter three he asks: “How might we retool our evangelism in accordance with the three develops in philosophy?”

How do we connect with communally minded postmodern persons?  The answer: By embodying the story of Jesus in our communal life (Church life).  If our communal life together in the Body of Christ is the basis for a Christian social identity, and conversion involves the change of one’s social identity, then evangelism must be done in a manner that brings a convert into the communal and social life of Christ.  The offering and embodying of this identity must, however, be commensurate with the gospel message.  That is, the gospel must be offered in non-coercive ways where rejection is always possible.  Simply put, “the gospel may remain a mystery to the surrounding culture unless the church lives out the gospel in the form of its life together” (50).

Even more, the intelligibility of the gospel depends strongly upon the character of the believing community (Church).  Outsiders may ask, “What does sin, redemption, grace, or resurrection look like in concrete terms?”  We can claim that grace is the heart of the gospel or that resurrection is a present and future hope, but the secular mind cannot understand this without concrete illustrations.  If Christians are to connect individuals with a community, the evangelizing community must resemble Christ on the corporate level.

How do we honor the postmodern emphasis on language?  By engaging others in the conversation using our (Christian) language.  If conversion involves the acquisition of a new language then evangelism must be akin to teaching a foreign language.  Our ability to teach the language starts with our own familiarity of the text.  As we grow more fluent in the biblical language of grace, mercy, etc. we invite other to partake in the form of life of the language’s speakers, to learn a new language.  Through others’ immersion in the Christian language speaking community outsiders learn the insider language of forgiveness, thanksgiving, and worship.

Finally, how do we help others transition their paradigm of beliefs from the secular to the Christian?  By enlisting potential converts in the telling of the story.  We invite them to actively participate in the living out of a Christian set of beliefs.  Why might someone wish to try out a new paradigm of beliefs?  For some, desperation drives them to shop around in the marketplace of belief sets.  For others, mere curiosity might entice someone to “take for a spin” the Christian paradigm.  Still for others, they may form a friendship with an insider of the Christian community and be drawn into similar participation.

In all of the ways Kallenberg demonstrates that Christians can effectively evangelize postmodern persons he consistently maintains that the conversion process takes time.  Conversion often does not come about in a linear, cause-effect manner.  Conversion over time operates on different levels (physical, spiritual, mental, etc.) for different people and requires a commitment from the evangelist to be in touch with the various levels.

In Kallenberg’s communal evangelism, I treasure how he describes evangelism beyond proclamation.  Evangelism is an invitation to participate in the story, and not just hear it.  I anticipate some critics protesting that Kallenberg too harshly diminishes the role of direct proclamation of the gospel.  (To some degree they would be correct.  Thus far in his book, I cannot remember an instance when Kallenberg overly promotes evangelism as proclaiming with words the gospel to non-believers).  However, I often think of people who actively lose themselves in a basketball game or a novel, cheering loudly or imagining their place in the literary scene.  People want to actively be swept up in something beyond than them.  They wish to see or hear a story unfold, and then find their place with in it.  Evangelism, for Kallenberg, invites others to tell the story in action.  The gospel offers the story beyond our personal stories that begs for more people to assume their place in the drama.

This is the third review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio (1601, 2nd version)

After charting the changing trends in postmodern philosophical thinking, Kallenberg turns to a more explicit discussion of evangelism.  He begins his explanation of conversion to faith by stating what conversion looks like from God’s point of view: “When someone comes to Christ no human assistance is needed.  No one contributes in any way to the gift that comes to us from God entirely by means of grace” (31).  However, Kallenberg balances this stance by attempting to look at conversion from the human side.

From the “human side,” conversion includes three transitions.  First, Kallenberg argues that conversion entails a change of social identity. According to Kallenberg, we identify an object by understanding its function in a larger context.  All people, Christian and non-Christian, live within their own context.  When one’s context changes, the person is all but physically transformed into someone quite different; their social identity changes.  Kallenberg points to Augustine’s conversion as an exemplary change of social identity.  Prior to conversion, Augustine’s life was a random dabbling of disjointed episodes.  After conversion, however, Augustine’s life became woven into a new context, a new story.

As Kallenberg rightly claims, “divine revelation comes to us in the form of a story” (37).  The question then becomes, which story (or context) is true?  For Kallenberg, a person claims the “true” story by allowing that story to shape his or her life.  Conversion, or a change of social identity, then, is to understand one’s own story in the true story line of the gospel.

Second, Kallenberg argues that conversion involves the acquisition of a new conceptual language.  Citing George Lindbeck, Kallenberg claims: “One’s religious world is limited or expanded by the conceptual language one has at one’s disposal.”  Christians maintain a special language of reconciliation, forgiveness, grace, etc. and conversion means accepting and learning the new language.

How does one learn the religious language? By participating in the linguistic community’s form of life – that weave of activity, relationships, and speech that gives the community its unique personality.  Conversion is participating in the life of the church, learning in word and deed to speak and live the language of God.

Third, conversion requires a paradigm shift.  A paradigm is one’s set of beliefs embodied in the life of a community.  Conversion calls non-believers to a change of paradigms, a change of allegiance.  For the Christian community, scripture is the corrective lens by which everything else is brought in to focus (our lives, world, ecosystem, etc.).  Scripture is that which shapes our beliefs, values, and assumptions.  Conversion demands that new believers transition their paradigms to come into better line with the Christian community.  Instead of historically-critically testing the text (remember, subjecting faith to testing is one of the marks of modern philosophical thinking according to Kallenberg in chapter one), we allow the text to test us, to interrogate us.

I appreciate Kallenberg’s look at conversion from both God’s perspective and the human side.  I wonder, however, if this is all there is to conversion.  Is it simply changing one’s social identity, learning a new language, and shifting belief sets?  Also, what makes this possible?  Yes, Kallenberg acknowledges that faith comes as a gift from God, but what inspires faith (or these three changes) within new believers?  I would wish to emphasis that conversion (regardless of how we describe the specific changes) is something that takes times.  Through attending to the means of grace we are constantly being converted, transformed, and sanctified into new creatures in Christ.  And the source of such conversion and growth is grace working through the Spirit.  Living in God’s grace and exercising our will for good comes, as Paul writes, by walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

This is the second review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Gauging the modern and postmodern trends

Brad Kallenberg begins Live to Tell with the sweeping question: What does evangelism look like in a postmodern age?  First, however, he must ask, “What does it mean to say that we live in a “postmodern” era?”  “What exactly is postmodernism?”  Kallenberg admits that he is not sure of the answers to such questions.  As a working definition he defines persons under the age of 25 as the primary demographic of the postmodern era in which we live.

Kallenberg’s discussion of evangelism in the postmodern age begins with his identification of three strands of modern philosophy.  First, he argues that in modern philosophical thinking “the individual is always prior to and more significant than any larger group of which he or she is a part” (16).  Conglomerates are nothing more than the sum of their parts.  Second, he claims that modern philosophy posits that the primary use of language is to paint a picture of the world.  The language of modernism provides nothing more than a neutral description.  Third, modern philosophical thought holds that one’s beliefs are nothing but assertions about the way things really are.  We subject our beliefs to rigorous testing and if they pass modern science and thought they become knowledge, or reality.

Are these modern notions still operating in today’s postmodern world?  Kallenberg believes they are quickly becoming antiquated.  He prefers his three “new,” or postmodern, takes on the three aging modern notions.  First, he refutes the modern emphasis on the individual over the communal.  He believes that vital properties emerge at the communal, or group, level that cannot be reduced to those operating at the level of the individual.  This new group structure utilizes a top-down influence.  For Kallenberg, the result of this postmodern notion is that “faithfulness in evangelism must simultaneously attend to both the group and the individual” (21).

Second, Kallenberg challenges the modern view of language as neutrally descriptive.  Instead, he believes that language is the means by which we think.  Language doesn’t refer to, or correspond to, or depict some nonlinguistic reality.  Our language – the words we use – depict a concrete reality.  Even more, the learning of a language is a social enterprise.  Language learning happens within a community in a way that trains the language users in a communal mode of living.

Finally, Kallenberg suggests that one’s beliefs are more than ‘tested knowledge.’  Beliefs are social and experiential.  The beliefs we hold about our world form an interlocking set that we share with the rest of our community.  Typically these sets of beliefs are resilient and resist change.

For Kallenberg, evangelism today must speak into these tenets of the postmodern framework.  Evangelism must involve both an individual and a group.  Outreach must attend to the important role of language.  Evangelism must speak into the belief sets of individuals and communities.

Kallenberg’s opening chapter sets the stage for the evangelistic discussions he wishes to foster.   Not feeling adequately schooled in “modern” and “postmodern” thinking (if anyone truly is!) I accept Kallenberg’s analysis of the trend of thought.  He seems right that individualism, devaluation of words and language, and an emphasis on the scientific method guide most philosophical, sociological, and psychological discussions today.  However, I hope that in that coming chapters Kallenberg pushes his thought beyond bland philosophical language.  I hope he unpacks the theological implications of such thought that are relevant to evangelism and mission.

For example, when Kallenberg writes of the postmodern emphasis on the top-down nature of influence in the community my mind immediately jumps to Paul’s words about Christ as the head of the Church: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph. 1.22-23).  How does the “Church as the Body of Christ with Christ as it’s head” impact evangelism and mission?  Such scriptural references or language is absent in Kallenberg’s opening analysis.

This is the first review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

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