Emerging Evangelism Emerging Evangelism

John Finney
ISBN 0232524963 (9780232524963)
Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004

Category: Evangelism & Mission

John Finney (known to many as the Archbishops' Officer for the 'Decade of Evangelism' and author of the influential research-based report Finding Faith Today) is committed to the "boundless, wondrous message" (p.3) of gospel. Emerging Evangelism is his call to the Church to embody and communicate this gospel rather than the shallower and narrower version with which it has become comfortable.

Finney's stimulus for writing is the conviction that "society is changing fast" and that, whether it likes it or not, "the church itself should expect to change fast" too (p.108). A sensitivity to the statistics and anecdotal evidence which connect the reader to contemporary culture is evident throughout (a culture which Finney describes as a "bizarre bird" whose "left-wing is still modernity — clear-cut, rational and suspicious of emotion. But [whose] right-wing is post-modernist and seeks to embrace the whole of human existence, not just the intellectual" (p.37)). With the uneasy and uncomfortable flight of this bird clearly in view Finney ("from the matrix of our culture") strains to "perceive the outline of a new form of Church emerging" (p.145).

The underlying theological theme of Finney's argument is that the for the Church to flourish in years ahead it will need to communicate the gospel not in words alone, but also through a radical reliance on "the work of the Holy Spirit in that imprecise but wonder-filled mysterion which touches at the deepest levels" (p.145). This shift, he suggests, will produce Christian communities in which relationships, ritual, the charismatic and the eschatological take centre stage. It will require evangelism which sees Christian initiation as the product of a process, not a crisis. It will demand that we be prepared to "dignify with the name 'church'" (p.110) not just incarnational communities which can be defined by their geographical location, but also those spiritual, network, focused and evangelistic communities which we would refer to as being parachurch bodies. It will, argues Finney, lead us to accept Paul's message to the Court of Areopagus (Acts 17) as programmatic for our preaching to those outside of the Church. In particular, its lack of reference to the cross and the atonement should give us the permission to adapt not just the style of our communication, but also the content of our message to the audiences we address. Out with sin and salvation, in with the God of Creation, the God of Hospitality and the God of Mystery.

I think, with the right checks and balances, I'm with Finney on this one. I would want to explore more fully, however, Finney's exposition of Acts 17 and the mechanics of its application to communicating the gospel to those postmoderns who are willing to listen to the spokes-folk of Christian communities. Finney is wide-eyed in anticipation of this kind of criticism. So much so that he places as a somewhat nervous sounding gatekeeper to this section of the book five short paragraphs (entitled "A Defence") in which he confesses: "I believe that the cross is central to the gospel" (p.91). But the problem is that Finney fails to make it clear where he expects the cross to feature in the church's engagement with its 'Athens'. From what has gone before it is obvious that Finney envisages evangelism as process with commitment to the kingdom of God tending to come later rather than earlier in the journey to faith. It is, therefore, likely that what Finney is describing is merely our first-contact evangelism, those initial encounters between the enquirer and the church. But he isn't clear at this point and, I would suggest, runs the risk of inspiring evangelistic contact where that which is "central to the gospel" never gets a mention because it is repulsive to the culture. Such an approach will prove to be highly destructive to the cause of the gospel in a culture of suspicion which values genuineness so highly.

Emerging Evangelism is a succinct and stimulating book. It comes with my stamp of approval (you'll find it next to the health-warning!).

Darton, Longman & Todd

Order Emerging Evangelism from Eden.co.uk

Andy Partington, January 2005

Andy Partington is Director of Training at London School of Theology where he teaches Evangelism. He oversees the work amongst those in their 20s & 30s at Woodley Baptist Church in Berkshire.

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