Evangelism after Christendom: Review and Reflections Pt. 2

According to Bryan Stone:
Christian conversion is foremost an exchange of narratives. Two rival narratives have significantly shaped the social, political and economic orders and religious life of Western cultures.  The Constantinian story fuses church and world and calls for ‘realistic’ appraisal of faithful Christian living.  Constantinian-storied evangelism pragmatically values worldly power and is committed to effectiveness, control and success (125).  The second rival, the Story of Modernity, is characterized by the freedom of the individual and the ‘secular’ arenas from the influence of religion.  Modern-storied Evangelism is reduced to “church marketing” (167) and promoting the “usefulness of the gospel for “everyday living” (146).  This is commodification of salvation, and
it is the result of the modern capitalist worldview. 
    Christian-storied evangelism offers the church’s practicing community as, in large part, the salvation it holds out.  Conversion is thus like acquiring a new citizenship, language or trade (174).  It is the differentiation of the church and world that makes it possible to speak of life within the church as salvation.  The uniqueness of the ecclesia as seen as it re-textures features of the ancient polis and oikos (199).  It up ends political notions of citizenship, punishment, hierarchy, and value ranking as well as economic notions of ownership, scarcity, time, and inclusion with the Eucharistic practice of sharing, the baptismal formation of a new people, the practice of forgiveness and restoration, the open assembly of the Spirit and community organization on the basis of universal spiritual giftedness (181).

The salvation to which evangelism is an invitation…is not to be distinguished from the church’s practices, patterns, and politics (188). 

Stone has overstated the admittedly essential connection between the church’s life and salvation itself.  Undoubtedly, evangelism is an invitation into a radically different form of social living but while Stone emphasizes the relational implications of salvation-life for human relationships, even with the deceased, and for relationships with plant and animal life, conspicuously absent is mention direct relational interactivity with God. 

While salvation is clearly more than the modern Evangelical notion of “a personal relationship with Jesus,” it is not less.   Salvation is indeed a social reality but a utopia with gospel practices is neither the fullness of salvation nor, as history suggests, is it even possible.  One might argue that realization of such an idyllic ecclesia—as Stone rightfully calls the reader to imagine—would depend largely on individual, though not individualistic, interactivity with God.  Stone notes that “The gospel is Christ himself; and Christ has a body” (211). Indeed, but Christ also has a Spirit, and it is this Spirit which gives life to each part of the body, as well as the whole.  Thus, conversion to the Christian narrative is not only a matter of shunning certain practices for others, but of willfully surrendering to the reality and nearness of God’s Spirit. 

Membership and participation in a community with gospel practices is not the whole of salvation, though it is certainly a glorious and inseparable part.  How can one find the strength to share, to forgive, to love without submitting to the Reign of God that is not only breaking in on human society but has come near to all and to each?  It is not the practices of the church that make life within it salvation but the accessible reality of God in their midst which birth and sustain the practices that texture its salvation-life.

Evangelism After Christendom: Review and Reflections, Part Three 

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