Mystic Way Of Evangelism, The Paperback – Oct 1 2008
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From the Back Cover
Elaine Heath argues that the church is in a dark night of the soul. It has thus lost its prophetic voice--its effectiveness in proclaiming the good news of redemption. Rather than resisting or decrying this state of affairs, the church, says Heath, ought to embrace its situation as a starting point to renew its vitality and consequently, its witness. A solution is proposed in the wisdom and contemplative spirituality of the great saints and mystics--people such as Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyola, Phoebe Palmer, Henri Nouwen, and others.
This book brings fresh insights to the theory and practice of evangelism by examining it through the lens of the classic threefold path of purgation, illumination, and union. Different ways of thinking about evangelism are drawn from the lives and teachings of the mystics, and different ways of practicing evangelism are then proposed via narrative theology. The result is a holistic perspective, offering a corrective to programmatic and consumeristic forms of evangelism so prevalent today. Here is a unique contribution to the discussion on evangelism in our postmodern world.
"A refreshing and profound contribution. With perceptive insight, Heath identifies issues facing the contemporary church in the West. She then responds to those issues with care and creativity, skillfully recovering the richness of Christian mysticism and its themes of holiness. Not many projects ably bridge the distance that can emerge between the study of evangelism and its practice in communities of faith--Heath's does."--Laceye Warner, Duke University Divinity School
"Elaine Heath is not afraid to name our demons and release our angels! She shows courage, honesty, and direction for the future in this very readable book. All Christian denominations are sharing common problems today and have a common future--a mystic future or none at all."--Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
"Here's my hunch: for many readers, this will be the most important book they read this year."--Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net), author/activist
About the Author
Elaine A. Heath (PhD, Duquesne University) is McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism and director of the Center for Missional Wisdom at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas. An ordained United Methodist minister, she has served several churches and has taught at several seminaries. She is also the coauthor of More Light on the Path.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Heath's title is telling and reveals the nature of her project, which to some may appear enigmatic. What does the life of the mystic have to do with the life of the evangelist? Can the deep, inner, contemplative life yield fruit for sharing the gospel and bringing people to Christian faith? For Heath the answer is a resounding yes. After recounting her first exposure to Christian evangelism Heath astutely observes, "there is a striking absence in most contemporary discussions of evangelism of the wisdom of the great spiritual giants...to shape and lead our understanding of the theory and practice of evangelism."
Heath structures her book by utilizing the threefold contemplative path: purgation, illumination, and union. First, Heath claims that the church in American is experiencing "a dark night of the soul" and proceeds to describe the "dryness and fruitlessness" experienced by many churches, the "flailing, the striving, and the...loss of desire" present in the life of some leaders, and the emergence of a deep and holy longing for God which brings with it a new day. Heath describes the current malaise present in the church of today as a time of refinement and preparation for what God might bring about tomorrow. Heath states, "the church in America is in transition, with Christendom fading into memory and the religious accretions of the world, the flesh, and the devil, increasingly apparent for what they are...We are ready for a different way to think about our vocation as the church. It is time for us to discover a contemplative vision for evangelism."
In part 2 (Illumination) Heath examines five major themes of the contemplative life and exalts two major examples per theme to bring life to her argument. Heath discusses the experience of God's love (Julian of Norwich and Hans Ur von Balthasar), holiness exhibited in lives reflective of eucharist (Phoebe Palmer and Father Arseny), the discovery of home/identity in God (Thomas R. Kelly and Henri Nouwen), the church's collective need to confess her sins (Julia Foote and Mechthild of Magdeburg), and the healing of the earth (St. Bonaventure and John Woolman). Each chapter utilizes these biographical examples well, allowing the content of each individual's life inform the contemplative life of the church today. Heath also helps us remember both women and men who can be heralded as saints and followed as examples.
In part 3 (Union) Heath utilizes the fictional account of Sam, a divorcee and parent of a teenage daughter, who comes in contact with a church embodying the contemplative life Heath is proposing. Heath's chapter titles, "A Hermeneutic of Love," "Giving Ourselves Away," "Homing Prayer," "New Tongues of Fire," and "Your Will Be Done on Earth" are in themselves revealing, and each chapter tells how Sam learns of God's nature, the Christian life of service, prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and what the Christian life has to do with the here and now.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to church leaders and mature Christians interested in evangelism. Heath's approach is uncommon. She goes beyond a way of packaging and presenting the Christian faith and instead calls the church to become holy, believing that the very life of the community has the power to draw and witness to the truth of the gospel. Her argument acknowledges that the good news about Jesus does indeed have content, but couples the importance of the message with the integrity of the life the church leads. Her emphasis on holiness and purity of character as primary is what I find so refreshing and increasingly vital for the church as she seeks to find her way.
The premise is that ontology precedes action - or being before doing. That as we engage in prayer as connecting with God we will become the kinds of people that "act."
The chapters on Balthazar dealing with love really frame the book. So often our evangelism is based on a hermeneutic of judgment i.e. the "culture" wars and we expect to do evangelism as such - when the we need to acquire what she calls a hermeneutic of love which has its basis in the Triune love of God. As we connect to God in prayer we acquire the "love" - real love to really reach others with the good news of the gospel. Whereas at places she seems to follow the Emergent(tm) party line of pseudo-social gospel - overall her book brings out many salient points. Highly recommended.
If you are interested in a helpful, meaningful, and profound approach to relational evangelism - or even in contemplative Christianity - I highly recommend this book to you.