Tag Archive: story

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

“Look to the Rock from which you were cut…”

In the previous chapter Brueggemann explored how outsiders to the faith become insiders.  In chapter three, he examines how insiders to the faith who have grown “careless, weary, jaded, and cynical” are in need of evangelizing (71).  Brueggemann narrates the story of the revitalization of insiders through Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezra-Nehemiah.

In Deuteronomy 8.1-20, Moses’ sermon tells of God’s gifts and also serves as a warning to God’s people.  Initially, Moses celebrates all that God has given – streams, springs, wheat, barely – to bless (Deut. 8.7-10).  However, Moses later warns the Israelites of the perils of forgetting the acts of God: “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God” (Deut. 20.11-14).

Brueggemann then turns to Jeremiah, where Israel’s “forgetfulness” becomes fully manifested.  Jeremiah speaks the word of God: “When you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination” (Jer. 2.7).  Israel’s forgetting has caused the “well to run dry” (Jer. 2.9-13).  Later, Isaiah urges the people to recover their memory of God’s act, a memory that holds their identity.  Isaiah pleads, “look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Isa. 51.1-3).

In Nehemiah 8, Ezra makes the ultimate move and attempts to call Israel back into a proper relationship with God.  Ezra invites the “community already pledged to faith, back to a serious embrace and practice of that pledged faith.” (74)

Why did the people of Israel forget their identity and story?  Why is their forgetfulness important for today’s churches?  Brueggemann captures the essence of the answer to both questions: prosperity causes amnesia.  “The reason is that when one can no longer remember a lesser, more precarious time, all present benefits appear to be not only absolute, but also self-generated, making gratitude unnecessary, impossible, even silly” (77).

Just as Israel forget their dependence upon the provision of God, so too do church “insiders” rely upon self-sufficient strategies, programs, and schemes.  As Brueggemann puts its, Israel’s crisis parallels the U.S. Church.  “Abundance and affluence have caused church members to be distanced in self-sufficiency from the power and cruciality of the memory so that the church suffers from profound amnesia, even among those of us who vigorously go through the motions (72).  It is for this reason, Brueggemann argues, that church insiders are becoming “forgetters” in need of remembering God’s acts of love, mercy, and grace.

On one point, I fully agree with Brueggemann, the reality of amnesia is massive among us.  Amnesia causes the church to lack in any serious missional energy (90).  Oftentimes, we summons our inner Bob Dylan and cry out, “The times are a-changin!  How will we meet the new needs of new people out there?”  We fail to remember, celebrate, and draw strength upon what God has already done in our midst.

I also wonder, is it only our wealth, abundance, and security that causes us to forget?  Is our [U.S. Church] memory of God’s act short-circuited solely by our general prosperity?  Perhaps our wealth is not the problem.  Perhaps amnesia is not the only hindrance.  What if, at times, we remember all too well?  What if we suffer not from amnesia, but nostalgia?  What if church “insiders” get caught up in the way it used to be?  What if we are unable to move beyond past practices of liturgy, programs, outreach that worked long ago, but no longer connect with the world around us?  Is there a danger if the Church becomes too nostalgic?  Whether amnesia or nostalgia inflicts the Church, Brueggemann is correct: the evangelization of insiders may be our primary agenda in evangelism.

This is the third review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

“Choose this day whom you will serve…”

After outlining the three-scene drama of evangelism in chapter 1, Brueggemann bridges the drama from scripture to contemporary times. He asks the question: Who is the constituency for evangelism? The most obvious answer: the outsider who stands apart from the community of “news,” or those who live by other (non-Israel, Christian) narrative identities. The great meeting at Shechem (Joshua 24) depicts Brueggemann’s tale of outsiders and insiders.

In Joshua 24 the “insiders” are Israel while the “outsiders” are represented by the “Canaanites.” Appreciatively, Brueggemann owns the fact that some interpretive readings of the conquest (“destroy the Canaanites”) may be problematic for any discussion of evangelism! However, Brueggemann holds to the view that the “conquest” of the Promised Land was likely a peaceful movement of coexistent communities. Thus, “Canaanites” represents a polemical, ideological term. Canaanites are those who are committed to social practices that are viewed as hostile to the covenantal vision of Israel (49). Canaanites, or outsiders, are those committed to practices (or theology) that are greedy, self-serving, arrogant, or wasteful.

So, the evangelistic question remains: How can such a person who lives in a different way legitimated by a different ideology be made a full participant in the story and the life of Israel? For an answer we look at Joshua’s speech in Joshua 24.

Anachronistically, Brueggemann imagines three yearning characters gathered around to hear Joshua’s words. First, he envisions a young girl from a troubled and dysfunctional family. The girl lives in the midst of familial wars and disputes. Her situation seems hopeless and impossible. Yet, she hears of God “giving” [to ancestors] Isaac…Jacob and Esau…the hill country” (Josh. 24.2b-4). She learns of a gracious God, one who gives gifts and hope. She hears the tale of God breaking the hopelessness, reconciling siblings, and guaranteeing futures (54).

Another listener is a tired business executive. He is worn-down by his heavy workload, but cannot escape it because he is fully dependant on it for his livelihood. The more he works the more he earns; and the more he earns the more he “lives.” Until…he hears Joshua relay the message of God in the Exodus, ““I brought you out” (Josh. 24.5-7). The executive realizes that life is about more than the docility of work and pleasing the boss. The Empire is not great provider (56). Rather, God offers a role in an alternative story of life. Like during the Exodus, God brings a departure for those trapped in despairing cycles.

Thirdly, Brueggemann tells of the hearer who is a member of the permanent underclass of society. The listener does not know how she fell into the lower socio-economic levels, but she knows it was her fault. But then Joshua tells of a great promise: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant” (Josh. 24.13). The lower class person’s spirits rise at the thought of a gift, of a promise, of an uninherited offer. In each situation, Joshua offers the hearers a reconstructed view of life. They are invited to imagine themselves differently. Through the retelling of God’s mighty acts they are invited to begin life anew (66). They are invited to move from despair to hope. They are allowed to depart from docility. They are offered a gift for the disadvantaged.

In this chapter Brueggemann offers a compelling picture of what evangelism might look like in today’s world. He beautifully translates Shechem for today. We can safely assume the hearers he paints into Joshua 24 are present in our pews in 2010. How will we tell them the story? How will we invite them to find themselves in the whole of God’s redemptive story?

Also, I love how Brueggemann does not spare the difficult side of the story. For as Joshua puts it, “Choose this day whom you will serve?” We are reminded that the story into which we are invited demands a response from us. Even more, the demands are tough. We must choose to leave behind the gods of Egypt, abandoning other loyalties, fear, and hopes in an effort to serve Yahweh only. There is, as Bonhoeffer put it, no cheap grace.

This is the second review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

%d bloggers like this: