Friday, 15 January 2010

What is the good news?

Stephen Lingwood has a book review of a new book about evangelism by Bryan Stone.

Stephen writes:
I love the concentration on the community and not just the individual. I love the idea that evangelism is about people looking at my church and saying "can I see a distinctive way of life within this community that seems transforming and powerful?" I love the concentration on an entire way of life, not just intellectual doctrines. I love the insistence that evangelism has to come from a place of weakness, and never from a place of power and coercion.

What I still find difficult is that too little space is given for dialogue. This is hardly suprising as my theology of evangelism has always been about dialogue. Yes, it's true that evangelism should come from a deep connection to one's own tradition and it's life-transforming power, but it should also be about an openness to the other. It's true that Bryan Stone does say that evangelism should be about listening as well as speaking, and he does say that kingdom of God is bigger than the church. But for me he still does not acknowledge enough the possibility of the holy spirit working beyond the confines of the church, and that other communities may be building the kingdom of God too. Evangelism for me has to be open to the possibility of receiving something of the divine in the encounter with the other. We are not the sole possesors of God.
I'm reminded of several stories I heard about the Greek & Russian Orthodox style of evangelism, for instance the story of the first Orthodox missionary in Japan, who went and waited patiently, praying and studying Japanese culture, and after about twenty years a samurai came to kill him, but he just stood there praying and waiting for the sword to fall. The samurai was deeply impressed that this man was not afraid to die, so he didn't kill him, but asked why he was not afraid to die. He eventually became the missionary's first convert.

Whilst I disagree with trying to convert people of other religions to Christianity, I can't help but be impressed by this story.

The other story is how the Russians were looking for a new religion, and they went to various places to try out their religions, and then went to Byzantium and went into an Orthodox church there, and chose Orthodoxy as their religion because they felt that heaven had come down to earth in the Orthodox liturgy.

Again, not sure why they would want to make everyone follow the same religion, but still it's a good story.

Also, the Orthodox see salvation as being in the church and community, not an individual thing. There's a bit in the liturgy where they pray for everyone else to get to heaven first.

And I think Unitarians could do worse than look into the theology of theosis; a mystical doctrine that is very interesting and helpful.

Anyway, the Bryan Stone book sounds interesting. I'm a fan of dialogue too, but it sounds as if he is well on the way towards that view of evangelism.

I guess we could also try to articulate what the Unitarian "gospel" (good news) is: the Universe loves you as you are; you're already home; all you have to do is relax into the loving embrace of the Divine (no sacrifice necessary); faith and mysticism are not incompatible with reason; the Divine is everywhere, in us and in Nature, and revealed in all religions; practising our spirituality in community; we need not think alike to love alike.

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