A Moneychanger Book Review

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West … Again

by George G. Hunter III

Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000. ISBN 0-687-08585-3. Paperback 144 pages counting index.

After he read my article The Leaven Community, my bishop Dan Morse sent me a copy of this book. You have to read books—especially books written by professors at mainstream Protestant seminaries—the same way you eat catfish: swallow the meat and spit out the bones. If you won’t do that, you’ll just waste all your time fussing about the bones.

I know that the present Celtic revival in music, art, and religion is chockfull of exaggeration. Still, there is enough to learn from Celtic Christianity that we ought to persevere past the faddish fluff. Most Christians don’t know that there a strong native Celtic Church flourished in Ireland before the Roman church reached the Emerald Isle, or that St. Patrick belonged to it. Further, this amazing church evangelised Scotland, most of England, and parts of Europe.

In this book you’ll have to dig through a lot of professional church-person jargon and some academic cant to reach the points, but your finds will repay the excavation. Unlike the model of overseas evangelism we know, Celtic Church first created communities that served as beachheads into pagan nations, converting their neighbourhoods as much by example, hospitality, worship, and daily life as by confrontational preaching. Hunter argues that we face today exactly what Patrick faced in evangelising Ireland in the fifth century: pagan barbarians. Given the de-christianisation of America in the last century, he’s right.

The result of Patrick’s mission and method was an explosion of practical Christianity in Ireland, a deep commitment whose blessings extend to this day. "Their Christian faith and community addressed life as a whole and may have addressed the middle level more specifically, comprehensively, and powerfully than any other Christian movement ever has. A folk Christianity of, by, and for the people developed. It helped common people to live and cope as Christians day by day in the face of poverty, enemies, evil forces, nature’s uncertainties, and frequent threats from many quarters." (p. 32)

While I certainly agree with Hunter’s call for "indigenous" churches, he flops over into "seeker-friendly" churches as well. What, shouldn’t every church be seeker friendly? Frankly, no, not if they can only do it at a cost of capitulating to the childish self-centeredness of the American psyche. (Hootenannies, anyone? Twelve step sin-recovery?) Christianity is more than, "I’m OK, you’re OK, and God’s OK, too." People who think that way have never met the Jesus who invades your life and re-arranges all the furniture—permanently—without consulting you..

Never mind all that—here I am choking on the very bones I warned to avoid. Every Christian could benefit from reading this book because it will make him examine his own life and practice toward unbelievers—and how you can best woo them to the Gospel. And possibly, it just might start you thinking in terms of "Christian community."